All the benefits of human milk—including nutritional and health—continue for as long as your baby receives your milk...Many of the health benefits of human milk are dose related, that is, the longer the baby receives human milk, the greater are the benefits. (From How Long Should a Mother Breastfeed?)
Even after 12 months, babies continue to benefit from human milk. At one year of age, a baby's immune system is functioning at only 60 percent of adult level and because formula has no live antibodies, it is strongly associated with high rates of infection (Huggins 2007). A child's immune system isn't functioning at adult level until age six (Dettwyler 1994). (From Breastfeeding Beyond a Year: exploring benefits, cultural influences and more)
- The immunological benefits of breast milk continue well into the second year of breastfeeding, and that breastfed toddlers have been shown to experience less illness than their formula fed friends?
- A relationship between children's IQ and the duration for which they were breastfed has been discovered?
- The longer a child is breastfed, the better quality her bones will be long-term?
- Toddlers who are breastfed experience more secure attachment to their mothers and as a result were better able to become independent than bottle-fed toddlers?
- Sustained breastfeeding reduces a mother's risk of osteoporosis, anemia, ovarian and breast cancers?
There is an assumption in the Western world that mothers who continue breastfeeding beyond one or two years do so to meet their own egotistical desires. This is clearly a myth when one considers all the social pressure these mothers encounter in choosing to do what's best for their children. Furthermore consider certain behaviours common to Western toddlers such as thumb sucking, dummy/pacifier sucking, and attachment to certain toys and blankets. These behaviours may indicate that young children have emotional needs which could be met by the simple act of breastfeeding. When the need to breastfeed is not met, children seek substitutes to attach to. Dr William Sears, author of The Baby Book, writes:
We have studied the long-term effects on thousands of children who had timely weanings and have observed that these children are more independent, gravitate to people more than things, are easier to discipline, experience less anger, radiate trust...[after] studying the long-term effects of long-term breastfeeding, the most secure... and happy children we have seen are those who have not been weaned before their time. (Quoted in Breastfeeding Beyond a Year: exploring benefits, cultural influences and more)
According to Dr Sarah J. Buckley, a family physician and mother of four: "The benefits of breastfeeding increase with duration, and the disease-protective effects actually increase as weaning approaches" (Buckley, 2005, 246). Buckley sites the work of a number of medical professionals research about the benefits of extended breastfeeding including A.W. Onyango's study, which shows that breast milk can provide toddlers with: up to one-third of their daily energy needs, two-thirds of their fat requirements, 58% of their vitamin A requirements, and nearly a third of their calcium needs (Buckley, 2005, 246).
Our children grow so fast, and will leave breastfeeding behind quick enough in their own time. Discard arbitrary timelines for completing your breastfeeding relationship and follow your child's lead. Breastfeeding remains important to their health and development well beyond their baby years. So enjoy nursing your youngins while you can!
3 year old enjoying booba
(photos above include a 5 year old and two 2 year olds nursing - one who's very tired)
Breastfeeding a Toddler Facts Sheet
Myths about Breastfeeding Toddlers
Breastfeeding Beyond a Year: exploring benefits, cultural influences and more
Breastfeeding a Toddler
How Long Should a Mother Breastfeed?
Why Mothers Nurse Their Children Into Toddlerhood
The Nursing Toddler: A Baby on Wheels
Why I Nurse My Toddler
The Advantages of Extended Nursing
Information on Breastfeeding an Older Baby/Child
Tricky Two Year Old
101 Reasons to Breastfeed Your Child
Buckley, Sarah, Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering, Brisbane, One Moon Press, 2005.
Breastfeeding Position Paper by The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) says:
Nursing Beyond Infancy Breastfeeding should ideally continue beyond infancy, but this is currently not the cultural norm and requires ongoing support and encouragement.85 Breastfeeding during a subsequent pregnancy is not unusual. If the pregnancy is normal and the mother is healthy, breastfeeding during pregnancy is the woman's personal decision. If the child is younger than two years of age, the child is at increased risk of illness if weaned. Breastfeeding the nursing child after delivery of the next child (tandem nursing) may help to provide a smooth transition psychologically for the older child.61 (emphasis added).