Nursing beyond your child's first birthday is referred to as Extended Breastfeeding. This is a common, healthy act practiced in many countries. The western world however, may be behind in accepting extended breastfeeding as normal.
You may have heard from your pediatrician that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that mothers nurse their babies for at least the first year of life. However, the UNICEF organization recommends that babies nurse for at least the first 2 years of life and the World Health Organization recommends that mothers nurse their children for at least the first 3 years of life. With so many differing opinions, how will you know what's right for you? It's really best to educate yourself on the matter, especially when it comes to nursing older babies and toddlers. You might be surprised by the benefits of nursing a toddler.
What are the Benefits for your Toddler?
Many of the benefits of nursing your newborn still apply to him as a toddler.
- The chances of illness in both childhood and adulthood can be lowered in a person who was breastfed.
- Breastfed babies are less likely to develop diabetes, heart disease and central nervous system disorders (like multiple sclerosis).
- Children who were breastfeed exclusively for the first 6 months of their lives had higher IQ scores in some studies.
- Children and adults who were nursed are more likely to have a healthy BMI.
- The AAP says breastfeeding plays a role in the prevention of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).
- Vision can be improved thanks to DHA that is naturally occurring in breast milk.
- Better hearing throughout life can be improved due to lower incidence of ear infections among breastfed children.
- Dental health is improved since the natural action of a breastfeeding child helps incoming teeth align properly.
- Intestinal health is improved as the proteins in breast milk are easier for a baby/toddler to digest than the proteins found in cow's milk (which is what most pediatricians in the US recommend your baby starts drinking at one year of age).
- A boost in immune system functions thanks to immunoglobulin which coats the intestines helping keep germs from getting into your child’s system.
There are also some added benefits that apply to nursing toddlers only.
- Added emotional support. Many might argue that a toddler who is still nursing has emotional issues and won't learn to be independent. Quite the opposite seems to be true according to the La Leche League who states: “Toddlers have many needs that linger from babyhood, including the need to cuddle, the need to be comforted, and the need for help when falling asleep. These needs are all naturally met through nursing, and it is a wise mother who recognizes and honors her child's need to be dependent. Trusting the child in this way builds self-confidence needed for later independence.”
- A nursing toddler is easier to discipline. According to Dr. Sears “Breastfeeding is … an exercise in baby reading, which enables a mother to more easily read her baby's cues and intervene before a discipline situation gets out of hand.”
- Toddlers are active. Extended breastfeeding will always guarantee mom and toddler a couple times a day where they can sit together and relax quietly, helping mom and child to decompress.
What are the Benefits for You?
There are obviously many benefits to your little one when it comes to nursing, but what about you? You may be surprised to learn that there's something in it for you too!
Breastfeeding burns calories and can help you lose the baby weight faster. It also releases hormones that help your uterus shrink back to it's pre-baby size. Nursing also lowers your risk of breast and ovarian cancer and may even lower your risk of osteoporosis later in life. Aside from the health benefits for mom and toddler, there are also some time saving benefits you may not have thought of. With no need to purchase formula, breastfeeding saves you money. Additionally, not taking time to sterilize bottles and warm milk or formula will save you time. Breast milk is the ultimate fast food, with you wherever you go and always served at the perfect temperature.
Inspiration from Extended Breastfeeding Mothers
- Breastfeeding in the Beginning is Different From Breastfeeding in the End from Sarah of Nurshable
- I am Breastfeeding a Toddler from Heather at Cookies for Breakfast
- I Breastfeed My Toddler: Got a Problem With it? from Mayim Balik at Kveller
Ultimately, breastfeeding is an extremely personal decision. The length of time you decide to nurse your child shouldn't be determined by what is considered the social norm, but by what you feel is the best choice for you and your child.