If you choose to breastfeed, you may be wondering how long you should continue to do so. There is a lot of information out there — and that is an understatement. Some women absolutely love breastfeeding and want to do it forever (or for as long as possible). Others may want their boobs and life back and are counting down the days to that moment. If you’re one of the latter mamas, you probably want to know exactly what all these benefits are and how breastfeeding after 6 months affects your kid later in life, as opposed to if you decide to stop before 6 months, or soon after. And if you were to choose to go even longer, what are the real proven benefits to prolonged breastfeeding? I mean, you’ve come this far, right?
Chest/breastfeeding counselor, and labor and postpartum doula Megan Davidson, PhD, tells Romper, “There are enormous benefits to chest/breastfeeding for any amount of time, and those benefits continue through the entire first year of life and beyond.” She adds that even when your baby begins to experiment with solid foods, they should still continue to be breastfed. “This provides them with everything they need to grow and thrive.” Davidson adds that the breast milk provides antibodies to boost your baby’s immunity and health.
Parenting and breastfeeding website Kelly Mom is onboard with this information as well, and noted that “breastfeeding continues to be a valuable source of nutrition and disease protection for as long as breastfeeding continues.” This includes breastfeeding past six months. The website also referred to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), which noted “[In 2008] that children weaned before two years of age are at increased risk of illness.”
There is even a link between “cognitive achievement” and prolonged breastfeeding, and better mental and social development, according to the website. Kelly Mom noted that even the American Academy of Pediatrics (APA) recommended that “Breastfeeding should be continued for at least the first year of life and beyond for as long as mutually desired by mother and child … Increased duration of breastfeeding confers significant health and developmental benefits for the child and the mother…”
Unfortunately, Kelly Mom also explained that “a shorter duration of breastfeeding may be a predictor of adverse mental health outcomes throughout the developmental trajectory of childhood and early adolescence,” quoting the study, “The Long-Term Effects of Breastfeeding on Child and Adolescent Mental Health: A Pregnancy Cohort Study Followed for 14 Years.”
Additionally, the APA added that there’s no “upper limit” to how long you can breastfeed safely and there is “no evidence of psychological or developmental harm from breastfeeding into the third year of life or longer.” This isn’t to say you must breastfeed until your child is 3 (or beyond), but there are certainly some benefits to breastfeeding after six months at the very least. Plus, you can always pump and put it in a sippy cup if you're more comfortable.
There are even benefits to moms who breastfeed after six months, including reducing the risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and uterine cancer, according to Kelly Mom. The website also noted prolonged breastfeeding can reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and even osteoporosis. Other fun perks mentioned included losing weight easier postpartum and in some women, a “delay [in] the return of fertility” — though it isn’t recommended to use this as your only form of birth control if you don’t want to become pregnant again at the time.
No doubt about it, breastfeeding has some pretty awesome benefits for you and for baby, and if you decided to breastfeed, the longer you continue to do it, the better the results and benefits will be. This includes a healthy mind, body, and spirit for your baby and even for you. You got this, mama.
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