Extended breastfeeding… What is that?
Extended beyond what?
The answer really depends on who you ask. In most western countries today, it is considered normal and great if a mom breastfeeds her baby for up to 1 year. After that, it starts to slowly become more controversial, and the mom also is said to be doing extended breastfeeding.
One can, of course, speculate about why anyone outside a baby’s immediate family would care at all for how long a baby is breastfed. It is not like the mom is feeding her baby Coca-Cola – breast milk is very healthy; at least that should be something we can all agree on!
But speculations is not the purpose of this article. Instead, I want to share with you the benefits of extended breastfeeding as well as talk a little bit about the challenges of breastfeeding your toddler.
Extended Breastfeeding 101
What is Extended Breastfeeding?
Whenever the subject of breastfeeding comes up, new or expectant parents often hear the term extended breastfeeding and find themselves wondering what exactly does that term mean. The answer is not as simple as one might suppose since breastfeeding in some parts of the world continue until a child is 2, 3, or sometimes 4 years of age.
However, in the US and many other western countries, in particular, mothers are more or less expected to wean their child from their breast no later than one year of age. So when you hear the term extended nursing it simply means continuing to breastfeed your child when they become a toddler or until they are ready to wean themselves from the breast.
What Are The Benefits To Extended Breastfeeding?
Although formula companies and even some doctors encourage mothers to stop breastfeeding at 6 months to a year telling them breastfeeding past this point has no real benefits for your child, they are wrong. Extended breastfeeding has many benefits for your child including:
- Giving your child additional vitamins, enzymes and immunities that help them stay healthy and strong. In fact, extended breastfeeding may actually increase the amount of immunities your child receives as they get older. Toddlers who continue to breastfeed after the age of one usually suffer from fewer infections and colds than children who are not breastfed or who are weaned early.
- As your child develops and becomes more independent, he is constantly trying new things for himself. Extended breastfeeding can provide him with a sense of security that allows him to meet the new challenges in his young life with more self-assurance as he feels the emotional support to move forward.
- Extended breastfeeding allows your child to wean himself when he/she is developmentally ready. This allows your toddler to move ahead with more confidence and fewer worries than forcing him/her to do something they are neither physically or emotionally ready to deal with.
In addition, the general benefits of breastfeeding, which you can read about here, continue to be important and relevant.
What Are The Challenges of Extended Nursing?
Of course, extended breastfeeding is not without challenges but being prepared to meet these challenges will make the experience all the more beneficial for both you and your child. Here are some of the challenges you may face when you decide to extend the length of time you breastfeed.
- Public criticism is probably the biggest challenge that most mothers face when they decide that extended nursing is right for their child and themselves. You may receive odd looks, comments and even outright criticism from family, friends, and complete strangers all of who have been trained to believe that early weaning is best for your child.
- No doubt, breastfeeding in public is more challenging with a toddler than with a newborn. A small child is relatively still, while a toddler never sits still! So in addition to general public criticism, you might find it quite stressful to risk showing off your breasts completely as your toddler jumps around in our arms. Unless your toddler is used to sitting very peacefully in your lap while breastfeeding, keeping a routine to breastfeed at home, for example, might be a good idea if you find the situation embarrassing.
- Some parents feel that weaning becomes more difficult the longer they continue to breastfeed. This is especially true if the child uses breastfeeding as a way to get parental attention. However, you can use a variety of means to avoid this problem including giving your child the attention they crave in other ways.
- Some mothers find themselves overwhelmed when they are still breastfeeding and have another child on the way. While it is possible to continue to breastfeed your toddler while pregnant, you will want to ensure that you are eating properly and getting adequate rest. During pregnancy, your milk supply may fall off at some point and more often than not, your toddler will begin weaning themselves when this occurs.
Just remember that extended breastfeeding is a personal choice and each parent must decide what is right for their child and themselves.
Please share your thoughts on and experiences with extended breastfeeding by leaving a comment below.