Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Benefits of Extended Breastfeeding

When I saw this post last week I knew I had to share it with my readers.  Jessica from Making Home Sweeter was so kind join us today as my guest poster to share with us the benefits of extended breastfeeding.  I hope you find this post as informative as I have.  

Because of the culture we live in, mothers tend to think that their milk is no longer good or needed past the first birthday.  In fact, in our culture, breastfeeding for the entire first year is looked at as quite an extensive amount of time.  And it is wonderful if a child is so fortunate to be breastfed for this length of time.  But I'd like to just share the many benefits of breastfeeding past the first 12 months of babyhood for those mothers who are interested and would like to know what difference it would make.

The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends that babies be breastfed for at least the first year and the American Academy of Family Physicians notes that children weaned before two years of age are at an increased risk of illness.  Former Surgeon General, Dr. Antonia Novella, stated "It is the lucky baby, I feel, who continues to nurse until he is two."  And the World Health Organization says "a modest increase in breastfeeding rates could prevent up to 10% of all deaths of children under five: Breastfeeding plays an essential and sometimes underestimated role in the treatment and prevention of childhood illness."  So as you can see, even though in our culture it is the norm to think of breastfeeding duration in terms of months, our very own health advisers recommend thinking in terms of years.

The benefits of breastfeeding definitely do not stop at one year.  At one year of age, a child's immune system is only functioning at 60% of an adult level.  Many mothers who wean at one year find that their baby starts to catch more colds than before while receiving breast milk.  Breast milk in the second year continues to be a major source of not only immunity, but protein, fat, calcium, and vitamins.  And for the breastfeeding toddler who catches a cold and does not want to eat or drink, breastfeeding is the optimal way to keep him hydrated and on the receiving end of mommy's immunity cells.  Nursing toddlers also have a shorter duration of illness than their non-breastfeeding peers.  This chart breaks down what breastmilk provides during the second year:

In the second year (12-23 months), 448 mL of breastmilk provides:
  • 29% of energy requirements
  • 43% of protein requirements
  • 36% of calcium requirements
  • 75% of vitamin A requirements
  • 76% of folate requirements
  • 94% of vitamin B12 requirements
  • 60% of vitamin C requirements
-- Dewey 2001

The healing properties of breast milk are quite astounding.  What science is only beginning to scratch the surface of, mothers have known for centuries.  What exactly are a few things that a little breast milk can't help clear up?  Diaper rash, cradle cap, ear ache, pink eye, sty, acne, scratches, clogged tear ducts.  For more uses, check out this list entitled "57 Medicinal, Cosmetic, and other Alternative Uses for Breastmilk".

Another very cool fact is that a mother's breast milk immunity has been shown to increase the older her baby gets and nurses less, so that when her baby does nurse, he is still receiving lots of immune factors.  I think that's pretty amazing!

There is also the benefit of avoiding allergies.  Studies have shown that the later cow's milk and other common allergens are introduced into a child's diet, the less chance there is of allergic reactions.

One little known fact is that extended breastfeeding is beneficial for the mother as well.  Mothers who breastfeed past infancy reduce their risk of the following: breast, ovarian, uterine, and endometrial cancers, breastfeeding protects against osteoporosis, and reduces the risk of rheumatoid arthritis just to name a few.

Some mothers believe the myth that extended breastfeeding will make for a dependent child, but this is actually far from the truth.  Dr. Sears stated:

"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."

It's important to keep in mind the psychological benefits of nursing as well.  Nursing with mommy is a way for babies and toddlers to reconnect with their home base.  Many nursing mothers of toddlers state that there is no quicker way to help soothe and calm an upset toddler than offering the breast.  It is what cultures the world over have done for centuries and still do today.  Hopefully it will begin to make a bigger comeback in our own culture and can be normalized once again.


Jessica is a wife and mother who blogs about homemaking and motherhood over at Making Home Sweeter.  On her blog you can find delicious recipes with photos, inspirational quotes, and homemaking tips and ideas.

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Laura Barnett said...

Amazing post! I breastfed my son for 16 months and would have continued longer if it weren't for  my own health problems. I loved the statistics provided in this post!

Megan said...

Love it! Thank you for passing this info on!
I am still nuring my baby boy... who is now 19 months old.
Doesn't seem like there is an end in sight, but I know there is.
Gonna enjoy this time while I have it.

judith said...

Breastfeeding through labor with another baby eases contractions. Breastfeeding with a toddler when you get mastitis helps to relieve it faster (the newborn usually sleeps and isn't interested in feeding).

Chrysti Hedding said...

Love this! I didn't get to breastfeed my son very long because of medical reasons... but I'm hoping to when our new baby arrives next month. If all goes well I'm even hoping to do it beyond a year. :) This is encouraging.

daisy4given said...

Thanks for this! I breastfed my first two babies for 11m and 6m - the first weaned himself and the 2nd I had to stop early for health reasons. Now I am happy to still be nursing my 3rd who is 15m! I only nurse her once a day at bedtime, which we both like the arrangement of. I have often wondered if it's even "worth it" to keep nursing her just the ONE time a day, especially because I'm sure at most she gets only an ounce or two (I've ALWAYS had supply issues). But this reminded me that even a little is beneficial. And we both still love it, so why stop? :)

A Little R & R said...

Yes! I am so glad you have been able to keep at it. It is such a wonderful thing - and not only is your 15 month old still receiving valuable nutrients, she is also receiving nurturing. Both are so necessary. Congratulations!