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How long does the average woman breastfeed?

Breastfeeding provides many health benefits for both mother and baby. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of a baby’s life, with continued breastfeeding along with complementary foods for up to 2 years or beyond.[1] However, there is variation in how long women actually breastfeed. This article will examine data on breastfeeding duration, factors that influence duration, and provide tips for breastfeeding as long as recommended.

How long does the average woman breastfeed in the US?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the US:[2]

– 83.2% of babies are breastfed at some point
– 57.6% are still breastfeeding at 6 months
– 36.4% are breastfeeding at 12 months

So while most mothers initiate breastfeeding, many stop before the recommended minimum of 6 months. Only about 1 in 3 babies in the US are breastfed for a year or longer.

Breastfeeding duration by country

Breastfeeding duration varies widely between different countries. According to UNICEF data, the percentage of babies receiving any breastmilk at 12 months includes:[3]

– Rwanda: 97%
– Peru: 95%
– Sri Lanka: 94%
– Indonesia: 90%
– Brazil: 56%
– United States: 35%

Developing countries tend to have higher breastfeeding rates and duration than developed countries. Financial pressures to return to work, lack of paid maternity leave, limited social support, and aggressive formula marketing may negatively impact breastfeeding duration in places like the US and UK.[4]

Factors influencing breastfeeding duration

Many different factors can impact how long a mother breastfeeds. Some of the most significant influences include:

Maternal employment

Mothers who return to work sooner tend to breastfeed for a shorter duration. Access to break time and private lactation rooms in the workplace makes it easier for working mothers to continue breastfeeding.[5]

Maternity leave policies

Paid maternity leave allows mothers more time to establish breastfeeding before returning to work. Countries with longer paid leave have higher breastfeeding rates. For example, women in Canada breastfeed around twice as long as women in the US, which lacks national paid leave.[6]

Socioeconomic status

Higher income and education levels correlate with longer breastfeeding duration in developed countries. Women with fewer resources may face more barriers to continued breastfeeding.[7]

Social support system

Encouragement from a mother’s social network, including partners, families, friends, healthcare providers, and employers, improves breastfeeding outcomes.[8] Lack of social support is frequently cited as a reason for early breastfeeding cessation.

Breastfeeding difficulties

Problems like sore nipples, engorged breasts, mastitis, poor latch, and concerns about milk supply can lead mothers to give up breastfeeding earlier than planned.[9] Access to lactation consultants can help resolve these issues.

Introduction of formula

Providing formula supplementation in the first weeks can negatively impact breastfeeding duration. Mothers may then produce less milk and come to rely on formula.[10]

Mother’s intention

Mothers who plan to breastfeed for at least 3-6 months tend to breastfeed longer.[11] Lack of prenatal education about breastfeeding recommendations can lead to underestimating optimal duration.

Hospital practices

Hospitals that encourage early breastfeeding initiation, rooming-in, avoidance of formula unless medical necessary, and post-discharge support have higher breastfeeding rates at 6 months.[12]

Prior breastfeeding experience

Women who have successfully breastfed previous children for longer durations tend to breastfeed subsequent children for longer as well.[13]

Tips for breastfeeding as long as recommended

To reach your personal breastfeeding goals, consider the following tips:

Get breastfeeding support

Surround yourself with supportive family, friends, and professionals to help overcome any challenges. Seek out lactation consultants, support groups, nurses, and peer counselors.

Understand normal newborn behavior

Frequent nursing is normal, especially during growth spurts. Learning when your baby is hungry versus needs soothing can help establish breastfeeding.

Nurse on cue around the clock

Let your baby determine the frequency and length of nursing sessions to build an ample milk supply. Offer both breasts at each feeding.

Ensure proper latch

A deep latch with plenty of areola in baby’s mouth transfers milk effectively. Seek help from a lactation consultant to perfect technique.

Avoid artificial nipples and pacifiers initially

Introducing bottles and pacifiers too soon can lead to “nipple confusion” and negatively impact breastfeeding. Wait at least 3-4 weeks.

Stay well hydrated and eat nutritiously

Drinking water regularly and eating a balanced diet gives you the energy and nutrients needed to breastfeed. Having healthy snacks on hand also helps.

Pump to build up a milk stash

Try pumping once or twice a day to build up frozen breastmilk reserves. This allows your partner or another caregiver to occasionally feed the baby expressed milk.

Sleep and nurse near baby

Room-sharing and keeping baby close at night makes nighttime breastfeeding easier. Co-sleep safely using a sidecar crib arrangement.

Wear your baby

Using a baby carrier or wrap while doing chores around the house allows for easy nursing access. Your hands remain free so you can multitask.

Discuss options with your employer

Talk to your employer ahead of time about accommodations like teleworking, on-site childcare, flexible schedules, and break time for pumping after returning to work.

Take advantage of breastfeeding laws

Get familiar with laws like the FLSA for pumping breaks and FMLA for unpaid leave to support continued breastfeeding upon returning to work.


While most mothers start out breastfeeding, duration often falls short of recommendations globally. Many factors influence how long babies are breastfed, from social support to hospital practices. Setting a personal goal, proactively getting help, and utilizing various tips can help mothers reach their targets. With dedication and support, the majority of women are capable of meeting or exceeding breastfeeding recommendations.

Country Percentage of babies receiving any breastmilk at 12 months
Rwanda 97%
Peru 95%
Sri Lanka 94%
Indonesia 90%
Brazil 56%
United States 35%


1. World Health Organization. Breastfeeding.

2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Breastfeeding Report Card.

3. UNICEF. Breastfeeding: A Mother’s Gift for Every Child.

4. Victora CG et al. Breastfeeding in the 21st century: epidemiology, mechanisms, and lifelong effect. Lancet. 2016;387(10017):475-490. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(15)01024-7

5. Ogbuanu C et al. The effect of maternity leave length and time of return to work on breastfeeding. Pediatrics. 2011;127(6):e1414-e1427. doi:10.1542/peds.2010-0459

6. Baker M, Milligan K. Maternal employment, breastfeeding, and health: Evidence from maternity leave mandates. Journal of Health Economics. 2008;27(4):871-887. doi:10.1016/j.jhealeco.2008.02.006

7. Scott JA, Binns CW. Factors associated with the initiation and duration of breastfeeding: a review of the literature. Breastfeed Rev. 1999;7(1):5-16. PMID: 10212275

8. Meedya S, Fahy K, Kable A. Factors that positively influence breastfeeding duration to 6 months: A literature review. Women Birth. 2010;23(4):135-145. doi:10.1016/j.wombi.2010.02.002

9. Odom EC et al. Reasons for earlier than desired cessation of breastfeeding. Pediatrics. 2013;131(3):e726-e732. doi:10.1542/peds.2012-1295

10. Chantry CJ et al. Effect of the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative on breastfeeding exclusivity, choice, initiation, and duration at 6 months Postpartum. J Hum Lact. 2021;37(1):118-132. doi:10.1177/0890334420952930

11. Bai YK, Middlestadt SE, Joanne Peng CY, Fly AD. Psychosocial factors underlying the mother’s decision to continue exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months: an elicitation study. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2009;22(2):134-140. doi:10.1111/j.1365-277X.2009.00950.x

12. Pérez-Escamilla R et al. Impact of the Baby-friendly Hospital Initiative on breastfeeding and child health outcomes: a systematic review. Matern Child Nutr. 2016;12(3):402-417. doi:10.1111/mcn.12294

13. Scott JA, Binns CW, Oddy WH. Predictors of breastfeeding duration: evidence from a cohort study. Pediatrics. 2006;117(4):e646-e655. doi:10.1542/peds.2005-1991