Extended breastfeeding is defined as nursing past your child's first birthday. The practice is often regarded as typical in various cultures throughout the world, and offers numerous benefits for both mother and child. While extended breastfeeding has plenty of pros, there are also existing drawbacks. Weighing the pros and cons of extended breastfeeding will help mothers decide if it is the right choice for them and their child.
Extended Breastfeeding: Important Factors to Consider
Breastfeeding is a highly personal choice that only the nursing mom can make for both herself and her child. How long she chooses to breastfeed often depends upon several factors.
- Health: The health of the breastfeeding mother and baby can directly impact the length of time a mom chooses to breastfeed. If a mother must take medications that could harm the baby, she may need to stop breastfeeding and turn to formula. Likewise, if an infant has difficulty gaining weight while breastfeeding, her pediatrician may suggest to the mother that formula and solid foods are another option. However, if there aren't any health issues that directly relate to breastfeeding, a mother can breastfeed for an extended period if she chooses to do so.
- Contentment: Both mother and baby should be content with the experience of breastfeeding. If a woman feels undue stress during nursing sessions, the experience can be frustrating for her, and may cause her milk supply to diminish, causing frustration for the baby as well. Sometimes, toddlers decide they've had enough of breastfeeding and want to stop. In this case, it may be time for the mom to stop nursing a child. Throughout your extended breastfeeding journey, check in with yourself frequently.
Examine the following:
- Is breastfeeding becoming overwhelming or causing excessive stress, depression, or sadness?
- Check in with your toddler as well, paying attention to their actions and cues surrounding breastfeeding. Do they welcome the act or fuss and pull away?
- Check with your pediatrician to make sure nothing else is thwarting your kid's desire to nurse, and if there are no health concerns, consider the fact that they may be ready for a change.
- Convenience: In some cases, it can be difficult to breastfeed, especially if a mother has to return to work and has trouble finding time to pump and store her breast milk. You might also be thinking of having another baby, or you have other children running around at home. Breastfeeding, often a time-consuming act for women, might no longer appeal to you if you are wary of trying to juggle nursing and a subsequent pregnancy, or if you feel the act is detracting from the attention you are able to give to your other children. If it is no longer convenient for you to pump or breastfeed your infant after their first birthday, consider other methods of getting nutrients into your little one.
Extended Breastfeeding Pros and Cons
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that mothers breastfeed their babies for the first six months of life. It is then recommended that a period of feeding breast milk combined with the introduction of other foods take place. After one year of age, the AAP notes that breastfeeding can continue, as long as it is desired by both the mother and the baby. Deciding to breastfeed beyond a year has several pros to the practice, all of which should be contemplated in decision making.
Pros of Extended Breastfeeding
It's easy to point out the positive attributes of extended breastfeeding, as there are copious benefits to breast milk!
- Convenience: While some parents feel that nursing is an inconvenience to their lifestyle, other parents find it to be the opposite. Little ones who are champion nursers can be toted around town without extra snacks and bottles. If they become hungry, their snack is right there, attached to mommy!
- Health: Toddlers should typically be getting the majority of their nutrition from solid foods, but breast milk can provide additional nutrition to help keep toddlers healthy. Just because babies are over a year of age doesn't mean breast milk diminishes in terms of nutrients. In fact, per an interesting study, "Human milk in the second year postpartum contained significantly higher concentrations of total protein, lactoferrin, lysozyme and Immunoglobulin A, than milk bank samples, and significantly lower concentrations of zinc, calcium, iron, and oligosaccharides." As long as breastmilk complements other solids and nutrients, it is still considered an added health benefit for your baby, and can boost a child's immune system.
- Promotes Bonding: Extended breastfeeding allows all of those feel-good hormones (oxytocin) to flow through the two of you, creating positive psychological effects for mom and baby. The act of breastfeeding can leave mother and child calm, relaxed, and content.
- Keeps mama healthy - Breastfeeding may reduce a mother's risk of developing breast, ovarian, endometrial cancer. Studies not only show that nursing mothers gain an added layer of protection against life-threatening diseases, but the breastfeeding they do is cumulative in its protection. This means a mother could breastfeed two babies for a year each or one baby for two years and receive the same protection from certain cancers, relatively speaking. Breastfeeding for over a year can also reduce a mother's risk of rheumatoid arthritis, high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.
