While the American Academy of Pediatrics states that it is recommended to nurse a child until the age of two, in the US it is not currently the most popular choice in feeding amongst mothers of infants. (AAP Policy, n.d.) show that mother’s, for a variety of reasons, choose to replace breast milk with formula, or cow’s milk (when age appropriate). Although “only 23.8 percent (of mothers) continue breastfeeding until baby’s first birthday”(Francis, 2011), there are many benefits associated with the practice of extended nursing. These benefits are both physical and psychological, and promote the practice of baby led weaning, or letting the child chose when they no longer need to be breastfed based upon their own wants and desires, rather than a time schedule.
With such a small percentage of mothers nursing their children at the age of one, the process of weaning the child should be considered when weighing the benefits of extended nursing a toddler. The term “extended breastfeeding” refers to nursing a child past the age of one, and in the United States this has become a practice of the minority of mothers. However, in other countries and civilizations through out the world many woman chose to continue to nurse their children until four years of age. (Boies, 2004)
Putting a time limit on breastfeeding by weaning abruptly, or “cold turkey”, can have negative effects on both the child and the mother. These effects manifest in physical and mental forms. This may leave one pondering why they would go through such a process to stop a natural behavior ingrained in the human race.
If a mother weans suddenly because of the child reaching a certain age she may experience engorgement from a build-up of milk. This condition can lead to a more serious illness known as mastitis when the milk ducts become clogged and infected. Breasts can reach the point of abscess. Psychologically, the decrease in hormone levels after a sudden change in nursing can have negative effects on nursing mothers. This may include having the ability to cause depression, especially in those with pre-existing conditions. Also, because nursing is a form of comfort to the child, the process, or lack thereof, endured during sudden weaning can prove traumatic. On the other hand, allowing a child to chose when they wean turns this process into a milestone that they can now appreciate and grow from, rather than an event that may be traumatic for the child and mother.
It is interesting to know that the milk produced by a child’s mother after one year is tailored to meet a toddlers nutritional needs. As a nursing toddler reduces the frequency of feedings, the antibodies contained in the milk is found in higher concentrations. These antibodies foster the continued growth of the child’s immune system, a benefit that many mother’s think only lasts into infancy.
Continuing to nurse your child after one year has many physical benefits for both the child and mother. Breastfeeding prevents against many forms of long term illness, such as ulcerative colitis, diabetes, asthma, Chron’s disease, obesity, and high cholesterol in the adult life on a long-term nurser. This means that a mother’s dedication to having an extended nursing relationship with their child helps prevent them from illness long after they are done weaning naturally. For mothers, long-term breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast, ovarian, and uterine cancer, in addition to helping prevent the onset of osteoporosis.
A study done on the experiences of 114 Australian children expressed that extended breastfeeding done by the child occurred for a variety of perceivable reasons. “When mothers were asked why they thought their child breastfed,” the text study written by Karleen D. Gribble states, “they most frequently stated that their child breastfed for comfort, then to satiate hunger, thirdly because of the intimacy and closeness involved in breastfeeding and fourthly because s/he liked the taste of breast milk.”
Breastfeeding after one year has many psychological benefits for a child. Breastfeeding is a great tool to be used as comfort ( mentioned earlier in regards to early weaning) and helps to calm a child after bumps and bruises while they learn important motor skills that begin to test new boundaries in toddlerhood.
There was a study done by Dr. David Snyder, Dr. Eyla Boies, and Dr. Martin T. Sein, all of which practice pediatrics in the state of California. This research proved major links between breastfeeding and comfort. When discussing the toddler, Matthew, and his nursing behaviors it was stated that “He seems to want to breastfeed when he is upset or in a new or unfamiliar situation.” (Stein, Boies, Snyder, 2004, Parenting Concerns About Extended Breastfeeding in a Toddler, para. 1). This suggests that extended nursers use breastfeeding as a tool to combat feelings of anxiety or uneasiness. It helps to coach them through situations with the guidance of the mother until they are confident enough to do so on their own. It has been found that children who extended nurse and wean naturally are more secure. While some will argue that nursing beyond one year builds a relationship that involves too much dependence on the mother, general psychology tells us that because a child is nurtured during the most vulnerable times of their infancy in the most natural way, they grow to be more independent, confident, and secure.
Not only are the psychological benefits of extended nursing present when discussing comfort and stability in the breastfeeding toddler, but numerous studies show that breastfeeding often results a higher IQ and increased abilities in many areas. Examples include reading comprehension, mathematics, and scholastic ability that continues to be demonstrated through out adolescence. Perhaps this is in direct correlation with the complete nutrition that breastfeeding provides a child with a large percentage of the minimum daily requirements of many vitamins, key nutrients, and minerals. They include protein, calcium, vitamin A, folate, vitamin C, and an amazing 94% of the daily required intake of B12 for a child between the ages of 12 and 24 months. (Steinkraus, 2007).
As stated by the La Leche League International, “mothers breastfeed their toddlers for many of the same reasons they breastfeed their infants: they recognize their children’s needs, they enjoy the closeness, they want to offer comfort, and they understand the health benefits.” (González, n.d.) After one year the mother still continues to feel the psychological effects of breastfeeding because of the influx of hormones that are released at the onset of each nursing session and let down. These hormones are the same released during labor. Oxytocin creates an urge in the mother to be more nurturing to her child, while prolactin is released to make the mother feel relaxed and at ease while nursing. Therefore, the relationship formed between an extended nurser and mother can help to prevent depression, as well as “the baby blues”.
Breastfeeding a toddler provides the child with physical and psychological benefits that will last them in the short-term as well as throughout their lifetimes. Whether this be preventing chronic illness, providing a firm foundation for stability and confidence, paving the way for scholastic success, or becoming the building blocks for a healthy immune system through out life. While there are other methods of feeding a toddler, the benefits that continue beyond the age of twelve months are not paralleled in any other feeding method produced by man. In the same respect, breastfeeding mothers reap multitudes of positive benefits from making the choice to continue their nursing relationship beyond one year, including prevention of breast-cancer, continued assistance in losing weight through calorie burn, and a natural dose of healthy hormones to promote being a happy and caring mother.
Don’t forget to vote for momfidant.com as one of the top mom blogs online by clicking in the right hand side bar and also join the forums! If you are interested in becoming a guest author for momfidant.com, or would like to suggest a topic, you may contact me using the following email: firstname.lastname@example.org!