Extended breastfeeding is suitable for both mother and child. It lowers lactating mothers’ risk of breast and ovarian cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. It encourages bonding between mother and child, reduces children’s risk of chronic diseases, and provides complete nutrition. The AAP states that there’s no upper limit to the duration of breastfeeding and recommends continuing breastfeeding and introducing solid foods throughout your baby’s first year and beyond if you and your baby wish to.
Breastfeeding beyond one year is entirely normal. According to the CDC, 36% of babies still breastfeed at 12 months, while about 15% still do so by 18 months.
In my culture, breastfeeding for three years or longer is not unusual for a child. According to ACOG, the longer you breastfeed, the longer the health benefits.
However, much-extended breastfeeding isn’t for everyone for various reasons, which is okay, but there’s no denying that it has numerous benefits for both the mother and child.
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What are the benefits of extended breastfeeding?
The health and developmental benefits of breastfeeding continue for you and your child as long as you nurse.
The benefits even get more significant the longer you breastfeed.
Breastfeeding beyond one year can provide several benefits for the mother and child, including:
For the mother
1. Reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancer
Studies have shown that breastfeeding for a longer duration, including beyond one year, is associated with a reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancer in mothers.
2. Natural contraception
Breastfeeding can act as a natural form of contraception, known as the Lactational Amenorrhea Method (LAM), which works by preventing ovulation.
3. Feelings of improved emotional well-being
Breastfeeding can give mothers a sense of emotional well-being, as it releases hormones such as oxytocin, promoting relaxation and bonding.
4. Economic benefits and convenience
Breastfeeding is a cost-effective way to provide nutrition for a child, as it requires no preparation or equipment.
It is also convenient as the baby can breastfeed anywhere and anytime.
5. Reduced risk of osteoporosis and type 2 diabetes
Breastfeeding beyond one year has been linked to a reduced risk of osteoporosis in mothers, as it helps maintain bone density.
Breastfeeding beyond one year has also been associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes development in lactating mothers.
6. Reduced risk of postpartum depression
Breastfeeding has been linked to a reduced risk of postpartum depression in mothers.
For the child
1. Improved oral development
Breastfeeding beyond one year can help promote the proper development of a child’s teeth and jaw, as it requires more active participation from the child than bottle-feeding.
2. Customized nutrition
Breast milk changes in composition as a child grows and their nutritional needs change, providing customized nutrition that meets their needs.
Breast milk will give your baby complete nutrition even if they eat three meals daily.
A study found that breast milk had higher energy and fat content after one year.
3. Reduced risk of chronic diseases
Breastfeeding beyond one year has been associated with a reduced risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, and asthma in children.
Breast milk antibodies have special cells that improve short and long-term immunity that help fight off infections.
4. Improved gut health
Breast milk contains probiotics and prebiotics that can promote the growth of beneficial gut bacteria in a child, improving overall gut health.
Tips for breastfeeding beyond one year
If you think extended breastfeeding is your journey, there are a few things to remember because it comes with challenges, namely, dealing with other people’s opinions.
The ill or misinformed opinion that others feel entitled to lay on breastfeeding mothers and the societal desire to rob us of our sovereignty over our bodies, our reproductive health, our rights, and our children is one of the most harmful challenges faced by those of us who choose to breastfeed beyond one year.
Dealing with a judgemental society can be challenging. So be prepared for some comments and maybe even some stares if you want to do extended breastfeeding.
A good tip is to find support from others, such as friends or other parents practicing breastfeeding for one year.
You can always meet such parents at breastfeeding support groups, parks, meetings, and preschools.
You can also search for local groups of breastfeeding moms online and plan a meetup.
Most importantly, there’s no reason to stop breastfeeding your baby at the one-year mark if you do not want to, and you don’t need to explain yourself to anyone.
It is entirely your choice and no one else’s.
How often should I breastfeed my baby?
Babies feed differently, and it’s best to let them set the schedule.
Most babies feed at least every 2-3 hours or 8-12 times in 24 hours during their first few weeks.
Most newborns breastfeed for an average of 10-15 minutes on each breast, but they can also nurse for extended periods.
They can also do cluster feeding after every 30 minutes.
What are the cons of extended breastfeeding?
If you choose to breastfeed for an extended period beyond the age considered normal in your culture, it can pose challenges such as:
– Extended breastfeeding may make babies overly clingy, attached, and dependent on their mommies for emotional support.
– Breastfeeding can suppress your ovulation which can affect your menstrual cycle, and that’s something to keep in mind if you desire more children in the future.
– Women who breastfeed older children are often shamed and judged for their choice and lack social support.
– It can be painful to nurse an older child because they can bite and cause nipple sores.
– Extended breastfeeding can be challenging, especially for mothers who have other non-breastfed babies to look after.
– It can also be challenging if you work away from home.
Ultimately, deciding when to wean a child is personal and should be made based on the needs and preferences of both the child and the mother.
You may want to read the post below to learn more about breast milk and breastfeeding:
- How Do You Know You’re Pregnant While Breastfeeding?
- Can Body Armor Help Increase Breast Milk Production?
- Can I Switch From Breastmilk to Formula Cold Turkey?
- Breastfeeding Tracking Apps: The Benefits and Our Trusted Recommendations