So you know the advantages to breastfeeding your newborn infant. Breast is best, hands down, for nutritional and developmental reasons. Do those advantages still play a role after the first year? ABSOLUTELY!!!! There are a great many reasons to continue to breastfeed past the age of one.
Breast milk still plays a significant role in the diet of your child. From 12-23 months 16 oz. of breast milk provides 29% of energy requirements, 43% of protein requirements, 36% of calcium requirements, 75% of vitamin A requirements, 76% of folate requirements, 94% of vitamin B12 requirements and 60% of vitamin C requirements.
Children that are still receiving breast milk over a year are found to have fewer illnesses and when they do get sick it’s for a shorter period of time than for their non-nursing peers. Some immune factors in breast milk actually increase in concentration during the second year and during the weaning process. And it’s not surprising that the World Health Organization states that a modest increase in breastfeeding rates could prevent up to 10% of all deaths of children under the age of five. Breastfeeding plays an essential and sometimes underestimated role in the treatment and prevention of childhood illness.
Research has shown that breastfeeding exclusively for 6 months and continuing longer helps prevent allergies and asthma. Breastfeeding helps to reduce exposure to potential allergens. Breast milk coats the intestines and provides a barrier to potentially allergenic molecules and it has anti-inflammatory properties that reduce the risk on infections that can act as allergy triggers.
Breastfed babies are smart. There has been extensive research done on cognitive achievement and breastfeeding. Time and time again the greatest gains are in the children who breastfed the longest.
Breastfeeding beyond a year is a great way to meet the emotional needs of a child. According to Elizabeth N. Baldwin: "Breastfeeding is a warm and loving way to meet the needs of toddlers and young children. It not only perks them up and energizes them; it also soothes the frustrations, bumps and bruises, and daily stresses of early childhood. In addition, nursing past infancy helps little ones make a gradual transition to childhood." Baldwin also says: "Meeting a child's dependency needs is the key to helping that child achieve independence. And children outgrow these needs according to their own unique timetable." Children who achieve independence at their own pace are more secure in that independence then children forced into independence prematurely.”
This one might be a shocker since in the US only 5% of children who are breastfed continue to nurse past their first birthday. It is NORMAL for children to breastfeed beyond the first year of life! Scientific research by Katherine A. Dettwyler, PhD. shows that 2.5 to 7.0 years of nursing is what our children have been designed to expect. The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends that breastfeeding continue throughout the first year of life and that "As recommended by the WHO, breastfeeding should ideally continue beyond infancy, but this is not the cultural norm in the United States and requires ongoing support and encouragement. It has been estimated that a natural weaning age for humans is between two and seven years. Family physicians should be knowledgeable regarding the ongoing benefits to the child of extended breastfeeding, including continued immune protection, better social adjustment, and having a sustainable food source in times of emergency.” They also note that "If the child is younger than two years of age, the child is at increased risk of illness if weaned." (AAFP 2008)
And finally, moms also benefit from extended breastfeeding. The longer you nurse the more you reduce your risk of breast cancer. Breastfeeding also reduces the risk of ovarian, uterine and endometrial cancer. It reduces the risk of osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis. And for diabetic women it can reduce their insulin requirements.
Breast milk just isn’t for the infant but for the toddler, too!! If you need any more information regarding your nursing toddler or just some support in your breastfeeding journey join the La Leche League of Sioux Falls this Thursday night at Elegant Mommy at 6:30pm. We’d love to see you there!!!
By Sarah Alberts, La Leche League Leader