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How Long Is Too Long To Practice Extended Breastfeeding?

What Is Extended Breastfeeding?

Extended breastfeeding is defined as the practice of breastfeeding a child beyond one to two years. In the United States, nursing beyond one year is considered “extended”. The West generally sees extending breastfeeding as somewhat taboo. Despite this stigma, the American Academy of Pediatrics stated that breastfeeding should continue through “at least the first year of life and beyond for as long as mutually desired by mother and child.” Other countries are more open to breastfeeding through toddlerhood; the stance varies by culture. The World Health Organization even recommends that mothers breastfeed for the first two years, citing health and emotional benefits.

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What Is The Average Age To Wean A Baby?

In the United States, only 43% of babies are breastfed until six months of age. In other parts of the world, mothers breastfeed for two or three years, typically. The official “average” age of the end of breastfeeding is between two and seven years, globally. Americans might be scandalized by a seven-year-old at the breast, but other cultures perhaps see it as the norm.

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Does Extended Breastfeeding Benefit The Baby?

Breastmilk continues to be a source of nutrition well past the first year of infancy. Even after solid foods become the majority of a child’s diet, breastmilk can act as a supplement. From a nutrition standpoint, breastmilk becomes more protein-heavy in the second year. Perhaps this is the body’s response to a growing toddler’s energy needs? Of course, any time at the breast will provide immunities to the nursing tot!

Nursing is not just about feeding babies or toddlers; it’s also a matter of comfort for the little one. There is no place as safe as a mother’s arms. Letdown means your body is pumping oxytocin, deepening the emotional bond by sending love-signals to the brain.

Does Extended Breastfeeding Benefit The Mother?

Dr. Karleen Gribble notes her own study of mothers who practice extended breastfeeding. Overwhelmingly, families report that extended breastfeeding is a child-led practice. Notably, many of these women felt long-term nursing was inappropriate before they had their own children. As mothers, they report extended breastfeeding seems to be natural and easygoing!

"Most of the women I spoke to were not doing sustained breastfeeding for nutritional or health reasons, but because it provided comfort and the children were not ready to stop,"

Here’s what makes extended breastfeeding so cool! Studies have shown that every month a mother nurses, she reduces her risk of breast cancer. Extended breastfeeding can reap health benefits for moms for literally decades after their children wean.

What Are The Drawbacks Of Extended Breastfeeding?

Mothers who choose to nurse past the first two years of childhood may notice significant pressure to quit. Those who continue on into later toddler years and early childhood provide support to one another through online communities. They may feel ostracized or stigmatized for their choice to breastfeed long-term.

How Long Is Too Long To Breastfeed?

Extended breastfeeding is perfectly healthy so long as both mother and baby receive benefit from the practice and that benefit outweighs any drawbacks. In short, there is no such thing as “too long” to nurse. At least, there’s no hard line I’m willing to draw in the sand! Dr. Gribble reports that children who practiced extended breastfeeding say they feel “good, nice, or happy” when they spent time at the breast. If everyone is happy, then nothing needs to change! 

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