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Breastfeeding Beyond One Year

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Updated December 04, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Breastfeeding Beyond One Year Ronen's Dad/Flickr

Breastfeeding beyond one year is often called extended breastfeeding. To call it extended seems to imply that the continuation of breastfeeding after one year is considered longer than normal. This is only the case in our modern Western society. In many other cultures, it is not unusual to breastfeed for two years, three years, or even longer.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that you breastfeed throughout your baby's first year and continue to breastfeed for as long you and your baby wish to do so. The AAP also states that "There is no upper limit to the duration of breastfeeding and no evidence of psychologic or developmental harm from breastfeeding into the third year of life or longer." In addition, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends breastfeeding until age two or beyond.

All of the health and developmental benefits of breastfeeding continue for your child as long as you nurse. Many of the benefits are increased with the greater duration of breastfeeding.

Benefits of Breastfeeding Beyond One Year:

Nutrition: Breast milk is the most nutritious milk source for your child. Even though many children are eating a variety of other foods by one year of age, breast milk helps to complete your child's nutrition. It continues to provide your child with fat, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.

Immunity: Your child will still benefit from the antibodies and immune boosting properties that are passed through your breast milk.

Illness: Children who are breastfed longer get sick less often and have shorter periods of illness compared to non-breastfed children. When your child is sick, breastfeeding is also very comforting and can help prevent dehydration.

Comfort and Security: Breastfeeding is calming and relaxing. It can help your toddler to cope with fear and stress. As your child becomes more independent and begins to venture out into the world, he will be able to return to the safety and security of nursing in your arms.

Mothers Who Have Breastfed Beyond One Year Describe Their Children As:

  • More emotionally secure
  • Physically healthier
  • More loving and friendly
  • More independent
  • Easier to comfort during pain or stress
  • Happier and more cheerful

The Negatives Of Long Term Breastfeeding

Although the majority of women feel that there are no negative aspects to nursing long-term, there may be some drawbacks to breastfeeding an older child.

  • You might have to deal with social hostility.
  • You could feel a loss of freedom.
  • An older child may not be very discreet in public, which could be embarrassing.
  • It can be exhausting.
  • Breastfeeding longer can affect your marriage and sex life.
  • It may interfere with your ability to spend time with your other children.

Many women feel that the main negative to long-term nursing is the social stigma. It can be very difficult to deal with the strange looks or opposing comments that breastfeeding a toddler can bring. Breastfeeding moms will often become uncomfortable nursing older children around others and will only nurse at home. Sometimes women become closet nurses, and do not even let their own mothers or best friends know that they are still breastfeeding. They would rather nurse in secret than deal with the disapproving remarks of family and friends. For these moms, local community breastfeeding groups, such as La Leche League International, can be very good place to feel accepted and find much needed encouragement and support.

More and more women are breastfeeding longer. With greater education and understanding, attitudes are beginning to change. Laws have been put into place to protect women who need to return to work and those who breastfeed in public. As it becomes more visible in our society, the negative attitudes will hopefully diminish and become replaced by full acceptance. Breastfeeding is a beautiful, natural function of life. Continuing to breastfeed beyond one year is beneficial to mothers and children. It should be supported and encouraged for as long as possible.

Sources:

American Academy of Pediatrics. Policy Statement. Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk. Section on Breastfeeding. Pediatrics Vol. 115 No. 2 February 2005, pp. 496-506. http://aappolicy.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/pediatrics;115/2/496

Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession. Mosby. Philadelphia. 1999.

World Health Organization. Breastfeeding. http://www.who.int/topics/breastfeeding/en/

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