Here at Ready. Set. Food!, we support all families’ choices in how to feed their babies. If you’re considering extended breastfeeding, we’ll help you weigh the advantages and disadvantages, so you can make the best decision for yourself and your little one
What is extended breastfeeding?
Extended breastfeeding refers to breastfeeding your child for longer than one year. How long you breastfeed is completely up to you and your child.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) affirms that you can breastfeed your child for as long as you wish, as long as you introduce solid foods to supplement breastfeeding once your child is ready for solids.
The AAP’s official recommendation is to:
- Exclusively breastfeed for baby’s first 6 months of life
- Introduce solids at the 6-month mark while also breastfeeding
- Feed both breastmilk and solids through the rest of baby’s first year
- After baby’s first birthday, continue feeding the combination of breastmilk and solids for as long as you choose
"Continue breastfeeding [along with feeding solids] until the baby's first birthday, or longer while mutually desired by mother and baby." – American Academy of Pediatrics
The name “extended breastfeeding” might make it sound like breastfeeding beyond baby’s first birthday isn’t common. But many children around the world, in many cultures, are breastfed for two years or more. The most important thing is to make the decision that’s right for you, and to be confident in that choice.
To help you decide whether you want to continue breastfeeding past one year or stop breastfeeding, consider these factors near baby’s first birthday:
- Does baby seem happy on the breast?
- Are you noticing continued bonding and other benefits for yourself and baby?
- Are you willing to keep breastfeeding, and comfortable with the idea of continuing – including in public – as your little one gets older?
- Does transitioning completely to solids after baby turns one seem easier than continuing breastfeeding?
- Will work, a new baby on the way, or some other factor make it tough to keep breastfeeding past one year?
- Do the advantages of extended breastfeeding outweigh the drawbacks for you?
For one mom’s perspective on extended breastfeeding’s pros and cons, check out this video from Babybel and Mummy:
Now, let’s weigh the pros and cons of extended breastfeeding, to help you make your decision.
Pros Of Extended Breastfeeding
- It helps boost your child’s immune system
- It’s good for your own health
- It’s still a tailored, convenient nutrition source
- It comforts your child
- It promotes a secure attachment
- You may feel more comfortable letting your child wean themself
Pro: Breastfeeding helps boost your child’s immune system.
Breastfed babies and toddlers get sick less often than their non-breastfed peers – they don’t develop respiratory illnesses, diarrhea, ear infections, or viral infections as frequently. This is likely thanks to the antibodies, vitamins, and minerals breastmilk contains.
And if baby does get sick, breastmilk can help your child stay hydrated and fight off the infection.
Pro: Breastfeeding is good for your own health, too.
When you breastfeed, you have a lower risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and heart disease. These benefits continue for as long as you breastfeed. So, the longer you breastfeed, the better it is for your physical health.
According to some studies, breastfeeding might also help mental health, as breastfeeding might lower stress and reduce the risk of depression and anxiety.
Pro: Breastmilk is still a tailored, convenient nutritional source for your toddler.
Although your little one is eating more solids, breastmilk still provides a wealth of nutrients for your child. It supplies vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. The best part? You can quickly give your child a nutritious snack no matter where you are, even if you can’t prepare or access other foods quickly. And if your little one is picky or still getting used to new foods, you can always supplement with breastmilk.
Pro: Extended breastfeeding comforts your child.
Breastfeeding is an easy way to comfort your little one when they are scared, upset, stressed, or having trouble sleeping. And as long as you’re around, you can feed your child right away to calm them – you don’t have to find a pacifier, stuffed animal, or other comfort object in a pinch.
Pro: Extended breastfeeding promotes a secure attachment.
The close attachment that breastfeeding fosters with you is reassuring for your child, and encourages a healthy connection. Your child will know that they can come to you if they need you, and won’t be overly clingy. Many parents say their children are happier, more emotionally secure, and more independent after being breastfed past one year of age.
Pro: You may feel more comfortable letting your child wean themself.
One other advantage of extended breastfeeding is that you might not feel as pressured to stop abruptly if your child isn’t ready. Extended breastfeeding gives your child the chance to wean on their own, if you choose.
