Eight months it has been been since Sufiana came into my life. This journey of being a mother, all over again, to a tiny being (but an evolved soul) – since Pari was born eight years ago – has been the most uplifting experience – at a spiritual, emotional and physical level. And, of all that I do as a mother to love and bond with her and care for my little one, breastfeeding her has been (and is continuing to be) the biggest nurturer. Not just for her. For me as much – if not more.
I’m breastfeeding her exclusively even though it’s way past 6 months – the recommended norm to breastfeed a baby exclusively. I’ve started tiny amount of mashed fruits/potato etc a week back. But, she’s not been too keen. So, statistically, she’s still nursing almost every two-three hours – through day and night.
So, why did I choose to breastfeed her exclusively for 6 months? And, beyond, too?
I’ll write my perspective and research on each of these questions, in separate blocks.
Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months.
Their health, growth, immunity….
(breastfeeding Sufiana on the Cavelossim beach, Goa)
With Pari as well as Sufiana, I’ve followed my instinct and my heart. I mean back then – 8 years ago – there wasn’t any emphasis on exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months. No one told me I must do so. I didn’t read any book or blog. (I didn’t have any parenting book). There were no breastfeeding consultants (there still aren’t any) as there are in countries like U.S. There were no breastfeeding support groups or networks in my country like the La leche League.
I just believed in my core that breast milk is the best for my baby. And, I did everything possible to make sure my milk supply would last for ever and ever….! (that’s another story and warrants another write-up!)
Today though, thanks to the internet, it’s almost viral – breastfeeding for 6 months is best for the baby. (well, it’s best for the mother, too). It’s a well-researched and established fact that breast-milk is the best nutrition for babies. For the first 6 months of life – at least. Nutrition from no other source comes even remotely close. Formula milk – nah. Cow’s milk – what? It’s for calves – who have a completely different nutritional need than human babies. Fruits and veggies – not so early.
Breast milk contains every possible nutrient that a growing baby needs. Plus, various other elements that help build the delicate immune system of the babies. Actually breast-milk supports babies’ health not just in the early years but later in life as well. Exclusively breastfed babies will have lesser chances of developing many diseases later in life including cancer, multiple sclerosis, heart disease and more.
I breast-fed Pari (in the pic above. She’s now 8.5 years old) exclusively for 8 months. Not a drop of water until then. And, Pari was one of the chubbiest, pinkest (saying this for the hemoglobin factor) and healthiest child, I’ve ever come across. For the first 12 months of her life, she never had cold, fever, stomach infection. And this despite the fact that we lived in Delhi – one of the most polluted cities in the world.
No wonder, breast milk provides the best immunity. During nursing, the mother passes on certain anti-bodies that help babies develop a healthy gut and even protects from certain vaccinations (that weaken the immune system).
So, after 8 months of exclusive breastfeedng, I nursed Pari extensively till she was one. Extensively meaning, still nursing very frequently even when I started offering semi-solids and solids.
Breast-milk remained her primary source of nutrition till she was one.
And that showed – in her health, her skin (flawless – till today), growth and development. I continued to nurse her till she was two.
With Sufiana – same. Till today, at 8+ months, I nurse her almost every two-three hours – round the clock. And, this girl is growing up amazingly.
She’s had five teeth already for more than a month now. She’s crawling all over the house. Pulls herself up by holding onto anything and everything. I have to surround her with a mountain of pillows when she sleeps on the bed or she’ll climb up high barriers and topple down the bed. She’s filling me up with the sweetest of emotions as she’s calling out Mumma…mumma like a song playing in loop.
Breastfeeding (exclusively) past 6 months is not the maximum limit.
Pari wasn’t interested in solids past 6 months. Sufiana isn’t either. Most babies take very slowly to solids. Pari had small amount of mashed fruits (banana/papaya/peach). Sufiana prefers mashed potato – if at all. Both LOVE to breast-feed whenever I offer – with little regard for the clock!
So, what I’ve learned – by following my baby’s lead, by following my own gut and from research is that delaying solids past 6 months is really good for my baby.
Breast milk is a superior nutrition (compared to any other food source) for a baby until she’s 1 year old.
Hence, what’s the point of replacing or substituting this precious nutrition with something else. And then, breast milk is best for baby’s digestive system.
Delaying solids till 7 or 8 months provides a whole host of benefits, including: decreased chances of food allergies; increased maturity of digestive system, protection from iron-deficiency anemia, and much more.
So, even though I’ve started offering ‘some’ solids, I make sure to nurse her first and then offer solids, which she takes very little of. I do this so she continues to get my milk (in equal amount) for as long as possible in the first year. And, I’ll increase the amount of solid as per her desire/hunger.
This reasoning at Kelly Mom (one of the most trusted guidance on breastfeeding) says enough.
Should solids replace breastmilk (after 6 months – that is)? (it’s a must-read – with thorough facts and figures)
No. Solids during the first year are only meant to complement breast-milk, not take precedence over it or replace any breastfeedings. It is more of a way to add textures to the baby’s diet, to allow the baby new experiences, and to help her develop hand/eye coordination through finger feeding. Your baby should still be allowed to nurse on demand, as your milk should be her primary source of nutrition until closer to the end of the first year. Continuing to allow on-demand feedings also better ensures your milk supply.
I agree that every child is different. Some may be more inclined to solids sooner than others. But, I believe every child would benefit from breastfeeding exclusively for at least the first 6 months of their lives. And, if possible (for the mom) continuing to have breast-milk as their primary source of nutrition till 12 months. The foundation of health and immunity that is laid at this crucial stage is unbeatable and irreplaceable. Plus, the bond you create with your child lasts a lifetime.