Most major health organizations recommend nursing your baby for a minimum of 12 months, but many health professionals recommend even longer than that. While some may raise an eyebrow, it is common to breastfeed your baby even after 12 months, in some families. Extended breastfeeding is a healthy and reasonable option for mothers and children who aren’t ready to wean. The World Health Organization (WHO) takes it a step further by recommending that babies be breastfed for 2 years or more, as long as all their nutritional needs are being met.
To understand and get a deeper insight on the topic, TC46 got in touch with Certified Lactation Consultant Arushi Agrawal, who shares her knowledge about an extended breastfeeding period, benefits and downsides.
1. Extended breastfeeding can be recommended for up to 2 years, and the choice to do so is yours
When you choose to breastfeed your baby after the first year, this is known as long-term breastfeeding (also known as extended breastfeeding). WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding till the age of 6 months and to continue breastfeeding for up to 2 years and beyond.
It is entirely up to you and your child how long you breastfeed. If loved ones — or even strangers — offer advice on when to wean, tell them that the choice is ultimately yours.
2. Extended breastfeeding can boost immunity and increases the mother
Extended breastfeeding is not welcomed by a lot of people and they have their share of criticism but we can’t deny the fact that it comes with its own set of benefits.
- Is A Nutritional Boost: It’s a misconception that after a certain amount of time, the milk “turns to water” or loses nutritional value. Breast milk maintains its nutritional content for the length of breastfeeding, according to research. Even if your child eats like a little bird, he may be able to compensate for any deficiencies caused due to his pickiness through breastfeeding. Furthermore, its composition can change as your child’s needs change. Breast milk with higher energy and fat content after one year has been discovered by several studies, which could be beneficial to infants. “The fat energy contribution of breast milk to the infant diet could be important during extended lactation,” the researchers speculated.
- Increases Bonding: While there are ways to bond with your infant if you are not breastfeeding, any parent of a toddler would tell you that once your baby is mobile and exploring, all the cuddling and closeness of the early months becomes harder to come by. Many breastfeeding parents claim that nursing is the only time they get to sit down with their child and remain linked throughout the day.
- Boosts Immunity: Your toddler’s immune system will continue to be strengthened by your milk, making him less susceptible to colds, ear infections, asthma, and other common ailments. And if he gets sick, breastfeeding will make him feel better. In reality, if he has an upset stomach, breast milk might be the only food he can eat. Breastfed babies and toddlers have been shown to have a variety of health benefits as they grow up, including lower blood pressure and cholesterol. They also have a lower risk of being overweight or obese, as well as developing type 2 diabetes.
- Provides Comfort: Breastfeeding allows you to comfort and feel attached to your child as he/she grows older. Your child’s attachment to you during feeding would encourage him to be independent rather than clingy. Forcing a child to quit breastfeeding before he/she is ready is unlikely to result in a more confident child. Since toddlers are still on the move, breastfeeding allows you and your partner to relax. It’s a great way for you to unwind while giving your child your full attention. The hormones prolactin and oxytocin have feel-good effects that may make you feel relaxed and close to your infant.
- Improves Brain Development: While the evidence isn’t definitive, some studies have shown that the longer and more often a toddler breastfeeds, the smarter he would be, due to the omega-3 fatty acids, or DHA found only in breast milk.
- Has Health Benefits For Mothers: Breastfeeding helps to burn a lot of calories because it takes energy to breastfeed a toddler so extended breastfeeding can help you in maintaining a healthy weight. Also, researchers have argued time and again that breastfeeding is very effective in reducing the risk of developing ovarian cancer and cardiovascular diseases. The risk is further reduced through extended breastfeeding.
3. Extended breastfeeding comes with its own set of drawbacks
Extended breastfeeding is a wonderful option for many families, but it is not without its limitations and concerns. Here are some of the most common issues that parents have while considering breastfeeding for longer periods.
- Makes the baby clingy: It is a common notion that a lot of people put forward. The truth is that rather than being clingy, your toddler will feel more at ease exploring on his own if he knows he can still return to the protection of your breast.
- The baby is too old to breastfeed: These words indicate that there is a fear, a fear of social judgement. What will people think? The answer lies within your heart. You and your baby mutually decide when is the right time to stop breastfeeding.
