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Benefits of Breastfeeding For a Year or Longer

Katrina Wharton |29, October 2014


It's nearly your baby's first birthday, and everyone is asking, "Are you weaning your baby now?" First of all, congratulations! That's an achievement and milestone in mothering. According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 27 percent of mothers breastfed their babies until age 1. The Healthy People 2020 objectives are to raise that number to just over 34 percent.

While it's likely to elicit unwanted comments or attention, extended breastfeeding has become more commonplace in America. In many places in the world, however, breastfeeding a child through the toddler years, or even a bit beyond, is perfectly acceptable and encouraged.

How long should you breastfeed? According to the CDC, the American Academy of Pediatricians recommend mothers breastfeed for at least 12 months, and then continue beyond as long as mother and child desire. The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding a child until age 2, or beyond.

What are the Benefits of Extended Nursing?

The Mayo Clinic lists these benefits of Extended (beyond the first year) Breastfeeding

An immunity booster for baby.

When you nurse your child, your breast milk's cells, antibodies and hormones strengthen the child's immune system. That means baby has better natural defenses against illness and disease.

Optimum nutrition.

Breast milk is self-adjusting, meaning the nutrition a baby needs at every stage and age is automatically produced by mother's breasts. This means the nutrients baby needs are in there. While solid foods are recommended by age 6 months, breast milk still provides solid, healthy nutrition to baby. Cow's milk is never superior to mother's.

Better health.

The longer the duration of breastfeeding and the higher the quantity of breast milk consumed results in better health outcomes for baby.

Better protection against diseases for Mom.

Mothers who practice extended breastfeeding decrease their odds for getting illnesses and diseases such as ovarian and breast cancer, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and rheumatoid arthritis.

Improved health for mothers.

Likewise, mothers who breastfeed beyond a year appear to reap health rewards in general, having better overall health.

Other Benefits

The AAP cites that many mothers use breastfeeding for more than nutritional benefits. For instance, nursing is a comfort measure for toddlers and that breastfeeding is "valid and acceptable for a toddler to breastfeed for comfort as it is for him to suck a pacifier or thumb." Toddlers need frequent emotional comfort during a typical day. When you also consider the benefits of that nurturing practice when baby is sick or hurt, it's a real bonus.

Dealing with Criticism

While breastfeeding is becoming more commonplace and protected legally, it's become more normal to see a woman nursing her child. However, when that child can walk and talk, you are likely to garner stares, giggles or plain rudeness. How you choose to handle that awkward social moment is a personal decision.

Some mothers keep their decision to breastfeed beyond a year on the hush-hush. They limit toddler's nursing to home for certain feedings in the day, or find an ultra-private space to do so. They don't want anyone's negative reactions spoiling their nurturing time with baby.

Other mothers are bolder and choose to educate and stand firm in their beliefs to do what they believe to be best for baby. These moms nurse unapologetically wherever they'd nurse a newborn. Of course, with older babies and toddlers, privacy may be necessary as the child may get distracted and draw out a nursing session to an inconvenient length.

For criticism closer to home, enlist the aid of your physician, health care provider, pediatrician or WIC worker. Get flyers or info to share with loved ones who question your decision to extended breastfeed. Having your spouse attend a preliminary breastfeeding class is always a good idea. Sometimes having the info spill out of a professional's mouth rather than yours gives medical info more credence.

Explain that toddlers often have other baby-like attachments that don't automatically drop away on the first birthday, such as a prized stuffed animal, a blankie or pacifier. Some may even toddle around with a bottle in their two or three-year old mouths. (Not recommended!)

Baby and you will know when it's time to wean, and it should ideally happen naturally and without many tears.

Related Articles

Breastfeeding Has Benefits Beyond Milk

Breastfeeding and Working

Breastfeeding while Pregnant

What Is The Best Diet For A Breastfeeding Mom?

Including Dad While Breastfeeding


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