Cons Of Extended Breastfeeding
- You might have to deal with rude comments
- It can be draining
- If you’re back at work, it can be difficult
- It may not be an option if you’re planning on having another baby
- Initiating weaning can be tougher with toddlers
- Some toddlers might use the breast for attention
Con: You might have to deal with rude comments.
In many Western countries, like the US, extended breastfeeding isn’t considered the “norm.” Some people don’t like the idea of extended breastfeeding. Sadly, this means you might have to deal with unkind comments or rude stares when out in public. It can also be hard to keep things discreet when outside the home, especially if your little one asks for a snack and tries to access your breast. And if certain friends or family members are not supportive of your decision, extended breastfeeding can be especially tough.
Con: Extended breastfeeding can be draining.
Breastfeeding takes a lot of time and energy – it can tire you out quickly. You may feel like you don’t have the time and strength to continue to balance breastfeeding with work, home care, other childcare responsibilities, and self-care. As a result, you may find that it’s easier to completely transition baby to solids.
Con: If you’re back at work, extended breastfeeding can be difficult.
Breastfeeding while returning to work means you’ll need to pump regularly at your workplace. If you don’t work outside the home, and you’re planning on breastfeeding for more than a year, this can be difficult.
Unfortunately, the federal and state laws that require workplaces to provide break time for expressing milk only apply up to your child’s first birthday. After your child turns one, your employer isn’t required to give you pumping time. So, whether you get pumping time for your toddler is up to your employer. And you might feel pressure from your employer to stop breastfeeding.
Con: Extended breastfeeding may not be an option if you’re planning on having another baby.
Yes, breastfeeding can act as a form of birth control – but once your older baby becomes a toddler, your fertility may return even if you’re still nursing them. If your period doesn’t return and you’d like to have another baby, you’ll likely need to stop breastfeeding.
Even if your period comes back during breastfeeding and your body is ready for a new baby, the thought of breastfeeding both the new baby and your toddler at the same time may be overwhelming. This by itself may rule out extended breastfeeding (although it’s totally possible to breastfeed while pregnant, and to breastfeed a baby and a toddler simultaneously).
Con: Initiating weaning can be tougher with toddlers.
Yes, if your toddler is allowed to wean themself from the breast, transitioning away from breastfeeding will be no issue. But if you continue to breastfeed past one year and then suddenly find that breastfeeding isn’t working for you anymore, weaning may be a bumpy road. Some parents say it’s harder to wean a little one off the breast after one year. Even though you can wean your child whenever you choose, you might need more distractions (like favorite activities) to shift a toddler’s attention off the breast.
Con: Some toddlers might use the breast for attention.
Although this certainly isn’t true of every child, some toddlers may ask for the breast more than they really need it, because they want attention from you or are bored. Toddlers need to absorb the stimuli around them for healthy growth and development. It’s important to engage them in other ways, like with stories, songs, or sensory play experiences. Watch your child’s needs so they don’t use the breast as the “catch-all” stimulus.
Tips for extended breastfeeding
If you’ve decided that extended breastfeeding is the right choice for you, these tips may help you on the journey:
- If you’d like to avoid breastfeeding in public as much as possible, nurse your child right before you go out.
- You might also consider using a set schedule for when your child nurses, when they eat solids, and when they must drink from a cup.
- If you’re perfectly fine with nursing in public, it can help to have responses prepared in case people make rude comments. For instance, if someone asks if your toddler is still nursing, you might simply say “yes,” or mention that your doctor encouraged you to keep nursing your child. And if they ask if your child will stop nursing, you might say “in a few minutes.” Of course, you can always ignore any rude remarks, or simply walk away.
- Make sure that you’re supporting your breastfeeding with a healthy diet, including lots of fresh fruits and veggies. Sustaining breastfeeding takes lots of nourishment.
- Give your child a variety of nutritious solids with a variety of flavors and textures, in addition to the breastmilk. You can breastfeed as long as you want, but it’s important to build healthy eating habits and encourage a diverse, healthy diet.
- Drink plenty of water, as hydration is key to milk production. Take a reusable water bottle with you whenever you leave home.
- Find a network of supportive parents (in-person or online) who have also chosen extended breastfeeding. This way, you can offer and receive help, and exchange stories.
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