It is no surprise to most that breastfeeding is beneficial to both baby and mother. But many are not aware of exactly how breastfeeding can improve the health and cognitive abilities of mothers and babies, especially when nursing is extended to at least one year of age. Dr. Rachel Borton, the director of Bradley Universitys Family Nurse Practitioner program, has conducted extensive studies in the benefits of increasing the length of time women are advised to breastfeed. She is currently working to educate other doctors, mothers, and the community as to why extended breastfeeding is so important and to remove the social stigma against nursing, especially in public.
Beyond 6 Months: Extended Nursing for Mothers and Babies
Daily Mom recently had an opportunity to speak with Dr. Borton and her work in educating new mothers and the community about the importance of breastfeeding to at least one year. Below is our conversation regarding this important area of the healthcare industry.
Why increase the recommendation for breastfeeding to 1 year?
The breastfeeding benefits for both mom and baby are so great, that increasing the recommendation of breastfeeding from 6 months to 12 months seems to be a natural consequence. While breastfeeding alone (without solid foods) is not an appropriate diet for an 8 month old, breastfeeding AND solids are both natural and the most nutritious diet for an 8 month old infant.
What are the benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and child?
Maternal benefits of breastfeeding up to 1 year are similar to the maternal benefits of breastfeeding at less than 6 months including: decreased risk of maternal breast cancer, endometrial cancer, ovarian cancer, postpartum depression, and not to mention the huge financial savings! Breastmilk is cheaper than formula. The bonding, experienced between mom and baby, is priceless and difficult to assign value to.
Infant benefits of breastfeeding up to 1 year of age are similar to the infant benefits of breastfeeding at less than 6 months of age, and those include: decreased risk of developing minor acute illnesses such as ear infections, respiratory infections, and gastrointestinal illnesses to chronic illnesses such as diabetes, leukemia, adolescent and adult onset obesity, hypertension, and increased IQ benefits.
When you discuss breastfeeding until age 1, do you mean exclusively breastfeeding, or are parents advised to start solids?
The current recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics is to breastfeed only (no solids) until the infant is 6 months of age. At 6 months of age, growing nutritional demands require that solids be introduced to the infant. Breastfeeding should still continue to at least 1 year or even longer if mom and baby are in agreement.
Why does the stigma of breastfeeding in public need to be removed?
The negative stigma regarding breastfeeding in public needs to be removed. Our western society has sexualized breasts to such a degree that thinking of breastfeeding as a natural, bonding experience, visualized in public is challenging for some to understand or “see.” However, I do think we are slowly changing this stigma.
Do the benefits increase the longer the baby is breastfed? What about breastfeeding beyond the one year of age mark?
The maternal and infant benefits mentioned [above] will continue while mom and baby are still breastfeeding. For example, the dramatic health benefits only continue to be in effect, such as decreased ear, respiratory, and gastrointestinal illnesses.
How do we encourage formula moms to try or attempt breastfeeding without making them feel alienated? How do we remove the feeling of superiority that sometimes comes from encouraging breastfeeding?
Education and acceptance both play large roles with encouraging formula feeding moms to breastfeed. Explaining exactly what the benefits to mom and baby are, in a way that is easily understood and yet is not condescending, is critical to success. Accepting whether a mom may wish to only “try” breastfeeding and assisting her while she is trying to breastfeed and also supporting her if she decides that breastfeeding is just not for her. Any amount of breastfeeding is beneficial – and should be encouraged as such!
What advice do you have for mother’s struggling with breastfeeding?
Any mothers who are struggling with breastfeeding, I would encourage you to seek help. You are not alone and you are not the first! The first step is to identify what exactly is causing your breastfeeding problem and where you can go for help. There are many lactation consultants and breastfeeding support groups who are willing and able to help you through this struggle. If I could encourage breastfeeding mothers with one sentence, it would be, “It’s worth the struggle – for your baby and you!”
From the Mouths of Babes (and their Mamas)
In terms of societal views, nursing can sometimes feel like a catch-22. Physicians and well-meaning members of the community will often pressure expectant and new mothers into nursing, making these women feel guilty if breastfeeding doesn’t work out for them. On the other side, however, are mothers who choose to continue nursing beyond a year. Although the benefits of breastfeeding are well-known by many, many find extended breastfeeding (especially beyond 2 years) to be unnecessary and unnatural. In the end, mothers hear this:
“You have to breastfeed because it’s best for the baby! But not too long, because that’s gross.”
Daily Mom wants to continue in the spirit of Dr. Borton’s important work in educating the public about extended breastfeeding by talking with breastfeeding mothers and their particular experiences in nursing their babes beyond the six month mark. We spoke with Jenn Moerman, a mom who nursed her little girl for over 3 years, to learn about her experiences in extended breastfeeding.
Was it ever a question in your mind to nurse beyond a year? Did you have a specific goal in mind before you started?
It was definitely up in the air as to whether or not I would nurse beyond a year. When I was pregnant, I knew I wanted to nurse, and I wanted to try for a full year because I knew it was best for baby. I did think, oh, formula, just in case. However, once I had my baby in my arms, I knew I wanted us to nurse exclusively.
As we began to approach the 1 year mark, I found I couldn’t even consider weaning her. She was my baby, and needed me and mama’s milk. It just wasn’t a question then. Then one year became two, then three.
Did you have anyone help mentor you through the early stages of breastfeeding?
I didn’t really have a mentor in the early stages. I knew I wanted to, and had watched my mom nurse my younger siblings for various amounts of time, but all less than a year. I was actually a bit surprised by how unsupported I felt by her. She was telling me to time it, that I was feeding her too often for too long, etc. Fortunately, for my kiddo and myself, I’m stubborn as a mule on some things, and I chose not to listen. I did find some support in online chat groups, but didn’t attend my first La Leche League meeting until my kiddo was at least 8 months old, if not a bit older.
Have you experienced any backlash in regards to extended breastfeeding? What about nursing in public?
I’m fortunate, and possibly live in a bit of a bubble, in that I didn’t have a lot of noticeable backlash on nursing my child, especially in public. The negative comments I did receive were from family, but I can’t think of any comments that were made to me from strangers.
Jenn’s experiences in extended breastfeeding were not met with some push-back from family, but through her determination she was able to continue nursing her child for as long as they both felt comfortable. Her understanding of the benefits of breastfeeding pushed her to nurse long after society deems it socially acceptable, and Jenn is grateful for the bond it created between her and her daughter.
In order to help eliminate the stigma surrounding breastfeeding, check out some of the images below sent to us by our very own Daily Mom readers.
The first step in helping the public understand the importance of nursing beyond the nine month mark is education. Dr. Rachel Borton is working tirelessly as the director of the Bradley Universitys Family Nurse Practitioner program to help train student nurse practitioners on how to discuss the benefits of breastfeeding to their future patients. The next step in helping society understand the importance of breastfeeding is by removing the stigma of breastfeeding in public and extended breastfeeding. With these combined efforts, it is possible to create waves of change in our country including decreased healthcare costs, lower rates of disease, and a healthier, more accepting environment for all our children.
Interested in learning more about the benefits of extended breastfeeding? Jump over to The Surprising Benefits of Extended Breastfeeding here on Daily Mom!