Extended breastfeeding (breastfeeding your baby past the age of 1) is a highly debated topic among parents. Those who argue against it believe it can impede a toddler’s ability to become independent, gives the mother less time for herself, and may restrict the toddler’s desire to eat foods he should be eating.
However, many parents and experts agree that extended breastfeeding offers significant benefits for toddlers (and nursing moms too!). If you’re thinking about extended breastfeeding, here are some of its benefits to consider.
The Benefits of Extended Breastfeeding
Two of the most trusted names parents rely on for pediatric health advice are the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the World Health Organization (WHO). Both organizations approve extended breastfeeding for many reasons, including:
Promoting comfort and bonding. It’s a popular idea that extended breastfeeding negatively promotes toddler dependence on their mothers. However, there is no conclusive research to suggest that your toddler will become clingy just because he finds comfort in your breast and feeding time. Breastfeeding can support a strong and healthy attachment between you and your toddler while giving you both much-needed bonding time each day.
Building immunity. Breastfeeding through age 1 may protect your baby against allergies that run in the family. It can also boost the immune system to fight off viruses, infections, and germs that can cause illnesses in your baby. These benefits don’t stop when a baby turns one; your toddler can continue to gain immunity from your breastmilk for as long as you choose to breastfeed him.
Supporting heart health. Your breastmilk is incredibly healthy for your toddler’s heart, too. Breastmilk is linked to lowering cholesterol, blood pressure, and the risk of developing type-II diabetes — all of which are detrimental to heart health. Breastfeeding for however long you choose to do it can also keep your toddler at a healthy weight, which is another thumbs-up for his heart.
Offering balanced nutrition. Your toddler needs more in his diet than when he was a baby and breastmilk provided everything he needed to grow. But that doesn’t mean your breastmilk isn’t nutritionally relevant now that he’s older. As your toddler grows, your breastmilk continues to change to meet his body’s requirements. That means it will usually make up for whatever might be lacking in his regular diet. You can always check with your pediatrician for advice to ensure you’re feeding your toddler balanced meals in addition to breastfeeding.
Keeping you healthy, too. Breastfeeding – no matter how long you do it for – has numerous benefits for you, not just your baby. For starters, you burn a lot of calories when you breastfeed, which helps you maintain a healthy weight. Extended breastfeeding can also give you relaxing, stress-free time with your little one, reduce the risk of some cancers, and release hormones that make you feel blissful and calm.
How long is too long to breastfeed? The AAP suggests that mothers breastfeed their toddlers for as long as they both feel comfortable doing so. WHO notes that “continuing to breastfeed for up to two years or beyond” is perfectly acceptable. In short, as long as you’re both enjoying breastfeeding and your toddler is getting the nutrients he needs, you should feel confident in your choice to continue doing so.