How long is long enough?


My son wasn't even 3 months old when people began quizzing me about how long I planned to breastfeed. I quickly realized that these weren't casual inquiries, and there was no correct answer. Some people couldn't believe I still was nursing, acting as if my son were 16 and not weaned. Others seemed to question my adequacy as a mother when I wavered briefly in my commitment to breastfeed for at least a year. I had decided to breastfeed with no definite schedule in mind. My son's pediatrician suggested breastfeeding for the first year, quoting a recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics. That certainly had worked for some friends of mine, who spoke of breastfeeding with almost religious zeal. But others who quit after two months raved about the freedom of life with a bottle. Such pressure! Here are some facts to consider in making your own decision. You need to explore what's best for the baby and balance that with what's best for you. For new moms who can't commit to a full year of breastfeeding for whatever reason — work, family or personal preference — experts suggest simply doing it for as long as possible. Best Bet for Baby "It's been found that breastfeeding for up to one year, and two if the mom wants to do it, is best for the child," says Pat Bull, R.N., I.B.C.L.C., a consultant with The Breastfeeding Connection in suburban Chicago. Some women nurse their children for two, three or even four years. Both baby and mother benefit from even short-term breastfeeding, according to Micki Johnson, I.C.C.E., a Chicago lactation instructor. Breastfeeding for just two weeks gives the baby the nutrient- and antibody-rich early milk called colostrum. Continue nursing for four months, and the baby reaps other benefits that can help ward off allergies and asthma. By nine months, the baby has received essential nutrients for her developing brain, Johnson says. "Breastfeeding one time is better than never breastfeeding at all," says Jan Barger, R.N., M.A., I.B.C.L.C., a lactation consultant and co-director of The Breastfeeding Connection. "Whether it's one week, six weeks, six months, a year or three years, do it! There is never a time when cow's milk is better for a baby than human milk."

Four weeks after our son was born, I booked a haircut at a posh Beverly Hills hairdresser. Afterward, my car wouldn't start. The auto club came and started it, but at the first intersection, it died again. The people came back and started it again, but it stopped. I was in tears, and my breasts were engorged. I left the car, called my husband and told him to bring Adam so I could nurse him. I got back to my car to see a police officer writing out a ticket because it was parked illegally. My husband arrived with my screaming, starving baby. I just sat in the car and nursed him and cried. After this, I was thrilled when my husband presented me with a car phone for Mother's Day.

— Linda Estrin, 43, Los Angeles, mother of Adam, 6, and Robin, 3

Working Moms' Dilemma Some working women think breastfeeding isn't worth the effort because they have to return to the office a few months after the baby is born. Not true, experts say. They suggest getting into a routine as soon as your maternity leave expires; nurse when your breasts are full in the morning and again before you leave the house. Once or twice a day at work, pump in a quiet room and store the milk in a refrigerator for use the next day. Be ready to improvise. I once pumped my overfilled breasts in the stall of a public bathroom, hoping the humming noise wouldn't alarm anyone. I stored the milk in a cooler bag and then stuffed both into a black backpack that doubled as my purse. Breast milk will keep at room temperature for up to eight hours after being pumped, Johnson says, with no significant buildup of bacteria. Resume breastfeeding when you get home, and do it as often as possible during the evening and through the night to re-establish your milk supply and your bond with your baby. Just getting started? Barger offers these suggestions: 1. Attend a breastfeeding class before your baby arrives, or contact a lactation expert. Ask your doctor or birth-class educator for experts in your area. 2. Put the baby to your breast as soon as possible after delivery — preferably within the first hour — and keep at it. And remember: It does get easier and more comfortable. 3. If possible, keep your baby in the hospital room with you to minimize separation. 4. Don't be shy about asking about breastfeeding positions and how to get the baby to latch on to the breast. 5. Four days after delivery, you should be breastfeeding at least eight times in 24 hours. One way to ensure that your baby is getting enough food is to count diapers. At least six wet and three or more dirty diapers a day suggests that your newborn is getting his fill, Barger says. This will taper off as he gets older. Be ready to recite those diaper statistics to anyone who asks how you know whether your baby is hungry. Believe me, people won't hesitate to ask. As someone said to me, "How can you possibly tell he's getting enough milk without those little calibrations on the side of the baby bottle?" As for those critics who righteously wonder aloud just how long you plan to nurse your child, consider telling them to mind their own business. Or, as Barger suggests, end the conversation with an answer like this: "I plan to wean him before he goes away to college."

After I'd been home with my first baby for about a week, I thought I should probably wash him, but I was terrified. I called my mother, who drove 30 miles to come to my rescue. We got the kitchen all nice and warm and put his baby tub in the sink. She showed me how to hold and wash his little, slippery body with my arm on the back of his head and supporting his shoulders. And lo and behold, he was clean! — Mary Ellen Strote, 55 Calabasas, Calif., mother of Jared, 28, and Noah, 17