In the world of breastfeeding, people are generally accepting of moms who choose to nurse their babies. But once a child is older — past the medically recommended one year mark — moms who choose to breastfeed are usually met with raised eyebrows and condescending remarks. There is a lot of speculation about how extended breastfeeding can affect your child later in life, both positive and negative. If you're a mom deciding whether to wean your baby or keep nursing, it can be hard to discern between the mixed messages.
While the benefits of breastfeeding for both mom and baby are very well researched, when it comes to nursing a one and a half (or two or three or four) year old, many doubt that it has the same benefits as it would for a newborn.
The World Health Organization recommends "initiation of breastfeeding within the first hour after the birth; exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months; and continued breastfeeding for two years or more, together with safe, nutritionally adequate, age appropriate, responsive complementary feeding starting in the sixth month." However, here in America, where most children have easy access to all of the nutrition, fats and calories they could need, it's easy to wonder if extended breastfeeding really does provide extra benefits.
While the research on EBF is limited, as Dr. Alice Callahan notes on her blog The Science of Mom, there is some evidence that suggests that breastfeeding a toddler does in fact provide them with the same benefits that it would nursing a younger baby.
Despite the naysayers objections that stem from an overly sexual view of breastfeeding that nursing beyond age one or two can turn your child into some kind of sociopath dependent on his or her mother, there are plenty of moms who choose to nurse their child until they decide to stop on their own. It may be for only 10 minutes a day before bedtime, or it may be more frequently.
Ultimately, the choice is up to a mother and her child. But if you're debating whether you want to try extended breastfeeding, here are some ways it will affect your child.
1. It Boosts Your Child's Immune System
Just as nursing a newborn gives them extra protection against sickness, nursing an older baby or toddler provides the same benefits. According to an article from Parents, "the longer you breastfeed, the less likely your baby is to have some of the illnesses that we associate with not breastfeeding, like ear infections and upper respiratory infections."
2. It Boosts Brain Development
In 2011, researchers analyzed test scores of middle school children, taking into account how long they had been breastfed as babies, their family income, maternal factors and early stimulation. The results suggested that the children who breastfed for longer had higher scores.
3. It Lowers Mortality Rates
The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for "two years or more" and also links breastfeeding to lower mortality rates of children both in developing and industrialized countries.
5. It Provides Your Child With Necessary Nutrients
While your child will of course be getting nutrients from solid food at this point, the American Pregnancy Organization noted that proteins, omega-3 fatty acids, carbohydrates and vitamins found in breast milk are beneficial regardless of your baby's age. In fact, these kind of fats are essential for a toddler's health and brain development. Extended breastfeeding has also been linked to lower rates of obesity and diabetes in children, according to Dr. Sears in an interview for Parenting.
6. It Lessens Their Chance Of Allergies
7. It Helps Make Children Independent
In a society that highly values self-sufficiency, it's no surprise that dependency is one of the main objections to extended breastfeeding. However, evidence suggests that there are larger issues at play when it comes to raising an independent child than whether or not you breastfeed into toddlerhood. In fact, in his book titled The Baby Book, Dr. William Sears explained that, "the most secure... and happy children we have seen are those who have not been weaned before their time."