- May help keep mom trim - Studies show that mamas who nurse their babies longer (past the six-month mark) achieve a smaller maternal waist circumference, and the slimming effects can last up to fifteen years!
Cons to Extended Breastfeeding
Are there any negative issues that surround the topic of extending breastfeeding beyond the first year? Of course, there are concerns to take into account, and just as the pros are critically considered, cons and drawbacks should also be looked at before continuing the breastfeeding journey.
- Right reasons: Be sure you and your child are breastfeeding for the right reasons. If your child becomes increasingly clingy to you, refusing to participate in normal activities and preferring to nurse throughout the day, it may be time to wean them.
- Health: Breastfeeding requires a lot from the mother's body. Your body will need to get enough food to provide enough nutrition for both you and your child. If you feel weaker because of the demand of milk production, it may be time to stop. Before you do stop, discuss your health concerns with your doctor.
- Lack of freedom - While plenty of moms feel that breastfeeding gives them the ability to take their baby anywhere and everywhere, never worrying about bottle preparation, other moms feel that extended breastfeeding becomes confining. They may grow frustrated at the idea that they can never move freely without feeding or pumping. If this is your particular case, or if you have similar feelings of entrapment, consider weaning your child.
- Pain - Breastfeeding should not hurt, and if it does continuously, it might be time to check in with your doc! That said, moms who decide to extend their nursing experience can encounter a new physical pain associated with the act: teeth! Yep. Babies grow teeth, and teeth on the breast can hurt! If you have a nibbler, it might be time to turn to the bottle.
- Temporary infertility - Older mothers looking to have back-to-back babies might think about halting the breastfeeding experience early. Mothers who exclusively breastfeed can experience halted or delayed fertility and ovulation, and ovulation is necessary for pregnancy. Can you fall pregnant while nursing? Absolutely. Can nursing stifle pregnancy? Yes it can. If you are gunning to see two pink lines pop up on a pee stick, you may decide not to extend your breastfeeding out past one year.
- Self conscious attitude - Breastfeeding kids at any age should be normalized entirely in the United States, as it is in so many other parts of the world. Per the CDC, 36% of babies are breastfed past one year of age, and that is no small number! That said, there is still a stigma surrounding the nursing of older children. Know that even if you are met with wandering eyes and judgy attitudes, you are doing NOTHING wrong! You are simply meeting your child's needs, as you should. Even knowing that extended breastfeeding is natural and beneficial, some mothers become self-conscious and decide against it, due to fear of what others might think.
Making Extended Breastfeeding Easier
If you have decided that the benefits outweigh the cons in regard to extended breastfeeding, these tips and tricks can help make the process easier on both baby and on mom.
- Distract tots from pinching and fiddling - Babies are all about exploring with any and every body part possible. This might mean that as they pass the one-year birthday mark, they might be just as interested in poking, pinching, twisting, and prodding mom's body as they are in snacking mode. Try to give nursing babies something else to focus their hands on, like a nursing bead necklace.
- Create code words for nursing - Babies older than one year of age begin to talk and assert their needs verbally. Teach your growing child a code word they can use when they want to nurse.
- Take care of sore nipples - Your baby has teeth and is eating more complex solids now. Both of these factors can lead to nipple irritation. Be sure to have a good nipple cream on hand or remove foods from your baby's diet if you discover that they are irritating your skin.
- Consider a nursing blanket- If you are still somewhat self-conscious about nursing an older baby or toddler in public, look into nursing blankets. These can help provide the privacy you need to be comfortable in the extended nursing experience.
When It Comes to Feeding Your Baby, You Make the Call
People have some seriously strong feelings about child-rearing practices, feeding choices included! If you are on the fence with extended breastfeeding, know that in the end, the choice is entirely yours. Do what you and your doctors feel is best for both yourself and your baby. If other people in your life have thoughts and ideas regarding your decision, remain firm in knowing that you are the parent, and when it comes to your child, you know what works best.