The answer depends on whom you ask, so let’s ask the experts.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend breast milk only for baby’s first 6 months of life, and continued breastfeeding with the addition of solid foods from 6 months to at least one year.
Many studies worldwide have shown that the health benefits of breastfeeding to mom and baby are dose-dependant, meaning, more is better. For example, the longer a woman breastfeeds, the lower her lifetime risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes, and other illnesses. This longevity affect is cumulative, so breastfeeding multiple babies increases the protective power of breast milk on mom’s health.
Furthermore, the health benefits to the baby are increased the longer the baby breastfeeds. The longer the baby breastfeeds, the less likely he will experience health risks such as childhood cancer, diabetes, obesity, and certain infections. Older babies and toddlers still need immunity protection from breast milk because their immune systems are not mature yet. There is great nutritional value for a toddler in his mom’s breast milk.
Studies have also demonstrated that children who were held often and for long duration as babies, and who received comfort from breastfeeding as toddlers, grow to develop confidence and independence. When toddlers learn that they are safe and nurtured, they grow into confident children.
The American culture has decided that breastfeeding older babies or toddlers is weird, and that cultural norm hurts our babies and families. Worldwide, and throughout history, babies have been breastfed well into childhood, and this practice has been perfectly normal and healthy for children and communities.
It is important for you to decide how long to breastfeed your baby based on the scientific facts of the health and emotional benefits to you and your baby from extended breastfeeding as well as the impact that breastfeeding has on your family. If you decide to continue breastfeeding beyond your baby’s first birthday, you are perfectly normal! You and your baby will benefit, and there is nothing harmful about this practice. Feed on, mama!
Click here for the AAP policy statement on breastfeeding.
Beth Sanders, BSN, RN, IBCLC