Mothers that have successfully passed the first breastfeeding milestones of six months and one year may wonder how long they should continue their breastfeeding journey. Do the benefits of extended breastfeeding prevail over the struggles they may encounter? Our article will sum up the key challenges and benefits of extended breastfeeding for those who look for more information to decide.
The Benefits of Extended Breastfeeding
Research conducted by reputable international organizations shows that the longer the baby is breastfed the greater are the health benefits for both mother and child. The World Health Organization (WHO) and The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) recommend continuing breastfeeding up to 2 years of age or beyond. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding for at least the first year of life and beyond for as long as mutually desired by mother and child. All above-mentioned recommendations are usually based on the following key benefits of extended breastfeeding:
- Nutritional benefits. Breastmilk offers balanced nutrition for any age. Unlike formula or cow’s milk, the composition of breastmilk changes along with baby’s age to meet his or her new nutritional needs. It will continue providing vitamins, enzymes, and immunities to stay healthy and strong. For example, in the second year (12-23 months), 448 ml of breastmilk is able to provide 94 percent of vitamin B12 requirements and about 1/3 of energy requirements of a toddler.
- Psychological benefits. Extended breastfeeding will help your toddler to meet the new challenges with additional emotional support and sense of security. In contrary to many breastfeeding myths, the American Academy of Pediatrics confirms that there is no evidence of psychologic or developmental harm from breastfeeding into the third year of life or longer.
- Immunological benefits. Breastfed toddlers suffer from fewer infections than children who are not breastfed or who are weaned early. This is mainly because the cells, hormones, and antibodies in your breast milk will continue to bolster your baby’s immune system as long as you continue breastfeeding. In fact, in the second year postpartum, human milk contains significantly higher concentrations of lactoferrin, lysozyme and Immunoglobulin A – all responsible for the immune protection of a child.
- Benefits for the mother. Studies have found a significant inverse association between duration of lactation and breast cancer risk. Breastfeeding beyond infancy has been shown to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.
Possible Challenges of Extended Breastfeeding
Knowing possible challenges will help you to mitigate them if you go for extended breastfeeding.
- Exhaustion. Many moms cherish the bonding relationship with their babies. But after a while, breastfeeding can begin to hinder the lifestyle and schedule of many mothers and become something that is psychologically difficult to handle longer. Working moms are in a group of risk because pumping at work or nighttime feedings can negatively affect their effectiveness at work.
- Public criticism. Unfortunately, odd looks, comments and even straight criticism of extended breastfeeding from family, friends, and complete strangers are not uncommon. Criticism can become even more irritating when breastfeeding in public. Whenever you experience public criticism for feeding a toddler, think whether the reasons not to breastfeed are strong enough to wean your baby.
- Weaning difficulties. In some cases, older children may start using breastfeeding as a way to get mom’s attention. Whenever you notice a sudden increase in nursing frequency, think of what about its underlying reason; have you found other ways to give your child the attention he or she craves? Our tips on gentle weaning may of help.
- New pregnancy. In the first trimester of your pregnancy, your breasts may become very sensitive and sore and make breastfeeding less comfortable than before. Usually, this soreness goes away almost entirely during the second trimester. If you want to continue nursing your toddler through pregnancy, read more about breastfeeding during pregnancy and tandem nursing. We have a good article about them too.
Extended breastfeeding is always a personal choice. It is up to you to decide to breastfeed or wean your toddler. But when making a decision, try not to worry about what others think. Instead, trust your instincts. Breastfeeding, even the extended one, is above all about the relationship between you and your baby.
Please share with us your experiences with extended breastfeeding and leave a comment below.