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:

Advantages:

  • 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.

Disadvantages:

  • 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!

Additional Resources:

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13 Responses to Extended Breastfeeding

  • HeatherPride says:

    I am really proud of you for hanging in there! I was really bummed when I lost my milk so soon with Claire. I’m not so sure it was a good call on the doctor’s part to use the preemie formula – it killed me. She may not have gained weight in the beginning, but she’s hardly suffering now! I don’t feel like they gave her enough of a chance to get going. Dang it!

  • Thanks Heather! I know it is bummer that the doctor was pushing that preemie formula. And Claire certainly isn’t suffering now. She is such a cutie, roly-poly little thing :)

  • Kristin says:

    I’m so happy to see this. I had been ambivalent on nursing to begin with, but not only did I manage to nurse my baby so successfully that he NEVER had a bottle, but he turned 2 in November and I haven’t weaned him yet.
    I go back and forth about how I feel about nursing my 2 year old. On one hand, I feel like it hasn’t interfered with our life–toddlers aren’t nearly as demanding of the breast as a baby, so we don’t do it often. I’m able to be liberal about having caffeine and wine these days, and I don’t remember the last time I wore a nursing bra. On the other hand, it is such a part of our routine that I can’t imagine when he’ll be willing to give up. I planned on letting him self-wean, but I’m starting to worry that it won’t happen!! I support other women nursing their 3 and 4 year olds, but I really don’t want to be one of them. I may have to force the weaning, and I’m worried about it.
    Anyone been through this?

  • Kristin,

    Good for you. It sounds like nursing really worked out for you and your son. I think nursing is best ended when one or both of you are no longer interested. If you are ready to stop maybe it is time to begin the weaning process. My daughter is 14 months and I am still nursing. I hope others come on and give you some advice as well. Best of luck to you and no matter what you decide to do you have done the best for your son.

  • Brittany says:

    I am 32 weeks pregnant and I have planned on breastfeeding my baby since I was around 8 weeks pregnant. I can see breastfeeding up to the first year and then begin weaning him/her off the breast after the first birthday. But I believe the baby should completely be weaned by the second birthday. It is wrong to go longer than that. Using Nutrition as a reason is a bunch of bull… other foods they can eat will give them plenty of nutrition. You want to know why families, partners, and strangers look at you in disapproval? Because other than feeding your baby for a little while, your breast are also a private area that’s shared sexually with your partner! After your baby reaches a certain age, it is perverted to keep your child on the breast! I’m not trying to be mean or put anyone down. Breast feeding is a good, healthy start for a baby. It has benefits for your body as well as your baby’s development. But don’t make society the bad guy for looking at some women in a negative way… there has to be limits! Seriously! Whether you mean it in a perverted way or not(and it likely you DO NOT mean it that way)… it is looked at by others in that way. you need to think about that. For your sake, your partner’s sake, and your baby’s sake… and there are other reasons why it is wrong, but the reason I gave is the main one! Your baby needs to be done breastfeeding before the second birthday! Period, Plain, & simple!

  • Brittany,

    While I agree with you that beyond a certain point breastfeeding isn’t for nutritional purposes, it is during the second year of life, which is what the article is referencing. Extended breastfeeding is breastfeeding beyond the first year.

    Extended breastfeeding is a very personal choice.

  • teena says:

    hey brittany, i was wandering if i could quote you on an assigment i am doing, let me know if you dont want me to. ohh and the assignment is on the psychological effects of extended breastfeeding. this topic is really topical, hearing all the different views is ermm lets say interesting lol everyone is REALLY passionaite about thier views.

  • a "pervert" says:

    Brittany,
    Congratulations on your pregnancy and your decision to breastfeed.

    Please do some actual RESEARCH on extended breastfeeding including both biological and anthropoligical evidence. If you do, you’ll see that breastfeeding into toddlerhood is not “perverted.”

    As for the nutritional information, you are both correct and incorrect. Yes, a child over the age of 2 can absolutely receive 100% of their nutrition from solid foods. However, have you ever met a 2 year old who actually ate all his protein, veggies, and carbohydrates? Most children of this age go through significant periods where they refuse all veggies or all fruits, or limit their protein. The average mom struggles with supplements to ensure her child is receiving good nutrition. The breastfeeding mom recognizes that her milk is the perfect complement to a toddler’s imperfect diet. Additionally, toddlers are exposed to various bacteria and viruses, moreso than infants. Biology tells us that a childs immune system is not fully developed until around age 5. The breastfeeding mom is able to assist the toddlers still immature immune system with her own immunities found in her breastmilk.

    You are always welcome to your opinions, but please do not state them as facts. People visit these boards looking for information and may mistake your opinion for an educated view.

    On a personal note, I am offended by your comment that moms who breastfeed beyond your personal opinion of what is acceptable are “perverted.” And why, according to you are they “perverted?” Because American society likes to see breasts to sell beer and cars, not to feed children.

    I tandem nurse my 17 month old and my 3 yr old. I am not perverted – regardless of what you may think – I am caring for my children based on their specific needs – which is appropriate mothering.

    As you will find out soon, mothering is a tough enough job without being put down and called names by other moms… please make that consideration the next time you decide to post.

  • Congrats on sticking with extended breastfeeding, especially now that you have two children. I’m glad you decided to post a response, it really helps those who are struggling with negative comments from others and for those trying to decide whether or not to go ahead with extended breastfeeding.

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  • Breastfeeding 11 month old daughter says:

    Thanks for posting this information. I’ve struggled with the decision to extend breastfeeding. My 11 month old daughter’s 1 year b-day is fast approaching – one of my friends who breastfeeds is pushing me to wean my baby at 1 year old. I’ve dropped down to 3 feedings a day (morning, noon and night) but am not emotionally ready nor is my daughter (she will not drink my breastmilk from a cup although she drinks water from it during the day). I think I will continue to breastfeed until she is too big to hold or when I see her wanting to be more independent. I do not think I wish to feed her past 18 months, although that is my guess (maybe closer to the end date I will feel differently). It’s hard to talk to people about it because so many of my friends who have breastfed did not enjoy it and could not wait for it to be over – I, however, do not feel the same at all. I just know now that my baby is not ready yet – she has given me no signs that she wants to end. Thanks and keep posting this helpful information!

  • I’m glad you found the information helpful. I was/am in the same boat as you. Everyone I know who breastfed stopped at a year if not earlier. I just decided to do what I felt was best for me and my daughter. She is 15 months old and I am still breastfeeding. Keep strong and feel free to send my a message if you need support.

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