What is Extended Breastfeeding & What are the Official Recommendations:
Extended breastfeeding is technically breastfeeding past age 1. The American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusively breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life and breastfeeding while offering solids until at least age 1. The AAP further recommends continuing to nurse as long as mom and baby are willing and interested. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations differ slightly when compared to the AAP. WHO recommendations are similar in that they recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months however they also recommend continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods until age 2 or beyond. So why the differing recommendation on extended breastfeeding? This difference may be due to the lack of availability of high quality protein and nutrients throughout the world. Policy statements from the AAP in 2005 do emphasize the importance of extended breastfeeding even though extended breastfeeding is not included in their main breastfeeding recommendation: “Increased duration of breastfeeding confers significant health and developmental benefits for the child and the mother, especially in delaying return of fertility (thereby promoting optimal intervals between births)… There is no upper limit to the duration of breastfeeding and no evidence of psychologicor developmental harm from breastfeeding into the third year of life or longer”.
Benefits of Extended Breastfeeding for Baby:
Balanced nutrition. Breast milk is considered the gold standard for infant nutrition. As your baby gets older, the composition of your breast milk will continue to change to meet his or her nutritional needs. There’s no known age at which breast milk is considered to become nutritionally insignificant for a child.
Boosted immunity. As long as you breast-feed, the cells, hormones and antibodies in your breast milk will continue to bolster your baby’s immune system.
Improved health. Research suggests that the longer breast-feeding continues and the more breast milk a baby drinks, the better his or her health might be.
Bonding and Comfort. Nursing plays a big role in providing comfort for some babies and supports positive emotional health. It is a good way for baby to de-stress while bonding with mom. According to research, the most frequently chosen reason for long-term breastfeeding was that breastfeeding was a special time for mother and baby that the mother was not ready to give up.
Benefits of Extended Breastfeeding for Mother:
Reduced risk of certain illnesses. Extended breast-feeding — as well as breast-feeding for 12 months or more cumulatively in life — has been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.
Improved health. Research suggests that the longer breast-feeding continues and the more breast milk a baby drinks, the better a mother’s health might be.
Are There any Reasons not to Extended Breastfeed?
Fears of a Difficult Weaning Process: This seems to be most moms biggest fear associated with extended breastfeeding, however, this fear is often unsubstantiated. Although it is not always possible, baby led weaning is the easiest method for ending the breastfeeding journey. For some babies this process begins early even as early as 6 month; for other babies self-weaning doesn’t happen until the late toddler years. The worldwide average weaning age is 4.2 years. No matter how old baby is when they are interested in weaning, follow babies lead and be open to requests to nurse as baby gets familiar with the process.
Handling Negative Opinions: Everyone has an opinion; some more supportive than others. Extended breastfeeding is not widely common in the western world and some people don’t mind sharing their negative opinions on the subject. At the end of the day it’s a decision made by you and your immediate family and in the best interests for your particular child; no one can make that decision except for YOU!
My daughter is now almost 15 months old and we have been nursing since she was born (except for a month or two when we were exclusively pumping and using bottles…anyways). In the beginning my goal was to nurse her for the whole first year. As with most moms I was very nervous about being able to produce enough milk and to be able to continue producing milk for the entire year. I put in a TON of work up front when she was only a few weeks old to really increase my milk supply by pumping every 2 hours. I was able to store up over 3000 oz of milk in my deep freezer and give away an additional 1000 oz. After awhile I stopped pumping at home and just nursed on demand…it was refreshing. I continued nursing on demand and only pumped 1 time per day during work. I was even lucky enough to be able to visit my daughter during my lunch break daily to nurse. I continued this until she was a year old. 1 year came…and went. We were still nursing on demand and I was 100% okay with it. In fact I think I would have been very sad to stop, not to mention my daughter would probably have been REALLY upset! I stopped pumping all together after 1 year; it really didn’t seem necessary or appealing. The nursing journey continues today. I can tell she is greatly comforted by nursing and sometimes just uses it to be close to me even when she isn’t hungry. As of now I plan to continue nursing her until she is ready to stop (although I’m secretly hoping that she decides to self-wean before age 3).
What’s your experience with extended breastfeeding?