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Erin van Vuuren

Q&A: Breastfeeding After A Year?

Are there benefits of breastfeeding beyond 12 months?

All the health benefits of breastfeeding continue after baby's first birthday, including offering fabulous nutritional content and improved resistance to infections. Children who are still breastfeeding and attend daycare are known to have fewer and less severe infections than non-breastfeeding kids, meaning mama has to take fewer days off work.

Some parents worry that extending breastfeeding could hamper baby's independence, but breastfed toddlers prove the opposite. Children who wean on their own time often seem to gain confidence by taking this step themselves. (And children who are weaned before they’re developmentally ready can sometimes become extra-clingy.)

Breastfeeding can also be a sort of secret weapon for the mom of a toddler; nothing soothes a sick, scared, hurt, or upset child (or their mom) better than nursing. Plus, mom and baby get to continue to enjoy the intimacy of their breastfeeding relationship. As Dr. Jack Newman says in his article, Breastfeeding a Toddler — Why on Earth?, "Breastfeeding is a life-affirming act of love."

In our culture breastfeeding moms of toddlers sometimes catch some flack, but these policy statements from major health organizations affirm that there are, indeed, benefits to breastfeeding for the long haul:

The World Health Organization says:

"Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended up to six months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond."

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics:

"Breastfeeding should be continued for at least the first year of life and beyond for as long as mutually desired by mother and child....Increased duration of breastfeeding confers significant health and developmental benefits for the child and the mother....There is no upper limit to the duration of breastfeeding and no evidence of psychological or developmental harm from breastfeeding into the third year of life or longer." (AAP 2005)

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians:

"Breastfeeding beyond the first year offers considerable benefits to both mother and child and should continue as long as mutually desired….If the child is younger than two years of age, the child is at increased risk of illness if weaned." (AAFP 2001)