We get this question a lot. The answer depends on a few factors.
First, let’s look at some recommendations:
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months, after which complimentary foods should be added in and breastfeeding should be continued for a minimum of 2 years or beyond. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that breastfeeding continue for at least 12 months, and thereafter for as long as mother and baby desire. This last half of the sentence is extremely important. These suggested ages given are a minimum.
Breastmilk does not expire, it does not stop providing nutritional, immunological, neurodevelopment, emotional and psychological support and protection. There is no nutritional equivalent of human milk. Additionally, the lifelong benefits of breastmilk are dose dependent for both the mother and the baby. This why, according to The Center for Disease control (CDC), “Breastfeeding is an Investment in Health, Not Just a Lifestyle Decision.” The CDC further states, “Infants who are breastfed have reduced risks of: asthma, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, ear and respiratory infections, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Breastfeeding helps to lower a mother’s risks of: heart disease, type 2 diabetes, ovarian cancer, and breast cancer.” The rate of risk reduction for these factors increases as the duration of the breastfeeding journey (or journeys for the mother) increase.
Here are our top 3 benefits for breastfeeding into the toddler years.
1. It Continues to Provide Optimal Nutrition
Toddlers often go through bouts of picky eating. Many providers these days recommend starting cow milk, when human milk is still the feeding choice for optimal nutrition. The thought that cow milk is better nutrition for human babies is always a confusing topic. The longer that you breastfeed your baby, the less risk of certain diseases we discussed.
2. It Can Be An Important Remedy for Some Common Illnesses
It’s no secret that toddlers get sick … a lot. Many times, they will refuse to eat, but during illnesses they will often want to nurse more frequently. Stomach illnesses are no match for momma milk! It can prevent dehydration and restore gut health faster than any other intervention. Got pink eye? This common eye infection can actually be treated with fresh mother’s milk. The same immune protectants that are in our tears, are actually in our breastmilk. Not to mention, many breastfeeding moms will attest that it can help with minor “ouchies” that happen throughout toddlerhood. Got a scrape or a bump? Put some breastmilk on it.
3. It Can De-Escalate A Tantrum on the Spot
Toddlers can have meltdowns, for many reasons. No other method can calm a toddler like offering some “momma milk time.” This isn’t just helpful to stress relief for the child, but breastfeeding can calm moms, too.
In the end, a properly informed mother and child are the final deciders in the matter. Weighing the factors of their unique journey, including emotional components and the psychological and physical readiness of the child certainly must come into play. Only they can say when it’s the right time for them to end their breastfeeding journey.
BY AUTUMN WAKE, RN, BSN, IBCLC & LAURA COOPER, BA, CLEC OF ADVANCED BREASTFEEDNG SUPPORT OF LAS VEGAS
ADVANCED BREASTFEEDING SUPPORT OF LAS VEGAS