Should I continue giving my baby breast milk, even if it's just a little?
November 12, 2011 6:29 PM   Subscribe

Should I continue giving my baby breast milk, even if it's just a little?

My seven month old has never been an enthusiastic breastfeeder. She probably wouldn’t be fazed if I weened her tomorrow. And somewhat unwillingly, it looks like I’m on the path to doing just that. Over the past few weeks she's rejected the breast a lot, and now she’s down to just 2-3 breast feedings/bottles of expressed breast milk a day. I foresee this decreasing even further soon, probably to just a single feeding/bottle of breast milk a day within a few weeks.

In addition to formula and the little bit of breastmilk, she eats small amounts of nutritious solids; she also takes cod liver oil and probiotics.

As I look ahead, I’m trying to weigh out the value of *very limited* long-term breastfeeding against the potential frustration of dragging out the weening process. I want to stress that I’m not looking for permission to ween or advice about how I can change my situation or her behavior.

Instead, I'm wondering: what is the nutritional value of just one, or maybe two, breastfeeding sessions a day? Let's assume my milk doesn't dry up entirely and I can give her a little (a few ounces) either by breast or by bottle everyday for the immediate future? Would such a small amount be nutritionally significant for a baby her age?

The emotional bonding angle isn't a factor, since breastfeeding is more of a struggle than anything else (the precise details are not really relevant). She and I bond very well over other things, and she’s a healthy baby, but I want to give her as much nutritionally as I can, and if slowing down the weening process will be beneficial, I'll gladly do it. If not, I don't want to bother.

I know breastmilk is magical and marvelous, and I've often heard it said that "some is better than none." I just want to know HOW much better.

I haven't been able to find a lot of data pertaining to my question, so answers grounded in science are especially welcome.

Many thanks!
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
A lot of people wean around 6 or 7 months for a variety of reasons (including teething - my cousin started nipping my aunt about then). If you need/want to wean, you should.
posted by jb at 6:44 PM on November 12, 2011

As far as I know the value at this point is not nutritional but immunological. So part of your decision depends on your specific circumstances. How many germs do your family members come n contact with? Is she in daycare mingling with lots of other kids? Are you a teacher?
posted by bq at 6:44 PM on November 12, 2011

This book (mostly available on Google Books) has more info than you probably need.
posted by benzenedream at 6:52 PM on November 12, 2011

When I was struggling to nurse my daughter at the beginning, I was told that even a small amount (couple ounces) of breastmilk a day was a big help for immune system and the nutrients that formula attempts to replicate.

This was from a lactation consultant at a place called "Mom's Place", an offshoot of the WIC program. There was a pamphlet from World Health Organization that reiterated this point, alongside the encouragement to try to provide breastmilk up to the second year.
posted by batmonkey at 6:54 PM on November 12, 2011

There are studies indicating that any breastmilk significantly reduces illness in babies. I am on my BB so I will have to drop the citations later but I think Jack Newman's website has a couple links.
posted by saradarlin at 6:54 PM on November 12, 2011

Since we're entering prime flu/ear infection season, and since BM helps boost the immune system, it would be worth sticking with it even if it's just 1 feeding a day.
posted by hms71 at 7:04 PM on November 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

I say yes, keep nursing as long as you can. You also might want to read this article on kellymom about distractible babies. Seven months is right around when I had to start nursing only in a quiet dark room because my son would startle and pull off and look around for any noise or movement. I want to say that it passed after a month or so. He's almost 13 months now and still nursing.
posted by chiababe at 7:10 PM on November 12, 2011

I'm seconding kellymom as a resource for evidence based information on breastfeeding. I had a quick look on the section on weaning, and found that the antibodies in human milk are more concentrated the lesser the frequency of breastfeeding is . So even if the volume of one or two breastfeeding or expressed breastmilk feedings per day seems unimpressive, the antibody benefits are concentrated.
posted by rabbitfufu at 7:24 PM on November 12, 2011 [4 favorites]

Seconding the opinion to do your best to get through cold and flu season. At the very least, when she gets sick (not IF, trust me!), you'll be able to pass some of your antibodies to her.
posted by wenat at 8:07 PM on November 12, 2011

Our pediatrician encouraged me to keep going even at a very reduced rate as an immunological function. In my case, my little one was a year old, and I was encouraged to continue through the winter. I thought that weaning would be no big deal since it was a hassle to get her to nurse in the first place, but it was much harder than I expected.

