Extended breastfeeding is breastfeeding beyond the first year. It is a very common practice in other countries but is still a little taboo here in the United States (and much of the western world for that matter). There is a lot of pressure on women to wean their babies by their first birthday. Women often face disapproval from family, friends and strangers if they choose to breastfeed beyond their child’s first birthday.
Choosing extended breastfeeding is a personal decision that you need to make based on what is right for your child and you. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends continued breastfeeding beyond the first year as long as it is mutually acceptable to both mother and child. If you are considering extended breastfeeding but have questions about what to expect or what is best for your baby talk to your child’s pediatrician.
So what are some of the advantages and disadvantages to extended breastfeeding:
- Provides your child with additional calories, nutrients and valuable immunities. Although most of their nutrition will come from solid food after their first year breastmilk is a great addition to that nutrition and can be particularly important if your child is lacking nutrients in their solid food diet.
- Provides reassurance and support for your child as they go out and explore their world more and become more independent.
- If your child is sick breastmilk may be the only thing they can keep down providing very necessary nutrition to help them get better, and has been found to help avoid dehydration.
- Continues the bond you have built with your child through breastfeeding during the first year.
- You may have to deal with negative comments and stares from family, friends and strangers. Always having to explain yourself may get a little tiresome.
- Some people believe that trying to wean a stubborn 2 year old is much harder than weaning a 1 year old. Depending on your child you may run into this if you breastfeed beyond the first year.
- If you have another baby it can be difficult to tandem nurse, or try to wean your toddler during this already difficult transition for them.
- If you become pregnant while still breastfeeding your toddler you may find a decrease in your milk supply.
As I stated before, the decision on whether or not to breastfeed beyond the first year is one only you and your family can make. You will need to look at your own personal situation and make a decision that is best for you and your baby. Talk to your doctor, your local La Leche League, or other moms who have chosen extended breastfeeding for support and advice.
On a personal note, my daughter just turned 1 and I am still breastfeeding her. I didn’t originally think that extended breastfeeding was for me, but now I see it differently. My plan is to wean her from a few of her middle of the day feedings over the next couple of months but to continue breastfeeding her in the morning and at bedtime (and probably naptime) until about 18 months or so. I may let her self-wean, particularly from the nighttime feeding so the transition is easier for her. We’ll see!