Extended Breastfeeding: Benefits and Why you should do it
Every breastfeeding relationship between a mother and her child is different. It’s not set in stone anywhere how long your nursing relationship with your child should last. If you nurse your child past infancy, it is sometimes referred to as extended breastfeeding. Some people that don’t understand nursing your child past their first birthday may be judgmental and pushy about you weaning your bub before you and your bub are ready. Try not to let that get to you. Breastfeeding your baby beyond infancy is completely normal and natural and holds many wonderful benefits for you and your baby.
Extended Breastfeeding is Natural
You may feel as though nursing an older baby, toddler, or young child is weird or abnormal. This is because extended breastfeeding in the western world isn’t as popular as it is throughout the rest of the world. In much of the world, however, breastfeeding beyond one is completely normal and natural. If you compare humans to other mammals by size and development, it makes sense that we would breastfeed our babies beyond their first year.
The World Health Organization, or the WHO, recommends that mothers breastfeed exclusively for the first 6 months of the baby’s life. That means that breastmilk is the only thing that the baby gets for the first 6 months. They go on to say that breastfeeding should then continue in addition to solid foods until the baby is at least 2 years old, but for as long after that as both the mother and baby mutually desire. Statistics show that Australia is missing the mark on these recommendations by a good margin with only around 15% of babies still exclusively breastfeeding at 5 months of age.
Common Myths Surrounded Extended Breastfeeding
When it comes to nursing your child past a year, there can be a lot of myths spread around by people who may be well-meaning but really don’t fully understand breastfeeding. Some of these things are things that people will tell you when they think that you should wean.
1. Your Baby Will Never Wean
One thing that people may tell you that if you don’t have your baby weaned by a year of age that you’ll never be able to wean your child. This is completely untrue. You can rest assured that your child will not be nursing by the time they go off to college. In fact, when allowed to self-wean, most children stop breastfeeding sometime 2 to 4 years of age.
2. There is No Nutritional Value in Breastmilk After 12 Months
You may be told that there is no nutritional value for your baby in your breastmilk after your baby is a year old. When your baby turns one, your breastmilk doesn’t just suddenly lose all of its value. Breastmilk still provides plenty of nutrition well into the toddler years.
3. Breastfeeding After One is Only for Mum
Some people seem to think that mums continue breastfeeding their children beyond infancy only for themselves and not for their baby. They think the mum is still breastfeeding because she can’t let go. While there are great benefits for mum when it comes to extended breastfeeding, there are also still many wonderful benefits for the baby too.
4. They Will Never Learn Independence
Another common myth about extended breastfeeding is that by nursing your child beyond a year that you are preventing them from learning to be independent. However, research shows that the opposite of this is true. Creating a strong attachment and bond with caregivers, including through breastfeeding, actually provides the child with the security they need to become independent.
The Benefits of Extended Breastfeeding
The benefits that come with breastfeeding don’t suddenly stop when your baby turns one. In fact, there are tons of great reasons to continue breastfeeding beyond infancy.
1. Strengthened Immunity
Breastmilk contains a high concentration of antibodies that help give your child’s immune system a boost. The immune system won’t be completely developed until around 4 to 5 years of age, so this boost can be very beneficial to your child. In fact, studies show that a toddler that is breastfed tends to get sick less often than those that are not breastfed. Breastfed toddlers also recover more quickly from being sick than their non-breastfed counterparts.
2. Good Source of Nutrition
It’s no secret that many toddlers can be very picky eaters. It’s a common concern amongst parents that their child isn’t getting all of their needed nutrition. Breastmilk is full of wonderful nutrition for your child. Research shows that toddlers that breastfeed can get a large portion of their nutritional needs met through breastmilk.
3. Bonding Between Mother and Child
Even after your baby isn’t exactly a baby anymore, the bond that breastfeeding facilitates remains. Breastfeeding provides a wonderful time for you and your little one to spend together and just take a break from all of the chaos that comes with being the mum of a toddler.
4. Provides Comfort
Breastfeeding is one of the best ways you can provide comfort your for baby even into the toddler years. Because of this, it can be a very strong parenting tool. If your child gets hurt like all toddlers do, breastfeeding them can provide a great comfort. Not only is it familiar and comforting for your child, but breastmilk also contains natural pain relievers. Breastfeeding doesn’t just provide comfort when your child falls or scrapes their knee though, it is also an amazing way to comfort a sick or upset child. Breastfeeding can also provide an easy way to help your child to fall asleep.
5. Higher Intelligence
Breastmilk has important brain boosting properties. Research shows that babies that are breastfeed have higher IQs as adults. It turns out that the length of breastfeeding also affects IQ. So, the longer you breastfeed your baby, the smarter that they may end up being.
Weaning Your Child
It’s normal for weaning to occur at different points for different babies. You can either chose to wean your child or you can allow the completely natural process of self-weaning to occur. If you choose to wean your child before they wean on their own, you should try to take the process slowly and gently. Weaning suddenly before they are ready can be traumatic for children. Your breasts have been a constant source of food and comfort for your child and it’s important to take your time with weaning for the best results for everyone. There are a couple of gentle and easy methods to wean your child over time.
1. Don’t Offer Don’t Refuse
This way of weaning is probably the most gentle, but will also probably take the most time. It’s as simple as it sounds. You don’t ever offer your child nursing, but you also don’t refuse to let them nurse if they request it.
2. Distract and Postpone
Using this way of weaning, you start nursing less by trying to distract them when they want to nurse and/or by postponing nursing sessions. Basically, when your child wants to nurse, offer to play with them instead or offer them a healthy snack. Try to postpone nursing sessions by telling them that they can nurse after certain events. For example, if your child asks to nurse before meal time, ensure them that you will nurse after meal time instead.
3. Cut Out One Nursing Session at a Time
If you’re still nursing your child, say 5 times a day, try to cut down to just 4 times a day for a while, before then cutting down to 3 a day and so on. Replace your child’s typical nursing session with some other event or activity. For example, if you’re trying to cut out nursing before a nap, you could start reading a book together before nap time or perhaps try rocking in a rocking chair.
Make the Best Decision for Yourself and Your Baby
Some people may insist that you must stop breastfeeding your baby after they hit 12 months old. The people that say that are simply ignorant about breastfeeding, and you shouldn’t listen to them. In fact, you shouldn’t listen to anybody that tries to tell you when or how you should quit nursing. When you end your breastfeeding relationship with your child is a very personal decision that nobody should make other than you and your baby. Just remember that when you do wean to take the process slow and be gentle with your baby. Don’t let anyone tell you how long you should or shouldn’t breastfeed your baby.