A year or so ago, I read an article about “extreme parenting.” One of the things referred to in the article was extended breastfeeding. This confused me because I don’t understand why feeding your child would be considered extreme.
Extended breastfeeding refers to breastfeeding a baby beyond the age of one. While that’s not very common in the U.S., it’s much more common in some other, less industrialized, countries. Many health-related organizations worldwide recommend extended breastfeeding. For instance, the World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding until a child is at least two years old.
Breast milk provides the perfect nutrition for babies and the nutritional content of breast milk changes somewhat as children age because their nutritional needs change. International Board Certified Lactation Consultant Kelly Bonyata states that in the second year of nursing, breast milk typically provides 43 percent of a child’s protein requirements, 36 percent of a child’s calcium requirements, 75 percent of a child’s vitamin A requirements and 94 percent of a child’s vitamin B12 requirements.
Better Health for Baby
Breast milk contains antibodies that help boost an infant’s immunity to disease. The longer a baby breastfeeds, the longer he gets these antibodies to protect him from illness. The American Academy of Family Physicians points out that weaning a child before the age of two increases his risk of illness, but ever after he turns two, he’ll continue to benefit from the antibodies in breast milk. Some immune factors found in breast milk actually increase as children get older, in order to meet their changing needs.
La Leche League also points out that extended breastfeeding can help prevent the development of food allergies, because the sooner cow’s milk and other common allergens are introduced into a child’s diet, the more likely the child is to develop allergies to those foods at some point.
Better Health for Mom
Breastfeeding is good for the health of mothers as well as babies. It reduces the risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, uterine cancer and endometrial cancer, according to lactation consultant Kelly Bonyata. It also reduces the risk of heart disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis. Breastfeeding moms may also find it easier to lose weight, although women should not attempt to diet while breastfeeding.
While there haven’t been many studies on the psychological and social benefits of extended breastfeeding, it has been suggested that baby-led weaning, meaning the child is weaned when he decides he’s ready to stop breastfeeding, leads to more confident, emotionally stable children. Many mothers and babies enjoy the feelings of closeness and bonding that comes from breastfeeding, even as infants become toddlers or preschoolers. While the American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t discourage weaning after the age of one, they also state that there is no harm at all in continuing to breastfeed as long as mother and baby both want to do it.
Kelly Mom. Breastfeeding Past Infancy: Fact Sheet.
La Leche League International. Nursing Beyond One Year.
Also by this contributor:
Is Homebirth Safe?
How to Decide If a Homebirth is Right for You
Should You Have a Doula for Childbirth?