The importance of breastfeeding has been widely known all over the world. However, breastfeeding past infancy is not typical for everyone. While breastfeeding beyond 2 years of age is a cultural norm in some cultures, some people still raise their eyebrows upon seeing a toddler clinging over his mother’s breast. Is it really okay to continue offering the breast to your growing child? Here’s what experts say.
Is it okay to continue breastfeeding after 2 years? Most health care experts and institutions agree that mothers should breastfeed their babies even past the age of two. Included in this is the following:
- The World Health Organization (WHO) promotes continuous breastfeeding up to 2 years and beyond.
- The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends nursing babies up to one year and beyond. However, this only as long as the baby and the mother want to. According to the AAP, no upper limit for the duration of breastfeeding exists. There are no proven harmful effects for breastfeeding up to the age of 2 or beyond. It can even provide significant developmental health benefits for both the mother and her child.
- The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) supports the recommendations of WHO regarding continuous breastfeeding beyond infancy. According to AAFP, the estimated age for weaning can range from 2 to 7 years old.
- The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine warns about the impact of premature weaning not due to medical reasons. The average time of weaning is when the baby reaches six months to five years of age.
This shows breastfeeding after your baby reaches 2 years old is normal and even recommended by many experts. Still, many moms wean their babies during this age. If you feel you should continue to breastfeed or wean your baby by his 2nd birthday, here are some important details to consider.
Advantages of breastfeeding after 2 years
Breastfeeding brings a lot of advantages for a mom and her baby. These advantages continue with extended breastfeeding beyond 2 years old. Here are some great reasons why you should consider breastfeeding after 2 years:
An excellent source of nourishment
Many people believe that the nutritional content of breast milk is diminished after two years. However, pediatric experts clarify that this is not true. Although it’s composition will change as your baby gets older, it’s nutritional value is still superior to formula. Breast milk contains proteins, calcium, fat, vitamins, and minerals that a child needs for his growth and development.
Breast milk changes the composition of its nutrients based on the needs of a growing child.
According to experts, breast milk from mothers who have been breastfeeding greater than a year has an increased fat and energy content when compared to mothers who have been lactating for shorter durations.
A study has been carried out which took samples of breast milk from mothers who had been breastfeeding for 2 years. Results showed that this breast milk had higher levels of protein, lysozyme, Immunoglobulin A, and lactoferrin compared to samples derived from milk banks from donors who had breastfed for a shorter duration. The samples from mothers breastfeeding for more than 2 years also contained a reduced amount of zinc, iron, calcium, and oligosaccharides. This suggests that breast milk’s composition may change as the baby grows.
According to Nutrition During Lactation, breast milk is an abundant source of antibodies throughout breastfeeding. In addition, some antibodies increase in number after the 2nd year of breastfeeding.
Breastfed babies past the age of 2 have a decreased occurrence of illnesses, shortened duration of illnesses, and lower mortality rates. A child’s immunity is developing as he continues to breastfeed. Most pediatricians agree that extended breastfeeding can decrease a child’s risk of upper respiratory tract infections and ear infections.
The WHO advocates breastfeeding in the treatment and prevention of childhood diseases. An increase in the breastfeeding rate could prevent up to 10 percent of all deaths from children under five years old.
Researchers suggest that breastfeeding provides an additional boost to your child’s brain functioning. This is due to the omega-3 fatty acids, called DHA, that are found in breast milk.
A research finding revealed that by the age of 2, exclusively breastfed babies have increased development to certain parts of their brain. This was specifically observed in areas responsible for language, cognition, and emotional response. The researchers further noted that the longer the duration of breastfeeding, the greater brain development in these children.
Soothing for your child
The breast is your baby’s place of comfort, even when he reaches toddlerhood. Breastfeeding is an ideal way to comfort your baby if he has a cold, is teething or just not feeling well. Toddlers are more physically active, resulting in trips and falls along the way. Breastfeeding is an ideal way to soothe your toddler if he’s hurt. Breastfeeding a toddler can help ease out his transition from infancy to childhood.