In the end, do what works for your family. If it is a huge source of stress and anxiety for 2 fl oz a day, don't beat yourself up over weaning. However, if it is an easy way to calm her at nap or bedtime, that is great and helpful. People can get craaazy about breastfeeding, don't let the crazy mess with your head. Talk to your doc and do what's best for your family.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 8:20 PM on November 12, 2011 [5 favorites]

Nthing to keep feeding her just for the immunological benefits, especially as we enter cold and flu season. If you can directly breastfeed her rather than pump, then this increases the immunological benefits. IIRC, her mouth coming into contact with your aureola transmits germs into your body, then your body creates antibodies for her, which are delivered back to her in your milk the next time you feed her. This is not said to pressure you into anything, but because I think its useful info if you are just feeding her a little a day. I have also heard that if you are feeding expressed milk, you can wipe some of her saliva onto your aureola to trigger the same mechanism, but not certain of the veracity of this, I just read it on a nursing forum!
posted by Joh at 9:45 PM on November 12, 2011

Joh, the mother has antibodies in her system based on what she is exposed to during the germ-filled experience of daily life - just to clarify, the baby doesn't pass the antigens (germs) to the mother necessarily, and if the baby does pass germs to the mother, it's probably not via breastfeeding itself but by touching her or sneezing on her or having her change its diaper, more likely. The point is, the antibodies can help prevent the baby from getting sick in the first place, rather than just helping it to fight infections it already has. Hope that clears things up a little.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 11:17 PM on November 12, 2011

If you are unwillingly on the path to weaning your daughter, and are looking for good reasons to resist that, there are plenty.

You say she has been refusing the breast over the past few weeks. Does that coincide with the introduction of solid food? It's possible she's just not as hungry for breastmilk as she was before because she's got more to eat from other sources. Perhaps if you offer less often, she'll be more interested when you do.

There is also the distraction factor mentioned by others, and that can be overcome by feeding her in a really unstimulating environment. And then there's just the insanity inducing changeability of the little monsters; I personally found anything my daughter did in the first year, good or bad, every new habit, every behaviour however charming or annoying, only lasted about six weeks. You might only need another couple weeks before your daughter rekindles her (lukewarm) interest in the breast.

As for the benefits, the immunological benefit is a big one. But there is also a nutritional benefit.

In the second year (12-23 months), 448 mL of breastmilk provides:
29% of energy requirements
43% of protein requirements
36% of calcium requirements
75% of vitamin A requirements
76% of folate requirements
94% of vitamin B12 requirements
60% of vitamin C requirements
-- Dewey 2001

Obviously the age is off by quite a bit here, but the difference would skew towards breastmilk providing a greater portion of nutritional requirements in a 7 month old. I don't know what your daughter's intake of solid food is, but she may not yet be eating enough different solids to get all the nutrients she needs.

Breastmilk also helps their guts mature, and is full of natural pro-biotics, making the pro-biotic you are already giving her less necesseary.

There are also advantages to breastfeeding for you, including reduced incidence of breast and reproductive system cancers, and some protection against osteoporosis. (Hey, there is even evidence it can help reduce the chance of breast cancer for her, I'd never heard that before.)

This page is rich with links to scientific research.

I have two experiences if you are interested in anecdata. One is that my daughter and I both got a really terrible flu when she was about 10.5 months old. I had already at that point been working down towards breastfeeding her only twice a day, once first thing in the morning and once at bed time, in anticipation of going back to work when she was 11 months. But for the week or so that we were sick, all she ate was breastmilk. She just completely refused solid food--and she was normally all about eating. So I was glad she was still breastfeeding, because I didn't have to worry about dehydration or any of the other concerns with a high fever.

Second, when I did go back to work, only a couple weeks later (we were sick over Christmas, I went back to work in the new year), despite her having spent that week nursing full time, we had very little problem with cutting down to nursing only once a day, at bed time. She wasn't even interested in pumped breastmilk at day care. I nursed her until she was about 15 months old, and weaning was literally as easy as just not doing it one night. I'd already taken pains to find a lot of other ways to comfort her, and had struggled through months of getting her to fall asleep in some way other than at the breast, so that helped. I was nursing her every night in the bath, and one night I realized she wasn't even really drinking, just kind of relaxing with my nipple in her mouth. So the next night I just didn't get in the tub with her and that was that. She looked at me kind of funny, but didn't make a fuss. The next night she had a babysitter and I left a bottle, which she wasn't interested in, and that was the end of nursing. Honestly, I think that was just dumb luck, but I wanted to offer an example of a long, slow tapering off towards weaning not making the process more frustrating or stressful.

So, to sum up, I think the science points fairly clearly towards breastfeeding, even after six months, having a positive impact on health. If you're still willing to give it a try, there is good reason to. However--and I know you aren't looking for permission to wean--I personally don't think that weaning after six months is actually harmful to a baby, particularly in the first world, if you have access to a broad range of nutritious foods and clean drinking water. I'm a breastfeeding booster, but I also believe it is demonstrably true that babies weaned at 6 weeks or 6 months or never breastfed at all, still have pretty excellent outcomes in rich countries. If it gets to be such a struggle with your daughter that it's taking an emotional or psychological toll on either of you, it's worth keeping in mind that weaning her won't actually hurt her.
posted by looli at 1:25 AM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

My son and I genuinely enjoyed nursing. If you're enjoying it, and it's nice time together, keep it up. If it's a struggle, and you don't enjoy it, then stop.
posted by theora55 at 10:18 AM on November 13, 2011 [3 favorites]

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