There’s no doubt that prolonged breastfeeding isn’t always well-received by the general public. Although many parents nurse their children beyond the age of one year — and even beyond two years — it’s not always a topic that’s discussed freely, and there’s a stigma associated with it. It’s a completely natural and comfortable experience for someone who has nursed a toddler or infant, but it’s moreover judgmental for those who haven’t.
4. Downsides to long term breastfeeding
While most women believe there are no disadvantages to nursing a child for a long time, there might be some aspects that should be highlighted which bring around some uncertainty to long-term breastfeeding.
- People will try to gossip: People think you’re strange for breastfeeding your toddler because it’s not popular. You’ll have to get used to comments such as “oh, your kid is still breastfeeding?” Alternatively, “He’s/ She’s too big to breastfeed.” Breastfeeding an older child in public is never going to be straightforward, so you’ll need to get used to it quickly.
- You can get hurt: As the baby grows, he starts to have new teeth. Now the sad part is that it can get tricky while you are breastfeeding a toddler, though they know that they should not bite. It can happen by accident. More profoundly when they are sleepy or much distracted. And to be honest, it really does hurt.
- Your lifestyle can get restricted: Breastfeeding can obstruct a mother’s lifestyle and schedule beyond what feels manageable after a while. Planning around your baby’s feedings, pumping sessions, nursing bras and pads, remembering to pack your nursing cover, and all the other unpleasant aspects of breastfeeding may ultimately affect a mother’s decision to wean her baby.
5. Extended breastfeeding affects your child’s emotional development
Breastfeeding, according to many critics, is detrimental to a child’s health and psychological well-being. They argue it makes children dependent, limits their freedom, and makes it difficult for them to separate from their parents. However, no evidence can prove this baseless argument. On the contrary, the American Academy of Family Physicians has claimed that breastfeeding even after the age of one can lead to ‘better social adjustments for the children.’
6. Create boundaries with your child if you breastfeed beyond the first year
First, the mother needs to feel OK about all the new changes she is about to bring. She needs to take care of herself mentally and physically. When the baby starts getting older, it is normal for some mothers to step back down from breastfeeding on demand. It might not always be possible for the mother to do so. You might be drained completely throughout the day. So, you can start by setting a fixed feeding schedule. A lot of mothers try to breastfeed only during the night time to make the baby fall asleep. But it’s up to you whatever time you want to choose. You can tip the child off with some snacks, it serves as a very good distraction. But, you would want to do it only sometimes. Don’t overdo anything and jump right back. Take one step at a time. And everything will start getting in order. Now, we are not saying that you have to essentially start weaning off the baby, it is up to you.
7. Night time nursing can be done if it suits the mother
Many toddlers even want to nurse in the middle of the night. It’s completely natural, but it still shocks a lot of parents. Go ahead and nurse at night if it suits you. If it doesn’t, you should start weaning your child at night. Air, a back rub, or other calming methods may be used to replace overnight sessions. Some parents discover that a partner must step in for a few nights because their child will only nurse if the breastfeeding parent is present.
If night weaning isn’t working, wait a few months and try again when your child is furthermore ready.
8. Talk to your child about weaning
Many breastfeeding toddlers can wean on their own. If yours won’t cooperate and you want to speed things up, simply talk to your chap. Your kid knows what you’re saying by the age of two. Let her know that breastfeeding will be ending soon, but that mommy will always be around to play, read, snuggle, and tickle her belly. To assuage her fears of abandonment, schedule some extra fun “mommy and me” events. It may also be helpful to explain that graduating from nursing school is something that big kids do and that it is something to be proud of.
9. Dealing with criticism for extended breastfeeding
When you start breastfeeding you have to adapt to an entwined journey of sleepless nights, sore nipples, postpartum depression, just trying to do your best, keeping yourself from going nuts and continue to breastfeed.
There is one thought we always get stuck with at a point, ‘when to stop breastfeeding.’ After a while, you get used to it and start liking that inseparable bond with the child. And you want to hang on to those lovely cuddle sessions, those snuggles, those you and your baby’s special time. People are there to give you all types of advice and comments like – you should stop now, you are spoiling him, oh my god you still breastfeed your toddler; he’s too big now, let the habit go. Don’t let all of them get to you, do what’s right for you and the baby, your instincts will know better when to stop.