Like many breastfeeding topics, sustained or extended breastfeeding (defined here as beyond the age of two) is frequently debated on Circle of Moms. The World Heath Organization recommends breastfeeding with complementary foods until two years of age or beyond, and the AAP's stance is that babies should be breastfed for the first year or longer, and breastfed exclusively for the first six months. But if you're considering the question of when and how to wean a child who's nearing or over two, what really matters is what will work best for you and your family.
To help you, here's a round-up of the extended breastfeeding benefits most often cited by our members. (Check back soon for a round-up of the cons.)
1. Comfort and Security
Providing comfort is one of the fundamental reasons many moms continue to nurse beyond age two. The toddler years are full of frustrations and overstimulation, and nursing can be calming and reassuring. As Missouri mother Jessica B. shares, breastfeeding a toddler continues to offer a special bonding experience for mother and child: "We are so comfy and snuggled together... it's a really nice bonding time for mother and child."
2. Letting the Child Decide When to Wean
While many moms certainly enjoy the bonding time that breastfeeding offers, Circle of Moms members who have chosen to breastfeed beyond age two emphasize that they breastfeed for the child's sake, not their own. Liz B., who is breastfeeding a two-year old, explains: "I don't feed her for my own benefit. In fact, I am over it. But, my little girl likes the closeness and the time out for her. I think we can rush our children too much with things. I'm trying to be easygoing with her, and she will stop when she is ready." Like Liz B., moms who breastfeed into the toddler years often decide to let their child self-wean. Karen T. shares: "I'm currently nursing my 23-month-old and will continue to do so until she's ready to stop...I believe it's best to allow the child to make this choice on his/her own."
3. Stronger Immune System
Toddlers are major germ magnets, touching and tasting everything in sight. While experts tend to agree that the most significant health benefits from breast milk occur during in the child's first year, many moms still credit the antibodies in breast milk with helping to combat infections and decrease the severity of illnesses during the toddler years. Celeste C. shares: "While my twin boys did get sick, I credit breastfeeding for the shorter duration (i.e., one of them got RSV and he was only sick for a few days)." Similarly, Mel R., a mother of 3 in Coventry, shared: "My son has only ever been poorly once, and that was only a cold. He never needs the doctor, and he is in the 97th percentile for both his height and weight."
4. Nutritional Boost
While solid foods are usually toddlers' primary source of nutrition, many breastfeeding moms feel that breast milk offers an important nutritional boost to a child's diet, especially since toddlers are notoriously picky eaters. As Cindy M., a mother of one, explains, "My son doesn't always want to eat a lot of table food or enough of the right foods. Continuing to nurse helps me feel confident that he's still getting good nutrition, even on days that he doesn't feel like eating all his veggies or chicken."
Looking for more information on breastfeeding and alternatives?
Whether you're looking for information on pumping, bottles, or introducing cow's milk, Circle of Moms is a great resource. You can ask for advice in communities focused on breastfeeding or formula, or respectfully debate topics with other moms in communities like Debating Mums and Parenting Debates & Hot Topics.