Your precious little one has hit that 12-month mark and you’re so proud of the wonderful breastfeeding relationship you’ve developed so far. So proud, in fact, that you’re happy to just keep going. You actually want to keep going. Then someone asks the inevitable question ‘Are you still breastfeeding?’ with such a look of incredulity that it gives you pause. You start thinking ‘how long should you breastfeed for’?
The answer is pretty simple – for as long as both you and your child are comfortable doing so. There are many benefits to breastfeeding older children – or extended breastfeeding – and in this post, we explore some.
Breastfeeding isn’t just about the nutrition it provides your child, it also plays an important emotional role. The bond you develop with baby begin at the very start of your breastfeeding relationship and strengthens as each month passes. Some people say continuing this attachment into the toddler years will make them more clingy and fussy. But the opposite is true. Research suggests children who have a secure attachment to their mother actually become more independent. They feel safe in their place in the world so are more likely to go out and explore it. If you force a child to stop breastfeeding before they are ready, it may actually cause them to become more clingy and dependent.
It seems silly to think that all the nutritional benefits of breastfeeding stop just because your child reaches a certain age. Breastmilk will always be the ultimate bespoke solution for your child. Man-made formula or cow’s milk can never compete with it – although advertising campaigns sometimes subtly try to convince you otherwise!
Research also suggests there are continued nutritional benefits in breastmilk for older children. One study suggests breastmilk can provide up to 29% of your toddler’s energy needs. It can also provide 43% of their protein, 75% of their Vitamin A and 60% of their Vitamin C requirements.
It’s pretty hard to argue with that!
Much research has been done into mothers who breastfeed versus those that don’t. On average, those that do are less likely to have:
The benefits increase the longer you breastfeed. Another great reason to practice extended breastfeeding.
A further benefit to breastfeeding older children is it allows you to indulge in some lovely down-time with your young one. Toddlers are active little creatures and a breastfeed at the end of the day is a great way to calm them. It’s also wonderfully soothing and satisfying to hold your precious one close as you nurse them at night. As you feel their busy little limbs begin to loosen and relax in your arms, your day ends in the most beautiful way.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommend extending breastfeeding. Their guideline states:
Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond.
And who are we to argue with that?
If this article has you revisiting your answer to the question ‘how long should you breastfeed for’, keep an eye out for our upcoming post. It has explores the topic of how to continue breastfeeding toddlers if that’s something you want to do. It will also arm you with some quips to have ready for the naysayers if they come at you!
We hope you find our articles helpful. As always, we provide this information for your reference but keep in mind it is not professional health or medical advice. We encourage you to speak to your health nurse, lactation consultation or GP if you have concerns about your child’s health or breastfeeding.