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 babies start 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:
- 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
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:
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.