Breastfeeding For Longer Than One Year

Recommendations, Benefits, and Downsides

Mother breastfeeding an Older Child, Extended Breastfeeding, Beyond one Year
The benefits of breastfeeding continue even after one year.. Jaime Monfort/Moment/Getty Images

What Is Extended Breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding for longer than one year is often called extended breastfeeding. However, to call it extended breastfeeding, makes it sound as if the continuation of breastfeeding after a year is considered longer than normal. It's really not, and only in our Western society is it thought of that way. Breastfeeding beyond a year is completely normal, and in many other cultures, it's not unusual for a mother to breastfeed her child for two years, three years, or even longer.

How Long Should You Breastfeed and What's Recommended?

You should breastfeed your baby for as long as you and your child want to continue breastfeeding. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months and the continuation of breastfeeding along with the introduction of solid foods throughout your baby's first year. After one year, the AAP recommends breastfeeding for as long you and your baby wish to do so.

The AAP also states that "There is no upper limit to the duration of breastfeeding and no evidence of psychologic or developmental harm from breastfeeding into the third year of life or longer." In addition to the AAP recommendations, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends breastfeeding until a child is two years old or beyond.

What Are the Benefits of Breastfeeding Beyond One Year?

All of the health and developmental benefits of breastfeeding continue for your child for as long as you nurse.

And, many of the benefits become even greater the longer you breastfeed. 

Nutrition: Breast milk is the most nutritious source of milk for your child. Even though many children are eating a variety of other foods by the time they're a year old, breast milk helps to complete your child's nutrition. It continues to provide your child with fat, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals.

Immunity: Breast milk contains antibodies and other healthy immune boosting factors. Even older children benefit from the immune protection that passes to them through breast milk. 

Illness: Children who are breastfed longer get sick less often and have shorter periods of illness compared to non-breastfed children. Plus, when your child is sick, breastfeeding is comforting and can help prevent dehydration.

Comfort and Security: Breastfeeding is calming and relaxing. It can help your toddler to cope with fear and stress. As your child becomes more independent and begins to venture out into the world, it's comforting for him to know that he can return to the safety and security of nursing in your arms.

Mothers Who Have Breastfed Beyond One Year Describe Their Children As:

  • More emotionally secure
  • Physically healthier
  • More loving and friendly
  • More independent
  • Easier to comfort during pain or stress
  • Happier and more cheerful

Is There a Downside to Long-Term Breastfeeding?

Although the majority of women feel that there are no negative aspects to nursing long-term, there may be some drawbacks to breastfeeding an older child.

  • You might have to deal with social hostility.
  • You could feel a loss of your freedom.
  • An older child may not be very discreet in public, which could be embarrassing.
  • It can be exhausting.
  • Breastfeeding longer can affect your marriage and your sex life.
  • It may interfere with your ability to spend time with your other children.

How to Deal with Criticism and the Social Stigma of Extended Breastfeeding

Many women feel that the main negative to long-term nursing is the social stigma. It can be tough to deal with the strange looks or opposing comments that breastfeeding a toddler can bring. Breastfeeding moms often become uncomfortable nursing older children around others and will only nurse at home.

Sometimes women become closet nurses and do not even let their own mothers or best friends know that they're still breastfeeding. They would rather breastfeed in secret than deal with the disapproving remarks of family and friends. If you feel this way, a local community breastfeeding group, such as La Leche League International, can be very helpful. It's a great place to go to feel accepted and find much-needed encouragement and support.

Changing the Attitudes Toward Long-Term Breastfeeding

More and more women are breastfeeding longer. With greater education and understanding, attitudes are beginning to change. Laws have been put in place to protect breastfeeding women who need to return to work and those who breastfeed in public. Hopefully, as it becomes more visible in our society, the negative attitudes will begin to fade away only to be replaced by acceptance. 

Breastfeeding is a beautiful, natural function of life. The continuation of breastfeeding for longer than one year is not only normal but beneficial to mothers and children. Therefore, breastfeeding should be supported and encouraged for as long as possible.

Sources:

American Academy of Pediatrics.  Policy Statement. Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk. Section on Breastfeeding. Pediatrics Vol. 129 No. 3 March 1, 2012, pp. e827 - e841: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/129/3/e827.

Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. (2011). Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Seventh Edition.  Mosby.

World Health Organization. Breastfeeding. http://www.who.int/topics/breastfeeding/en/

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