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Extended Breastfeeding - How Long Is Too Long?

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Most mothers are concerned about the period of continuation of breastfeeding for their newborns. This article classifies breast milk's role in an older baby's diet.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Sonal Prasad

Published At June 23, 2022
Reviewed AtApril 29, 2024

Introduction:

Breast milk comprises multiple macronutrients (proteins, lipids, carbohydrates), micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), and other biologically active substances. It also contains antibodies, growth factors, cytokines, antimicrobial compounds, and specific immune cells. Breast milk also contains IgA, IgM, and IgG immunoglobulins.

Nursing your baby is a pleasurable experience for both mother and baby. It nourishes the baby and helps develop a unique bonding between the mother and the baby. Breastfeeding has multiple health benefits for both the baby and the mother. Apart from being the most appropriate and protective diet for the newly born baby, it is also beneficial for the mother. Breast milk is crucial for the growth and development of the newborn and is an invaluable source of nutrition for infants.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends breastfeeding your baby for the first six months of life. Then, you may start introducing solid or liquid food items. However, it is crucial to continue breastfeeding until your baby turns one.‌

What Do You Understand About Extended Breastfeeding?

The best food that fulfills all the nutritional needs for infants is breast milk for the initial six months. After that, there are no known food alternatives that could have equal benefits like breast milk. Gradually after some time, infants are introduced to other solid and liquid foods to meet their nutritional needs, usually up to one year. After that phase, there comes a time when the infants are made more dependable on cow's milk and other solid food items and gradually stopped from breastfeeding.

Any breastfeeding practice that extends beyond one year of age is known as extended breastfeeding. In some cases, weaning is practiced in the daytime but breastfeeding during the night.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests feeding with breast milk for the first six months of life. After that, you need to gradually start introducing solid or liquid food items in your toddler's meal to provide adequate nutrition needs.

Is Breastfeeding Beneficial Beyond Infancy?

According to all health organizations, the recommended period for breastfeeding, including AAP, WHO, and UNICEF, is up to one year. Still, you can practice breastfeeding till you and your baby desire it. Extended breastfeeding after one year still has many beneficial effects for newborns and breastfeeding mothers.

Some commonly reported benefits of extended breastfeeding are:

  1. Good Nutrition: Breastfeeding is the gold standard nutritional source for infants, and there is no particular age when the benefits could become insignificant.

  2. Improved Immune Response: With continued breastfeeding, the cells, hormones, and antibodies in your breast milk will nourish your child’s immune system.

  3. Reduced Health Risks for Mothers: Some studies suggest a reduction in the chances of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes in mothers who continued breastfeeding for up to a year.

  4. Boosts Brain Development:It stimulates the child's brain development and promotes a higher IQ (intelligence quotient) in the breastfeeding child.

  5. Bonding Between Mother and Baby: It provides an intimate connection between the baby and the child.

What Are the Challenges of Extended Breastfeeding?

Extended breastfeeding helps you develop closeness with your child. It might be challenging to plan your nursing time for your baby. You might face people criticizing you for continuing to nurse your toddler for an extended period. But you need to know that you have to avoid indulging in these discussions.

A short, sweet way to communicate your say to your breastfeeding choice is often the best way to handle the criticism for nursing a toddler. The other way to take criticism is simply mentioning that your doctor has advised you to keep breastfeeding. To say that, you may simply mention that it is my doctor's order. Usually, people would not argue with instructions from a doctor.

You should not let anything affect you when it comes to breastfeeding decisions for you and your baby, and you must focus on your baby’s desires.

Will Breastfeeding Beyond Infancy Make the Weaning Process More Complicated?

Breastfeeding beyond normalcy would not necessarily make the weaning process difficult for you. The easiest way to begin weaning is when your child initiates the process, which might be anytime, and you might have to follow the hint from your baby.

Weaning often begins naturally at about six months of age on the introduction of solid food. However, some babies start to gradually show the transition from breast milk and seek other forms of nutrition. Others might not initiate weaning and prefer breastfeeding until their toddler years.

