Extended breastfeeding (more professionally referred to as full-term breastfeeding or breastfeeding past infancy) is an expression that refers to breastfeeding past what's considered "full term" or average. Extended breastfeeding varies greatly depending on whom you reference — from international board certified lactation consultants (IBCLC) to geographical statistics. The most common association, however, is breastfeeding past the age of 1. And when you've embarked upon the full-term breastfeeding journey, sometimes you begin to experience signs from your body that extended breastfeeding isn't working as well as it has been previously.
Full-term breastfeeding has a plethora of benefits, and according to Kelly Mom, breastfeeding continues to be a valuable source of nutrition and protection against disease for as long as it occurs. Human milk also continues to change and adapt with your baby, even past the first year, to offer the nutrition your child needs most. According to a study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NBCI), "Human milk expressed by mothers who have been lactating for [over] 1 year has significantly increased fat and energy contents." Although most moms think it's common to begin the weaning process when their child begins significantly relying on solid foods, there is no research that validates that idea. So, if you have or will embark upon the journey of full-term breastfeeding, these are some signs and challenges you may encounter along the way.
1. It's No Longer Mutually Beneficial
In an interview with IBCLC Sarah Lester, owner of Naturally The Best Lactation Services, she says the short and sweet answer is full-term breastfeeding is "no longer working when it's not mutually beneficial for both parties." Breastfeeding in general is often beneficial to both mom and baby; however, if it reaches a point that full-term breastfeeding is causing more exhaustion, struggle, problems, and agitation for mom and baby, and it outweighs the benefits, it may be a sign something needs to change.
2. Baby-Led Weaning
Many times, your baby and your body are considered to be in tune while breastfeeding. According to Milk Genomics, breast milk consistency and type changes based on removal and needs of the baby. This means that sometimes babies begin the weaning process on their own — potentially based off signs from your body or simply because he's outgrown the need, according to Breastfeeding Basics. So if your baby does begin weaning on his own, it may be a sign extended breastfeeding is coming to an end. However, if you'd like to continue full-term breastfeeding, consider looking into resources or reaching out to a lactation consultant for advice.
3. Nursing Aversion
Nursing aversion, or breastfeeding agitation, can happen to any mother who is nursing an older child, according to the La Leche League International (LLLI). Romper reached out to IBCLC Tania Archbold of Mother's Nectar Lactation Consultant Services, who says that often a mom comes to a point they're starting to feel agitated when nursing their older children, and while they may want to continue, "it is a primal feeling of just being done with breastfeeding." Often this can be a turning point when moms begin setting limitations and consider discussing the process of weaning with their little ones.
4. Menstruation Returns
Although, on its own, this is not a reason that you should stop full-term breastfeeding, it can be a sign that contributes to why extended breastfeeding may not be working out like it has in the past for your body. In an interview with Romper, IBCLC Alyse Lange of Peaceful Beginnings Lactation & Postpartum Doula Services says, "Sometimes moms run into roadblocks when their menstrual cycle returns ... which can cause nipple sensitivity and supply issues" while trying to breastfeed. Reaching out to a local lactation consultant can be an extremely helpful way to work through those issues and continue full-term breastfeeding.
In an interview with Romper, Lactation Specialist Leah De Shay of Growing Healthy Together Pediatric Clinic says that oftentimes when a full-term breastfeeding mother becomes pregnant, there can be a couple issues that arise and prohibit the body from working as well with full-term breastfeeding as it normally does. Two primary hurdles with pregnancy are "significant milk reduction" and "nursing aversion," Drexler shares, but it's generally of "no issue health-wise to continue to breastfeed through pregnancy." To help you get past that hurdle, turning to a lactation consultant, OB-GYN, or even a chiropractor that specializes in prenatal care are great resources to get full-term breastfeeding back to normal.
Many moms have a hundred things going on at once. Between working, pumping, taking care of family, or anything else on your plate, fatigue can start to set in. Extended breastfeeding, and breastfeeding in general, takes a lot of energy. De Shay shares that even for moms who want to continue full-term breastfeeding from a maternal standpoint, there's sometimes a battle with exhaustion. When a mom is taking on too many things at once and fatigue sets in, it can be a simple yet profound sign as to why full-term breastfeeding isn't working out. Consider some ways to get more rest and potentially get back on track.