Most parents are aware of the multiple benefits of breastfeeding. They know that there are health and emotional benefits for both mom and baby. However, most parents do not stop to consider that there are also benefits of extended breastfeeding. In fact, there are just as many benefits for a toddler who breastfeeds as there are for a newborn who is breastfeeding. Extended breastfeeding, also known as full term breastfeeding, is a term used to define breastfeeding that continues beyond the first year of life. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises breastfeeding until at least one year of age; longer if both mom and baby want to continue after a year has passed. The World Health Organization advises mothers to nurse their children until at least two years of age.
The benefits of extended breastfeeding include:
Many people falsely believe that there are no nutritive benefits to nursing after around a year of age. No matter the age of the baby or child, breastmilk will always have nutritional value. Children over the age of one will get vitamin A, protein, calcium, and fat from breast milk. Parents should think of breast milk like they would any other nutrient dense food. That food does not become less nutrient dense the older the consumer gets or the more the consumer eats.
One of the greatest benefits of breast milk is that it provides passive immunity to babies and children who consume it. Breastfed babies have notably fewer illnesses and mortality rates than their non-breastfed counterparts. The immunity benefits do not decrease the longer a mother breastfeeds or the older a child gets. Babies and children who breastfeed have less GI and upper respiratory illnesses and a fewer number of ear infections.
Extended breastfeeding also gives moms more health benefits. Moms who nurse their babies will be at a decreased risk for breast, endometrial, and ovarian cancers. The longer a mother breastfeeds the more her risk of these types of cancers decreases.
Soothing for Baby
No matter the age of the baby or child, breastfeeding is soothing and comforting. It is a way for both mom and baby to connect. Moms of toddlers and preschoolers know that nursing can quickly help them calm down and re-focus when they are upset or hurt.
Soothing for Moms
No matter how many kids a mother has or how old her children are, she is always busy. Extended breastfeeding can give her a few minutes each day to sit down and relax while just focusing on her and her child.
The right duration for a breastfeeding relationship will vary from one mom and baby to the next. However, mothers should consider all of the benefits of extended breastfeeding before deciding when to wean their child.
Experiencing the benefits of breastfeeding into the toddler and preschool years can be very rewarding to many moms and their children.