How Can I Handle Negative Impact on Breastfeeding Beyond Infancy?

You and your child decide the period of breastfeeding. You should not worry about anyone’s opinion. You can remind them that the decision is yours. Try not to get influenced by what others think about you. Breastfeeding after infancy indicates an intimate way of nurturing your child.

Conclusion:

Human milk is considered the best food for infant feeding. However, extended breastfeeding possesses advantages that extend beyond the properties of human breast milk. It provides various health benefits to breastfed infants and the breastfeeding mother. In addition, it establishes nutritional, environmental, socioeconomic, psychological, and genetic interactions between the mother and the baby. That is why breastfeeding is recommended for about six months which can be continued as long as mutually desired by the mother and the child. Breastfeeding is best for the child's overall development and even protects the mother from many fatal diseases.

Frequently Asked Questions

1.

What Is Considered Extended Breastfeeding?

The World Health Organization recommends continuing breastfeeding until the age of two. Continuing breastfeeding after the age of one is called extended breastfeeding. Babies can be introduced to semisolids at six months, along with continuing breastfeeding or stopping it.

2.

Are There Negative Effects of Extended Breastfeeding?

There are no harmful effects of extended breastfeeding. But difficult to feed in public, the discomforts associated with breastfeeding, etc., can be overwhelming. Moreover, there are chances that the child resists trying solid food, leading to improper nourishment.

3.

At What Age Is Breastfeeding No Longer Beneficial?

 
There is no age when breastfeeding is not beneficial. However, people often stop breastfeeding by the age of two or three due to the social influence and the difficulties it can cause. The age to stop breastfeeding should be decided by the mother and the child rather than the community around them.

4.

What Are the Three Types of Breastfeeding?

 
Some people feed the baby with breast milk alone. On the other hand, some people combine breast milk and formula to feed their children. A third group decides to feed the child purely on formula feed.

5.

Does Extended Breastfeeding Extend Fertility?

Studies show that women who breastfeed are associated with a longer period of amenorrhea and infertility than those who choose not to breastfeed. This can vary from woman to woman and depend upon many other factors.

6.

What Happens When You Stop Extended Breastfeeding?

Once a woman stops breastfeeding, milk production gradually diminishes. This reduces the breast reduced in size. Breasts can tend to sag without proper support, especially after extended breastfeeding.

7.

Do Breastfed Babies Live Longer?

Studies show that breastfeeding can prevent infectious diseases in children and boost their immunity. This is probably because breast milk passes the antibodies to the child. It also reduces the risk of breast, ovarian, and uterine cancer in the mother.

8.

Why Do I Still Have Milk in My Breast After 6 Years?

 
Having milk in the breast even after 6 years can denote something is not normal. It can be due to hormonal imbalances. Excessive stimulation of the breast can be another possible reason. It is always good to seek medical advice in such conditions.

9.

What Is the 120 Breastfeeding Rule?

 
The 120-minute rule says that if a woman exclusively pumps breast milk, she should spend 120 minutes or 2 hours a day pumping. This does not apply to a woman who breastfeeds her baby or to one who combines breast milk and formula feed. Distributing the time for pumping the milk can depend on the child's age and requirements.

10.

How Much Milk Can Breast Carry?

 
The amount of milk in a woman’s breast can differ from woman to woman. Some might be able to carry 3-4 ounces of milk in a single breast so that the child is required to feed only from one breast at a time. Others may have only 1-2 ounces of milk in their breast.

11.

Does Extended Breastfeeding Lower Estrogen?

Prolactin levels are high in breastfeeding women. As a result, estrogen levels will be low in them. Extended breastfeeding can continue for six months in some women, while some women have lower estrogen levels throughout the breastfeeding period.

12.

What Hormone Crashes After Stopping Breastfeeding?

 
Both hormones, prolactin and oxytocin, lower after stopping breastfeeding. This can cause changes in mood and sense of well-being. It usually lasts for some time but takes longer for some women. 
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Dr. Sonal Prasad
Dr. Sonal Prasad

Obstetrics and Gynecology

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