Let’s step away from the breastfeeding vs. formula debate for a moment and instead focus on breastfeeding and those who support it. There are, without a doubt, some tremendous benefits to breastfeeding a baby, no matter how long a mommy chooses to do it. One day, one week, one month, or one year of breastfeeding can all have an impact on everything from baby’s brain development and immunity to her overall health and resistance to allergies.
But, what about extended breastfeeding – that is, breastfeeding a baby after she turns one? Are there any medical benefits after baby turns one year? According to many experts, the answer is yes. The recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics for breastfeeding is to do so for the first six months of baby’s life. But, that doesn’t mean a mom has to – or should – stop at six months.
Plenty of research shows that breastfeeding past a year and into toddlerhood can extend the benefits of breastfeeding for even longer.
The following medical benefits for extended breastfeeding are backed by science, not just breastfeeding supporters. So, mamas who continue to defend their choice to breastfeed their toddlers can arm themselves with this information to show naysayers the good they may be doing for their babies.
15 Bond, Baby, Bond
When you breastfeed your infant, you get some incredible bonding time, right? There’s nothing much that beats the intimate bond that only mom and baby share, and breastfeeding brings you that much closer to your baby. Your body nourishes hers in a way that no one else’s can. The same holds true even when you nurse a wiggly one-year-old.
There’s something amazing about you providing nourishment for your little one. She relies on you to get the nutrients she needs. Many extended breastfeeders note that even their toddlers immediately calm when they nurse, sometimes stroking mom’s arm or playing with her hair. Extended breastfeeding can help nurture that incredible bond you started when you began nursing your newborn baby. The moments you share during breastfeeding are moments that no one else has with your child!
14 The Perfect Meal
Breast milk has this amazing way of adapting to the needs of your child. When they say, “breast is best,” it’s because your breast milk changes as your child’s needs change. If your little one needs more iron, your breast milk ramps it up for them. So, when it comes to extended breastfeeding, your milk has the potential to create the perfect meal for your kiddo.
Think about it: once you start introducing regular foods into your baby’s diet, you also may find that your baby is picky. Picky eaters tend to get even pickier once they get into toddlerhood. But, as long as your breast milk is still there for the taking, your little one is most likely getting the important nutrients he needs, even if he’s not getting them from his food.
13 Stay Away, Germs
Most people know that breastfeeding can significantly boost the immunity of babies. Newborns and infants, especially, get a huge immunity boost from breastmilk that keeps them safe from the millions of yucky germs that can harm an underdeveloped immune system. But, research shows that breastfeeding can be just as beneficial for the immune systems of older babies and toddlers as it is with babies.
According to the La Leche League, a one-year-old’s immune system is only about 60% developed, so there’s still plenty of room for it to grow. It’s not until around age six that the immune system begins functioning at an adult level. So, the longer you breastfeed, the more chance you have to get those amazing antibodies into your little one’s system to keep him protected from infections, diseases, viruses, and more.
12 Long-Lasting Health For Baby…
Not only can extended breastfeeding help your child’s immune system right now, but it also may provide some long-lasting, positive effects on her overall health. According to Mayo Clinic, the longer and more often your child breastfeeds, the better is health may be later in life, too.
The World Health Organization sheds some light on this subject. A systematic review of some of the long-term effects of breastfeeding showed that there may be a link between breastfeeding and later-in-life healthy blood pressure, lowered chance of obesity and diabetes, and some studies showed a decreased risk of high cholesterol.
In fact, out of what the WHO deemed high-quality studies, breastfeeding was associated with a 12% reduction in obesity over those who weren’t breastfed. Some experts believe that the longer you breastfeed, the more chance you’re giving your child to stave off health problems like obesity later in life.
11 And Better Health For Mama!
Did you know that breastfeeding doesn’t just benefit children, but mommies can also get some of the good stuff that goes with it? Moms who breastfeed for a total of 12 months through their life or participate in extended breastfeeding for their baby’s first year of life or longer may have a decreased risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer, heart disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and other diseases. According to Mayo Clinic, there may be a solid link between extended breastfeeding and improved Mama health over time.
Not only that, but you’ve heard of breastfeeding helping moms lose weight after they give birth, right? Well, it’s true, and it doesn’t just stop once your baby is a few months old. However long you choose to breastfeed, you’ll still be burning extra calories doing so as your body ramps up milk production to feed a growing baby.
10 Kiss The Tears Goodbye
Did you know that breastfeeding a toddler may be all it takes to make his sadness or pain go away? Just as breastfeeding is soothing for babies – and for mama! – it can also have a calming effect on kiddos over one. Some moms offer to nurse their toddlers when they fall down and other methods to soothe the child don’t work. So, it’s not just for feeding – it can double as a coping mechanism! And, it may even keep your toddler still enough to you can look him over for cuts or bumps.
According to many experts, nursing for comfort is okay. One study published in Pediatrics showed that nursing worked better for soothing children than other methods and researchers used factors like baby’s heart rate and amount of crying to measure the results.
9 The Mom Calm
You know that amazing calming effect that breastfeeding gives your baby? Well, guess what mom? You get that feeling, too! Why not get it for as long as you can by extending your breastfeeding time? Breastfeeding has shown to reduce stress in moms, so whether you had a long day at work or are getting through a rocky patch in your relationship, breastfeeding may provide the calm you need to weather the storm.
Your body release oxytocin when you breastfeed. This hormone is also known as the “feel good” hormone because of the amazing way it can put your body and mind at ease. Some mamas even admit that they fall asleep with their children as they nurse because of how relaxed they feel! Now that’s a benefit we can get behind.
