Everyone knows by now that breastfeeding a baby is the best choice if mom is physically able to do so. There is no denying the many benefits that mothers give to their baby by doing so. Breastfeeding is widely considered the norm and most people are genuinely accepting of breastfeeding now.
But once a baby hit's the age of one the logical assumption people make is that mom will wean them and put them on cow’s milk. But if she happens to be one of those mom's who decides to buck the traditional norm and continue past one, she is probably met with a lot of criticism and concern for both her and her baby.
Some women who choose to continue nursing are accused of doing it for themselves or to try and prove they are some super crunchy mom who's better than her peers. Some naysayers are also quick to tell mothers that after one year breast milk becomes completely useless and is not doing anything to benefit children.
Other objections that are raised is that breastfeeding past one will somehow turn a child into a sexual deviant. But there are many women, especially in other parts of the world that choose to continue their nursing relationship with their toddler after their first birthday and beyond. For some they choose to set limits and boundaries with it and only nurse for short sessions or only at night and nap time.
Continuing to breastfeed a toddler past the age of one, two or even up until age 3 is a personal decision that a mother should never have to explain to someone else. But if a mom finds herself in a battle of words with her old Aunt Velma or even if she is considering if this is a good option for herself, just check out our list of 14 ways breast milk still benefits MOM and her baby!
Perhaps the best reason to practice extended breastfeeding is simply because you want to. I personally love breastfeeding and I was so sad when my oldest self-weaned at 8 months so I was determined that with my second child I was going to keep our breastfeeding relationship going for at least the full year and we succeed well past that.
In fact my second son nursed until he was 3. I thought I was going to be pushing my boob through the kindergarten fence he was so obsessed with it. But after briefly considering weaning him at 1 and before I became pregnant again I realized that I enjoyed our nursing bond. And as long as he wanted to keep going why should I stop?
I got a lot of negative feedback from family, from friends and from random people in public. Nursing was convenient, it was healthy for him and I. And we both enjoyed it, so why stop?
We all know that breastfeeding is good for our little bambinos brains. Research has shown us that babies that are breastfed for any amount of time score higher on cognitive testing, receptive communication and fine motor test than children who weren't breastfed. But those children that were breastfed past a year scored the highest.
Researchers in Brazil wanted to study the long term benefits of breastfeeding. Working from a 1982 study, they studied 6,000 babies from all different backgrounds for over 30 years. In this study they discovered that babies who breastfed for more than a year had higher IQ's, higher education, and made more money regardless of their family’s economics.
Our babies are like sponges and they soak up all kinds of good information (and sometimes bad) and by the age of 3 a child's brain has grown to 82% of it's size. That means that the early days are critical and that continuing to breastfeed your baby will be beneficial to them way past infancy, toddler and even childhood.
So if you want your sweet kiddo to be able to take care of you financially in your old age. Keep breastfeeding so they can make a lot of money! Who knows maybe you have the next Steve Job suckling at your teat.
For women who choose to continue nursing past a year you can reduce the risk of diseases in your child like diabetes, heart disease and central nervous system disorders (like multiple sclerosis). It can also help to improve your child's eye sight because of the DHA that is naturally found in breast milk. It also improves dental health because it helps the teeth that are coming in to align properly.
And because the proteins that are found in breast milk are easier for a toddler to digest rather than the proteins that are found in cow’s milk, which most pediatricians recommend starting at age one it also improves intestinal health. Breast feeding past the age of one can also decrease your child's likelihood for developing obesity later on in life.
There are a lot of factors that can contribute to obesity like behaviors and genetic predisposition. But research is showing that breastfeeding is a large factor in decreasing that risk. The longer a child is breastfed the lower the risk of him becoming overweight or obese later on in life.
The older your child get's and the more you are in situations with other children like preschool, play dates or Mommy and Me classes you are bound to be bringing home germs upon germs. And if you have older school aged kids you can forget it. Your house will basically just become a place to house all kinds of sick germs.
