Full disclosure: I'm writing this article while breastfeeding my two year old. When I was pregnant with my first son, I knew I wanted to breastfeed. When the time came to actually learn how to nurse my newborn, I had quite the learning curve (hello bloody nipples and plugged ducts) and I quickly realized that it was so much more than just something I did to keep my child alive (though that was a definite benefit).
The breastfeeding relationship between mother and child is just as unique as the mother and child, but a common thread woven throughout every scenario is the long list of benefits for both.
We've all read and heard the research that breastfeeding is the ideal way of feeding an infant. It is recommended that babies are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life, and breastfed with the inclusion of solid foods until one year of age. What do we do after the first year of breastfeeding?
Most mothers that have chosen to breastfeed know that the benefits of breastfeeding a child go beyond lists of nutrients and immunities, though these are certainly included in the reasons breastfeeding is so beneficial and why many women choose to continue breastfeeding past the first year.
Here are some benefits of breastfeeding beyond your baby's first birthday:
11 Nutritional Needs Are Met
Let's just get this one out of the way first. Breastfeeding is a nutrient rich food for a child, and the benefits of breast milk are not reduced once those first birthday candles are blown out.
According to research cited by Kellymom.com, breast milk excreted during the second year of lactation includes greater levels of fat, protein, and required vitamins. The contents of breast milk change to meet the needs of your child, which is kind of amazing.
When a toddler is given breast milk in addition to the solid foods he's been introduced to around six months, he's enjoying a healthy and well-rounded diet that has been customized just for him.
10 Immunity To Illness
Toddlers that continue to breastfeed are also shown to have less incidents of illness, and when they do get sick, the duration of the illness is shorter. According to KellyMom.com, immunities to illness actually increase during the second year of breastfeeding, creating a pretty effective shield against illness for your child.
According to Dr. Sears, breastfeeding provides protection for babies and toddlers from ear infections, severe colds, and stomach viruses.
9 Intellectual Achievement
Research has shown that children that breastfed the longest have the highest gains in cognitive achievement. Not only does breastfeeding your baby for a lengthy amount of time protect him from illness, it's actually really great for his brain too. This is probably the cheapest brain food you could ever hope to find for your baby.
Since nutrition is so closely linked to health and wellness, it would be worth it to consider breastfeeding beyond the first year to help boost your child's immunity, overall health and now intelligence too.
Right around the time your baby begins to use those pudgy legs to try taking a few steps, he will probably also stumble a bit. From the moment a baby begins to breastfeed, nursing is associated with a warm, comforting, and safe environment. It's the reason many babies nurse to sleep, or beg to nurse when they're teething.
This doesn't change when your infant becomes a toddler. They know what comforts them most, and still want to be held close against their mother's warm chest. I love that my toddler still finds comfort in nursing, and it's great to have it to call on when nothing else will soothe him.
This goes right along with comfort, but it is a bit different.
Meeting your child's physical and emotional needs with breastfeeding is rewarding, and it only becomes more-so the longer you do it. The early months of breastfeeding your baby will be forever cherished and the bittersweet memories of late nights cradling a tiny person while counting little toes have a magic all their own.
There is something also to be said for the sweet bond that also comes with nursing when your baby can and does ask for it. It is one of the sweetest joys to be able to soothe your toddler with nursing when it is something that he has sought out and finds such happiness and contentment in receiving.
This is a bit controversial, and some may not agree, but I have found nursing my toddler to be one of the easiest ways to encourage sleep. He nurses right to sleep for naps and at bedtime, and I know that if he brings me our nursing pillow that he is ready and willing to rest.
Some might say this is a sleep crutch, and I was even advised at the hospital to avoid allowing my baby to nurse to sleep because it was a "bad habit." Honestly though? It's been the best thing for both of us, and rest times always go smoothly and without stress for the most part.
Also, I asked a lactation consultant to weigh in on the topic, and she divulged that all of her babies nursed to sleep and she loved every moment of it- so there's that.
5 Social Ability
According to Elizabeth N. Baldwin cited by KellyMom.com, allowing your child to be dependent on you for his emotional needs as long as he might need to will give your child the security to one day be independent and social with others. There is no visible line between toddlerhood and childhood, and nursing for as long as the child (and mother) feel comfortable to do so, which allows for a gentle transition from one stage to the next.
Increasingly social intelligence will become important for children, and the sooner a child develops social skills, the better, as this will benefit them in school with the ability to read social cues. And we're not talking about being popular, we're talking about being able to read social cues and respond accordingly.
4 Mother's Health
Breastfeeding is a mutually beneficial activity for a mother and child, and the longer the breastfeeding period, the greater the benefits received. Breastfeeding reduces a mother's risk of breast, ovarian, uterine, and endometrial cancer. The longer a mother breastfeeds, the greater her reduction of risk for breast cancer.
Breastfeeding also protects the mother from osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, and rheumatoid arthritis. Breastfeeding also can provide a sort of birth control to the mother, as it prolongs the return of fertility.
Extended breastfeeding often draws unwanted comments from strangers, or worse yet, friends and relatives. Most, if not all of the time, these comments are the result of cultural discomfort with breastfeeding, not to mention myths and misconception associated with prolonged breastfeeding. Here are some myths and misconceptions about breastfeeding past the one year mark...
3 If They Can Ask To Nurse, They're Too Old
Like anything else, breast feeding beyond a year has its own critics. I've been told that if my children can ask to nurse, then they're too old to nurse. This makes no sense at all, and says more about the person's discomfort with the natural act of feeding a child than with any actual truth related to that statement.
The World Health Organization has released research showing that humans are meant to breastfeed from two and a half to seven years of age. Most other countries are culturally comfortable with extended breastfeeding, as it is understood to be what is best for children, and sometimes vital to survival.
This idea that if kids can ask for breastmilk that they're too old for it, follows the logic that if I am old enough to ask for what I would like to eat, does this mean I'm too old to eat it? Someone better give a heads up to our local pizza joint, and have the delivery guy turn around now.
2 Breastfeeding Causes Cavities
I've been told by pediatricians and dentists alike that breastfeeding causes cavities if your child nurses at night. This is misleading information. Bottle feeding a child at night can indeed cause cavities as the milk can pool around the teeth and sit in the mouth for long periods of time.
In order for a breast to release milk however, it requires the child to be actively sucking (and therefore swallowing), which would not allow milk to pool around the teeth. Breast milk also contains bacteria fighting properties that actually prevent bacteria from setting up shop in a child's mouth and forming cavities. According to KellyMom.com, a link between breast milk and cavities has not been found.
1 Breastfeeding Toddlers Causes Dependence Issues
I'm not sure when we as a culture decided that our young children, who only recently left the womb, should not be dependent on their parents. The need for closeness and emotional attachment is valid, and does not have an expiration date. You are not spoiling your baby or toddler by holding them, nursing them, cuddling them, or comforting them.
Even if it's the middle of the night. Even if they're too big for a nursing pillow, and insist on brushing their own teeth. Meeting their deepest emotional needs now will give your child the security they need later to spread their wings and fly. You cannot spoil a child with love.
So that's it. Nurse on if you want to ladies, we've got plenty of great reasons to keep going!