8 Einstein Baby
According to the experts, breastmilk is one of the best things your kiddo can have for awesome brain development. Breastmilk has all kinds of amazing nutrients – and all are natural! – that can help boost brain power, not just as babies and toddlers, but throughout your child’s life. Some studies have shown that, the longer you breastfeed, the more brain-boosting benefits you’re giving your child. Baby Einstein in the making!
Interestingly, the task of breastfeeding itself can even help give your kiddo some cognitive powers. When you switch breasts, you give your child the chance to see things from different angles and explore with each hand, unlike feeding from a bottle, where toddlers tend to use only their dominant hand to hold it. Breastfeeding, therefore, helps your baby work is brain in different ways. Cool, right?
7 Human Vs. Cow
Your child is usually old enough to be introduced to cow’s milk when she’s around a year old, according to most pediatricians. But, is cow’s milk the best drink for a human child? Many experts suggest that nothing is as good a substitute as mom’s milk for her child, even once she reaches this recommended cow’s milk age.
According to La Leche League, human milk isn’t replicable by manufacturers, despite decades of trying. Sure, formula is a good substitute and has come a long way over the years, but breastmilk provides exactly what your baby needs, which manufacturers are unable to do with formula. Cow’s milk and formula provide a one-size-fits-all approach to feeding, whereas breastmilk tailors to the needs of your kiddo. The longer you choose to keep that going, the better nutrition your child is getting.
6 The Best Alternative To Pacifiers
Although the need for sucking decreases in some children by toddlerhood, it’s usually still there at least a little bit. And, some toddlers still crave sucking. Totally normal, but it can be a bit tricky to navigate the situation when pacifiers are involved. Pacifiers can not only cause harm to a child’s developing teeth and jaw, but they also can be extremely difficult to wean your toddler from.
But, breastfeeding past a year can provide your kiddo with the sucking that he needs to relax him without sticking a pacifier in his mouth. It may curb thumb-sucking, blanket sucking, and other forms of sucking that can lead to crooked or misaligned teeth and jaws, and when your child is ready to wean from nursing, he’ll also wean himself from his sucking device at the same time.
5 Increased Allergy Protection
Most kiddos don’t have a problem with food or environmental allergies, but they do happen. Cow’s milk happens to be one of the most common foods for a child to have an allergy to, so if you breastfeed rather than give your kiddo cow’s milk when she’s allowed to have it at a year, you can help evade one of the most common allergens. But, breastfeeding can also help protect against other food allergies, environmental allergies, asthma, and more.
Why? When you breastfeed, your child gets a little bit of everything you eat and even some of the environmental particles that absorb into your digestive system. Over time, your baby builds up a tolerance against all these little things in your breastmilk. The longer she has your milk, the longer she has to build up a strong tolerance against things that may have otherwise caused an allergy.
4 More Protection Against Disaster
For any parent, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is one of the scariest things to think about happening to your baby. Unfortunately, it’s not only babies who can be affected by SIDS. Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood (SUDC) is the term given to a similar occurrence in children older than 12 months who pass unexpectedly and unexplained. It occurs in 1.2 out of 100,000 children in the U.S., making it rare but still just as concerning.
Breastfeeding, however, may help prevent sudden deaths in infants and toddlers, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. One study has shown a 50% decrease in SIDS in babies who are breastfed through infancy, and although no similar studies have found conclusive results for SUDC, some mamas don’t want to take the chance and opt for extended breastfeeding in the hope that it will keep their little ones safe.
3 Straighter Smile
Many babies and toddlers who still nurse don’t use a pacifier or other sucking device to control their urge to suck. That’s because, usually, mom’s breast is the one they prefer. Baby’s teeth start aligning even when they haven’t yet protruded through the gums. Once they do, the natural act of breastfeeding keeps them aligned the way they should be, which can prevent all sorts of problems down the road with their teeth, jaw, gums, and more.
Breastfeeding also prevents milk from pooling around your child’s teeth and gums like it does with a bottle. Breastfeeding into toddlerhood, when growing little teeth are the most vulnerable to cavities, can make your child’s overall mouth healthier and their smile brighter. Just be sure to help her brush her teeth at least twice a day, especially after feeding, and continue to wipe down her gums to keep everything in top shape!
2 Seeing Clearly
Breastfeeding has also been linked to improved vision in children. The effect is largely due to the DHA found in breastmilk. This important Omega-3 fatty acid has ties to improved vision and is abundant in human breastmilk (and it’s also one of the ingredients that many formula manufacturers add to formula because of its amazing health benefits!).
Interestingly, some experts believe that breastfed infants and toddlers may have improved vision because of the act of breastfeeding. When your child gets fed, he has plenty of things to look at, from your face to the world around him. Usually, breastfed babies focus on you and your face, and some believe that this focused attention (in contrast to looking all over the place when holding a bottle on his own) may help stimulate the visual development system and improve overall eye function. Longer breastfeeding may give your kiddo extra time to develop his vision.
1 Taking The Reigns
Those who breastfeed into toddlerhood and childhood are often met with a lot of criticism. The truth is that it’s a mother and child’s choice when they feel comfortable stopping. The longer a child has to breastfeed, the more important nutrition he gets. But, some experts also believe that extended breastfeeding can have some beneficial effects on a child’s social and emotional development, too.
Letting a child lead the way when it comes to deciding when he’s ready to wean himself can increase autonomy and independence, according to La Leche League. Nursing a child for longer than infancy won’t spoil a child. Instead, a child can choose to wean at his own pace, much like he learns to sit, walk, talk, and read at his own pace. Encouraging independence and making important choices is an essential part of parenting, and weaning from nursing is a good opportunity to guide children to making these decisions.
Sources: AAP.org, BreastfeedingBasics.com, DailyMom.com, LaLecheLeague.org, MayoClinic.org, Parents.com