We know that breastfeeding an infant can protect them against sickness, but the same is true for toddlers. Extended breastfeeding will continue to boost your child's immune system. The longer you breastfeed the less likely your child will have sicknesses that are associated with not breastfeeding like ear infections and upper respiratory infections.
And if your child does get sick it not only helps to shorten the duration of sickness, but breast milk can help them feel better and give them the nutrients they need to get better. Extended breastfeeding also lowers your child's mortality rate.
They don't call them terrible-twos for no reason and if you have a toddler you know exactly why people fear this age. Something happens at the age 2 where a toddler just decides that it's his way or the highway. Disciplining a 2-year-old can often be very frustrating.
But researchers have found that because breastfeeding means more interaction and bonding time with mom your toddler is learning more about acceptable and appropriate behaviors and has fewer behavioral problems. Even Dr. Sears has said that he has noticed that the toddlers in his practice who are continuing their breastfeeding relationship past the 12-month mark are often easier to discipline.
Breastfeeding is baby reading and it allows a mother to better understand the cues of her child and is able to intervene before a major tantrum or meltdown ensues. Of course this doesn't mean that you'll never have a terrible two-year-old toddler, you will, it's just a fact. But it means that you may have an easier time dealing with or perhaps even preventing tantrums.
I know you may be thinking "How can continuing to treat my toddler like an infant and letting her nurse often allow her to be more independent? Doesn't extended nursing make her more dependent on me?"
Our society has made it seem like breastfeeding will only create more dependency for the child, but that simply isn't the case. Dr. William Sears's wrote in his book The Baby Book that they studied the long-term effects on children who were able to wean at their own time and that they saw that these children were more independent and were more interested in people rather than things.
Dr. Sear's says "the most secure... and happy children we have seen are those who have not been weaned before their time." As our children begin to mature emotionally they can do this through the comfort of nursing. When we allow our kid's to reach milestones on their own instead of pushing or forcing them before they are ready they are able to do this with more courage. Pushing them into something before they are ready will only make them clingier and dependent.
Not all reason's for continuing to breastfeed are based on scientific research and health benefits. Some of the best reasons are simply because it makes mother and child feel good. Becoming a toddler is full of electric fast learning and growth and nursing can provide that extra boost of comfort that they need.
It can also help during those times your little one may be feeling scared or upset. My daughter is the youngest of the 3 very rambunctious boys. She hasn't figured out yet that the games they play are a bit dangerous. All she sees and hears is their giggles and she wants to be apart. But it often has consequences for her that leave her bumped, scraped and crying of an ouch.
I have found that when that happens if I put her immediately to my breast she's usually settled instantly. When I know she's overtired and really needing to be settled but can't get there on her own nursing never fails me.
I have nursed all 4 of my kids. My second son Caspian was my most enthusiastic nursling. He nursed through TWO of my pregnancies and I ended up tandem feeding him and our 3rd son. My initial plan was to wean him after his first birthday and I knew it was going to be difficult because he loved "milks" but I got pregnant and decided to just keep going.
I thought he would wean himself during my pregnancy but every time I brought it up it he would be very sad so still I continued. After I got pregnant with my 4th and was about 10 weeks from birth I decided that enough was enough I really wanted to have my body back to myself (as much as your body belong to you during a pregnancy) for a few more weeks before I became a nursing machine again.
Right around this time Caspian was turning 3 and begin to decide on his own that he was done. One day he just stopped asking for milk. There was no emotional breakdown like I thought, it was just done. It was a much better experience than when I tried making him wean when he was one.
If you have a toddler or have ever just seen a toddler out in the wild you know that the word busy and toddler are synonymous. Toddler's jump from one activity to the next and they are exploring every new little nuance of the world and often don't stop to eat. Have you ever been frustrated because your toddler has only eaten a handful of Goldfish and a string cheese all day?
