Breastfeeding a newborn or young baby is seen as ‘normal’, and generally encouraged. Mothers who choose to continue breastfeeding after infancy, however, often deal with a lot of criticism.
How often and how long a mother chooses to breastfeed is completely up to her. In most cases, there are multiple factors influencing her choice, some of which may be out of her control. For this reason, each mother should be allowed to make a decision that is best for her, without being shamed for it.
While some may see it as odd, or it may be impractical for others, there are many benefits to breastfeeding beyond infancy. Mothers who choose to do this can be confident that they are doing something good for both their child and themselves.
Benefits of Breastfeeding Beyond Infancy
Western culture views breastfeeding beyond infancy as abnormal, but this could not be further from the truth.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months after birth. After that, they suggest using a combination of breastfeeding and solid foods until the child is at least one year old. Beyond one year, they say you should continue breastfeeding as long as you and your child wish .
Breast milk is considered to be the gold standard of infant nutrition. There is no known age at which it becomes nutritionally insignificant, so choosing to stop is more of a personal choice. The benefits of prolonged breastfeeding are as follows:
1. It Reduces Your Child’s Risk of Illness
A 2010 study found that breast milk contains a substance that kills cancer cells. The substance is called Human Alpha-lactalbumin Made Lethal to Tumour cells, aka HAMLET. Laboratory experiments showed that this substance kills forty different types of cancer .
An analysis of fifteen different studies in 2015 revealed that children whose mothers breastfed them for six months or longer had a nineteen percent lower risk for childhood leukemia. What’s more, even children breastfed for less than six months had an eleven percent lower risk than those who weren’t at all .
2. It Boosts the Immune System
Breast milk is full of cells, hormones, and antibodies that bolster your child’s immune system. According to the World Health Organization, even a modest increase in breastfeeding could prevent up to ten percent of all deaths of children under five around the world .
The nutritional composition of breast milk changes over time to match the growing child’s needs. One 2017 analysed the composition of breast milk two years postpartum. It found that this breast milk had much higher concentrations of total protein, lactoferrin, lysozyme, Immunoglobulin A, oligosaccharides and sodium. These substances help to keep your child’s immune system strong .
3. It Provides Balanced Nutrition
As previously said, the composition of human breast milk changes as the child gets older. Breast milk from mothers who have been lactating for more than one year has a significantly increased fat and energy content compared to milk from new mothers.
This milk also provides the child with significant amounts of protein, calcium, and vitamin B12 .
4. It Makes Your Child Smarter
There have no been several studies showing that children who breastfeed tend to have higher IQs and better grades in school. This effect is seen in particular for children who were breastfed for six months or longer [7,8].
5. It Makes Mom Healthier Too
Mothers who breastfeed for a cumulative total of twelve months or more throughout their lives have a lower risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes [9,10,11,12].
Additionally, taking twenty minutes a couple of times per day to sit quietly with your child as they breastfeed can be calming for both the mother and the child.
Tips for Prolonged Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding a toddler is somewhat different from nursing a baby. At this point, they are getting plenty of nutrition from solid foods, so there are no real rules when it comes to how often you nurse them. According to whattoexpect.com, “most tots will call the shots”.
They also recommend that you avoid feeding them solid foods immediately before or after breastfeeding while they’re still on your lap. Instead, you should put them in a high chair. This will encourage proper table manners as they get older.
Your toddler will likely tell you when they want to eat, and when they’re not in the mood for food. It is a good idea to come up with a code word, phrase, or sign, so that they can subtly let you know when they’re ready for a snack when you’re out in public.
You may also want to teach them that grabbing at your shirt or breasts is off-limits. Instead, reinforce the use of your code word or signal. It is a good idea to carry some healthy snacks with you when you’re out and about, in case your toddler gets hungry and there is no good place to nurse .
Typically, your toddler will wean themselves. If you want to speed up the process, simply talk to your child. The experts at whattoexpect.com suggest the following:
“Tell her, in language you know she understands (and you know your child better than anyone), why it’s time for the nursing to stop. (“You’re getting bigger and you don’t need to nurse now”). Reassure her that the two of you will continue to snuggle together, and list a few things that you might do more of, like play games, read books, build with blocks. That way she’ll understand that you aren’t abandoning her — you’re just saying bye-bye to breastfeeding.” 
Do What’s Best For You
Every child, mother, and situation is different. For a variety of reasons, some moms will choose to stop breastfeeding earlier, some may not breastfeed at all (for various reasons – and that’s ok), and some will choose to continue into toddlerhood. Whatever you choose to do, know that it is your decision to make and yours alone.
If you’re unsure what you want to do, or you’re struggling with certain aspects of breastfeeding, talk to your doctor. He or she should be able to provide some guidance, and offer an alternative solution if necessary.
Always remember, you know yourself and your child best. Trust your instincts, and don’t worry what others say.
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