What Are the Benefits of Extended Breastfeeding?

When I found out I was pregnant with my son there was a lot of uncertainties but there was one thing I knew for sure - come hell or high water, I would breastfeed my baby. Wait, a minute, just hold your judgy typing fingers. I assure you, I was not a lactivist by any stretch of the imagination.

In fact, in my younger days the thought of breastfeeding completely grossed me out. But I was raised by a mom who breastfed her babies when it was not the social norm and she took a lot of heat for it. Needless to say, my mom is passionate about breastfeeding and she ingrained in me that it's just what you do, it's why you have boobs (like it or not, in my case). My sister, on the other hand, inherited my mom's passion for breastfeeding times one hundred. She is a lactavist. I am simply a product of my environment... and the fear of my mom and sister! 

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One might say my attitude toward breastfeeding was somewhat cavalier. And yet, somehow I ended up among a minority of women not just in the U.S. but worldwide, breastfeeding my child until two years old (and he still nurses on occasion).

According to the World Health Organization (Who), "only about 36% of infants aged 0–6 months worldwide were exclusively breastfed over the period of 2007-2014" In the U.S., less than one-third of babies are breastfed beyond 6 months.

There is a stark contrast between these statistics and what the WHO and UNICEF recommend: exclusive breastfeeding until 6 months of age and "continue frequent, on-demand breastfeeding until 2 years of age or beyond". 

I am not here to say that you have to breastfeed your baby until two years old or more.  But I do think that we need more education on the benefits of extended breastfeeding. Maybe then, we (as a society) will stop making moms feel bad for doing something that is perfectly natural and healthy beyond infancy. And maybe more moms will feel supported and get help in reaching their goals for nursing, because sadly many moms do not. 

Here are some benefits to extended breastfeeding: 

Physical Health

I've heard it said that breastfeeding beyond one year is purely for comfort and there is no nutritional value. This is not true! Studies have shown that there are still many nutrients in breast milk beyond the first year like protein, fat and most vitamins. These vitamins and nutrients are beneficial not just in providing good stuff when the child is well, like one-third of the child's energy, but in helping to fight off sickness and allergies (just as it does in infancy). 

Emotional Health

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In my post on toddler sleep, I talked about how toddlers are recognizing their own independence and seeking more of it. This is true, however, we all know that they still require closeness. They want to be held and shown affection. They are just on the brink of finding autonomy and they need a lot of reassurance because they are still dependent. Breastfeeding meets this need for dependency in a very special and beautiful way but it also helps them gain a sense security when they are ready for independence. 

Benefits for Mom

Extended breastfeeding also has it's benefits for the mom - it reduces the risks of ovarian cancer, breast cancer and rheumatoid arthritis  It also can protect against osteoporosis. Plus, it can help with the spacing out of babies! 

Want more on extended breastfeeding? Check out these articles from some of my fellow mom bloggers! 

5 Reasons Why Extended Breastfeeding is Awesome... Not Weird

Challenges With Breastfeeding a Toddler

You Are Going to Breastfeed a Toddler? 

4 Things I'll Miss When My Toddler Weans