“There are no benefits to breastfeeding beyond one year.“ I cringe a little bit every time I hear this myth perpetuated among moms. My son and I have enjoyed so many benefits from breastfeeding the past 21 months, particularly since he turned a year old, that I just want other moms to know and experience the many potential benefits.
The breastfeeding guidelines in the United States can be a little misleading. When the AAP recommends “the continuation of breastfeeding for one year…” the second part of the sentence is usually left off or ignored. The recommendation continues “…or longer as mutually desired by mother and infant.” (The World Health Organization along with most other health organizations across the world recommend breastfeeding for 2 years and beyond.)
Don’t get me wrong. If you have breastfed your baby for one year, you have given an amazing gift to your child. If you don’t wish to continue breastfeeding beyond one year, then you should feel absolutely no guilt about weaning at a year. However, saying that there are no benefits to breastfeeding beyond one year is simply inaccurate.
5 Benefits of Breastfeeding Beyond One Year
1. Breastfeeding when You’re an Expert
The first weeks and even months of learning to breastfeed a newborn are not the easiest for most of us. While the vast majority of women can breastfeed their babies successfully, it is something that both mom and baby have to work hard to learn. As the months pass by, breastfeeding becomes second nature. This is when there is real joy in the breastfeeding relationship. The struggle and discomfort are gone. Breastfeeding beyond one year allows mom and baby to enjoy this relationship to the fullest.
2. Peace of Mind for Toddler Nutrition
Pediatricians often recommend looking at a toddler’s entire week of food to assess their nutrition. Little ones may eat half a pound of chicken one day and three bites of peas the next. This may be totally healthy nutritionally, but sometimes a mama can’t help but worry that her little one isn’t eating enough or getting enough nutrition. Breast milk changes in composition throughout the breastfeeding relationship to meet a nursling’s needs. Breast milk provides a significant source of calories, protein, calcium, folate, and Vitamins A, B12, and C. Continuing to breastfeed beyond one year still gives many nutritional benefits for your toddler, and it gives Mama a little peace of mind.
3. Immunity & Comfort for Sick Littles
There seems to be a spike in colds and coughs for toddlers as they begin to adventure out more into the world and are exposed to more germs. Breastfeeding beyond a year provides immune factors, comfort, and nutrition for little ones during illnesses when they might otherwise decrease their food and liquid intake. In fact, breast milk increases in the concentration of immune factors after one year, just when the toddler needs them. This leads to fewer, shorter, and less serious illnesses.
4. Reconnecting with a Busy Toddler
From the moment a toddler learns to walk, they are on the go. However, they still have a strong need for connection with mom. Breastfeeding beyond a year provides the perfect opportunity to reconnect with your toddler. It brings comfort for the many bumps, scrapes, and frustrations a toddler experiences each day.
5. A Break for Mama
Breastfeeding also provides an excellent opportunity for Mama to enjoy a much-needed moment to sit down and relax while still meeting her toddler’s needs. I have been especially thankful for this now breastfeeding during my second pregnancy. In addition, toddlers are notorious for waking their parents up too early. By continuing to nurse, you may convince them to cuddle in bed a little bit longer in the mornings. You also might be able to hold off their hunger and thirst with some breast milk, so they don’t insist on you getting up and making their breakfast right away.
Shannon writes about pregnancy, parenting, and simple living at GrowingSlower. She and her wonderful husband are parents to one energetic toddler and are expecting the arrival of Baby #2 in August. She’s currently working on her first book, a collection of positive natural birth stories to be published in Fall 2013.