Toddler's are grazers and that's because our little explorers are too busy just being that they don't want to stop to do silly things like eat and drink! With my own toddler's I have always made it a point to offer a variety of snacks through out the day. But when I continued to breastfeed my toddler I took comfort in knowing that my breast milk was helping to keep them hydrated and their tummies full even on the days they refuse any and all foods.
If you are one of those Mom's that strictly and only follow's the advice of the abbreviated health organization's than you're going to love this. Both the WHO (World Health Organization, not the band), The AAP, UNICEF, Academy of Breastfeeding, and American Academy of Family Physicians all agree that there are plenty of benefits to continue breastfeeding at least until age 2.
The AAP says "there is no upper limit on the duration of breastfeeding and no evidence of psychological or developmental harm from breastfeeding into the 3rd year of life or longer." and The WHO (again, NOT the band) says that breastfeeding should continue to age 2 along with a complimentary diet of regular food.
The most important thing that we can do to help encourage this healthy trend is to remember to empower women who want to continue nursing past 1 and not make them feel bad or weird about it.
There's is a myth that is floating out amongst the parenting world that after a child turn's one that breast milk becomes obsolete and no longer provides them with the same nutrients that it did before. Not true. As long as breastfeeding continues it will continue to be a valuable source of nutrition.
And the longer a woman has been breastfeeding the higher the fat and energy contribution to a child's diet. In a study done in Western Kenya on 250 toddlers it was found that breast milk provides 32% of the child's total energy intake. In the second year after having a baby breast milk was found to have a higher concentration of protein, lactoferrin, lysozyme, and Immunoglobulin A.
After age 1 it is true that breast milk should not be your child's only source of nutrients. By this age all toddlers are typically on solid food, but continuing to add breast milk to their diet will help make up for the lack of nutrients that our sometimes busy toddler's don't get.
With 4 kids, a business, a husband with a demanding career, school and church commitments and running a household I always feel like I'm just barely keeping up. I know that this is just the season of our life and have made peace with it (for the most part) but that doesn't mean that it's not incredibly overwhelming at times.
I still nurse our 15-month daughter and our nursing sessions are still some of my favorite times in the day. It allows me to just be able to sit and calm all the crazy anxieties in my head or get my to-do list together. And it allows my daughter Suthern to take a break from her busy life as a toddler. When she is feeling overwhelmed with everything that is zooming at her she will tug on me for a bit of milk time.
As a Mom who practiced and still practices extended breastfeeding I have been met with way more than my fair share of outrage. I also nurse in public without a cover so people are always staring at me. I have learned to just take it in stride. It's no different than the large Victoria Secret and Sports Illustrated swimsuit advertisements that are all over.
I am also happy to answer any questions people might have about doing it and why I'm doing it. My theory is that the more people see me and other's like me out in public with a toddler nursing and a few others trailing behind me that nursing, extended nursing and even nursing in public will be normal and people won't feel the need to point and laugh and hand you a blanket to cover up.
If you want to help, make the job of breastfeeding a little easier for the next generation than continue to proudly nurse even if it seems "abnormal" to others.
We've talked at great length about the benefits of extended breastfeeding for our children. But let's be completely selfish for a moment and talk about all the ways it actually benefits us and our health. Research has shown that breastfeeding past one year can reduce a woman's risk of certain cancers like breast, ovarian, endometrial and uterine cancers.
While a mom is nursing her bone mineral density can be reduced in the whole body by 2 percent. It is eventually gained back and may possible increase which can protect against osteoporosis. It reduces a mother's risk of rheumatoid arthritis as well as cardiovascular diseases like hypertension.
And for women who are diabetic it can decrease your insulin requirements. And we also know that women who breastfeed have an easier time of loosing their baby weight because of the calories that you burn. And breastfeeding has also delayed the return of fertility for some women as well, not me, but some.
Sources: Parenting, The Guardian, Huffington Post, and La Leche League