Extended breastfeeding is a personal choice between mother and baby. As your little one nears her first birthday, you will probably have many emotions. You’ll wonder where the time has gone and how your newborn quickly passed through infancy to toddlerhood. You’ll remember all of the milestones your baby has reached already in her life and the most adorable things she did. As you grasp to hold on to your little baby, you may find yourself a little sad that your breastfeeding experience may be nearing an end. But that doesn’t have to be the case.
Extended breastfeeding is becoming more popular as studies continue to show the benefits of breastfeeding for babies and mothers. The AmericanAcademy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months of baby’s life, and breastfeeding and giving solids until at least one year. They also recommend extended breastfeeding as long as you and your baby desire.
Breast milk is an amazing form of nutrition. According to The Mayo Clinic, because it changes to meet the nutritional needs as a child grows and develops, there is no proven age at which breast milk is no longer considered excellent nutrition. This ideal nutrition helps improve the immune system and overall health. As an infant becomes a toddler, she’s probably becoming quite an explorer in this great big world of germs and perhaps spending more time with other children. A boosted immune system and a constant source of nutrition can be quite an advantage, especially in the winter months of cold and flu season.
Beyond immune health, Dr. William Sears points out that brain development is most crucial during the first two years of life. Research shows that the more breast milk a child has, the better for his or her ability to learn due to the fatty acid DHA found in breast milk. Therefore, the longer and more frequently a child is breastfed in these early years, the better for cognitive development. Additionally, breastfed children statistically have better vision, hearing, digestive health and dental health, and have less risk of obesity.
For moms, the benefits of breastfeeding have a higher impact when a women breastfeed for 12 months or more in her lifetime. This includes reduced risk of many diseases such as breast and ovarian cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Studies also show that the longer a baby breastfeeds, the better health a mother tends to have. This may be because mother’s who breastfeed put more emphasis on their own well-being to ensure their milk is the best quality nutrition for their children.
Extended breastfeeding should be a joint decision between mom and baby. There is no biological clock that says breastfeeding should end after 365 days. Much of this decision is about motherly instincts, health benefits and your relationship with your child. If she is developing properly and still feeding like a champ and you’re not ready to stop either, continue until weaning is natural for both of you.