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.