What Is Extended Breastfeeding, And Is It Right For You?

When you’ve exceeded the one-year mark of nursing your child, you’re now in the extended breastfeeding stage.

· 5 min read
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When you’ve exceeded the one-year mark of nursing your child, you’re now in the extended breastfeeding stage. Some children breastfeed until they’re two or three years old - and if you’re wondering if that’s okay, it is. As long as your toddler is getting fed more than just breastmilk, it’s okay to consider extended breastfeeding.

Normally, most moms don’t have a set timeline of how long they’re going to breastfeed when their newborn debuts into the world. How long you decide to breastfeed is a personal choice that depends on your preferences and your child’s needs. In the infancy level, the goal is just to make it through sore nipples, breast engorgement, sleepless nights, and marathon feeding sessions of constantly hungry newborns.

Most new moms aim to get into the groove of breastfeeding and once mom and baby hit a good stride, breastfeeding could become an enjoyable routine, rich in snuggles as it’s an opportunity to cuddle up and bond with their baby.

Instead of just nursing for a few months, both mom and baby could be reluctant to stop, with breastfeeding extending past the first year. Prolonged nursing or ‘extended breastfeeding’ is not something you can force on your child, and it’s based on a willing relationship from both parties. It’s typically the child that wants to continue.

Instead of breastfeeding just for nourishment, it turns into a beautiful bonding and soothing experience for mom and baby. And there’s nothing wrong with that, because breastfeeding is one of the most natural acts in the world.

However, some moms may say that there’s a downside to long-term breastfeeding, and that’s social stigma. For starters, a few moms breastfeeding their toddlers in a public space have received flack from others. Moreso when the baby has outgrown the mother’s arms. They could get negative comments and strange looks. The glares can be quite uncomfortable so some moms are forced to be closet nursers, breastfeeding older kids in hiding. They also don’t tell family and friends they’re extended breastfeeding for fear of disapproval. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to breastfeed a bigger baby or toddler, this article is for you.

What is Extended Breastfeeding?

Extended breastfeeding pertains to nursing your baby longer than one year of age. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusively breastfeeding from birth to the first 6 months of life since the milk contains antibodies that protect against many childhood illnesses. More importantly, breast milk contains all the nutrients your infant needs for optimal development.

Past the 6th month stage, breast milk can provide half or more of the nutritional needs of the child so you are required to introduce safe and complementary solid foods to supplement breastmilk. This practice of feeding solids and breastmilk is encouraged by the WHO until the baby is two years old.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) affirms exclusively breastfeeding for 6 months, along with continuous nursing with solids until the baby’s first birthday or longer while mutually desired by mom and baby. This means you can breastfeed for as long as you wish past the first year mark, with the decision to stop being a personal choice.

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Benefits of Extended Breastfeeding on the Child

There are some potential benefits of extended breastfeeding for the child. For one thing, breast milk is not bad for the child, as it’s highly nutritious.

Extended breastfeeding could also boost your child’s immune system and enhance their brain development. Medical research has supported the theory that extended breastfeeding can boost your child’s IQ.

It’s not harmful to prolong breastfeeding, but there is a social stigma you may have to deal with. Some people think extended breastfeeding leads to clingy children, but there’s also evidence to support the idea that extended breastfeeding could lead to greater independence. This is because strong bonds with a parent can lead to a secure attachment style.

There are many smart, secure and confident adults who breastfed until they were two or three years old.

What About the Mother? Extended Breastfeeding and Maternal Health

There are many benefits of extended breastfeeding on maternal health. Apart from being free and convenient, nursing for the long haul could reduce the risks of ovarian and breast cancer.

Below is a summary of some of the benefits of extended breastfeeding for the mother:

  • Reduced risk of certain cancers like ovarian cancer and breast cancer
  • Reduces the risk of rheumatoid arthritis, high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes
  • Helps mothers maintain a healthy weight

Breastfeeding beyond the first year could also help mothers maintain a healthy weight since they burn more calories while breastfeeding. However, although extended breastfeeding is a beautiful and natural experience, it also has some potential downsides. Apart from social stigma and potential hostility, you could end up facing the following:

  • Loss of freedom because you need to be accessible to the child
  • Constantly breastfeeding can be very exhausting
  • Extended breastfeeding could affect your sex drive and your relationship
  • Prolonged nursing one child could interfere with your ability to spend time with your other kids
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Is Extended Breastfeeding Right For You?

More and more mothers around the world are choosing to breastfeed longer, especially if their child seems to really want to. With education campaigns and support, people’s attitudes are starting to change. Laws have also been enacted to protect breastfeeding moms in public, including those who wish to return to work and travel. Hence, if you choose to prolong your nursing journey, go right ahead and don’t let social stigma stop you.

The decision to continue nursing past one year is normal and beneficial. By the same token, the decision to wean your baby is also a personal choice, so do what feels right for you and your family. Sometimes, your milk production just slows down and stops on its own. Other times, you may need to go back to work and mix-feed or you may just feel as if it’s the right time to stop because your baby has lost interest.

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References:

  1. Breastfeeding (WHO) https://www.who.int/health-topics/breastfeeding#tab=tab_2
  2. Infant Food and Feeding (APA) https://www.aap.org/en/patient-care/healthy-active-living-for-families/infant-food-and-feeding/The longer babies breastfeed, the more they achieve in life – major study | Breastfeeding | The Guardian