While most of us believe that extended breastfeeding will make our babies too clingy, some experts believe it will actually have the opposite effect as they get older. Breastfed toddlers may be more encouraged to explore on their own as they feel safe and secure at their mom’s breast once they have finished doing their thing.
According to Elizabeth Baldwin, author of “Extended Breastfeeding and the Law,” meeting your child’s dependency is a major factor that contributes to his dependence. Breastfeeding is considered a loving method to meet the needs of a toddler or young child. Young children will be able to outgrow their needs within their timeframe. When this happens, children will have a more secure independence.
Better health in the future
Breastfed babies and toddlers enjoy additional health benefits when they grow up. According to research, they are less likely to develop high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, type 2 diabetes, and obesity in the future.
Beneficial effects on mom’s health
The longer you breastfeed, the longer you will reap the benefits of breastfeeding. These include a decreased risk of ovarian, uterine, endometrial, and breast cancers.
Breastfeeding can also protect you from developing osteoporosis in the future. Even if your bone mineral density slightly decreases while breastfeeding, your body has the ability to regain any losses. According to the NIH (source), breastfeeding mothers often lose 3 to 5 percent of their bone mass during breastfeeding. This is usually recovered within a few months after breastfeeding has ended. This process happens with or without taking an additional calcium supplement.
According to studies, breastfeeding reduces mom’s risk of type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and cardiovascular disease. Since breastfeeding burns extra calories, it may also help mothers lose some weight.
If breastfeeding can soothe babies, it can also calm a mother after a stressful day at work or at home. This is due to the breastfeeding hormones that create a relaxing effect while you nurse your baby. They also help get you to sleep more easily. Many mothers feel it’s more convenient for them to breastfeed their baby rather than prepare a bottle late at night.
Disadvantages of breastfeeding after 2 years
You can get plenty of benefits from breastfeeding, but many mothers choose to wean when their baby reaches 2. Extended breastfeeding beyond 2 years can also have its disadvantages. Some of the following are listed below:
Effects on mom’s menstrual cycle
High levels of prolactin can affect the mom’s menstrual cycle. It may take several weeks, months, or even years before a breastfeeding mom to regain her period. Some mothers may also have their periods irregularly.
This might be an advantage to those who don’t want to get pregnant, but it can also impact those who want to get pregnant in the near future. Since extended breastfeeding can affect fertility, this is particularly a concern among older mothers who are planning to have another baby.
Decreased freedom and convenience
Breastfeeding while looking after other children can be a tough job that requires full commitment. Many mothers quit their jobs and choose to stay at home for their babies. Some are unable to meet socially with their friends as often as before they breastfed their child. A breastfeeding mom often lacks time to take care of herself. As you can see, mothers sacrifice a lot in their life to nurse their babies which can sometimes take its toll for some mothers.
At some point, while breastfeeding, mothers may experience discomfort to their breasts and nipples. This is especially common when you are already nursing a toddler. When a baby begins teething, he may accidentally bite your nipple. These little bites to your nipple can sometimes leave you feeling sore and tender.
Takes a lot of time and effort
Mothers are probably the busiest people on earth. From household chores to doing their job, it’s pretty common for a mom to struggle to find time to fit everything into her day. Breastfeeding takes a lot of time and effort as you need to be physically close to your child most of the time. This is particularly a concern for mothers who have older kids to look after who also need her attention.
Sometimes, your toddler may ask uncomfortable questions while you are nursing him. It is common for a 2-year-old to be curious about anything he sees and touches, and that will include your body parts. Some mothers feel uncomfortable answering these kinds of questions in public.
Opinions from the public
Breastfeeding in public has been widely accepted. However, people have varying opinions about it, especially those breastfeeding their babies beyond the age of 2. For example, mom’s relatives or friends might believe that it is time for a toddler to wean because he is now taking solids. Their opinion can affect a mom’s view about extended breastfeeding beyond 2.
Breastfeeding after 2 years has its pros and cons. If you are still breastfeeding your toddler, then great! Both of you will gain a lot of benefits from breastfeeding. If you choose to wean after nursing for two years, then it’s a personal choice that everyone must respect. Whether you continue breastfeeding or end up weaning, you can still be a loving and caring mother to your growing baby.