As breastfeeding becomes more common, many wonder if breastfeeding beyond the first year is healthy or normal. The answer is yes! The benefits of breastfeeding, for both mom and baby, do not disappear on a baby’s first birthday.
Many experts recommend continuing to breastfeed beyond one year. The World Health Organization and the Canadian Pediatric Society recommend continued nursing for at least two full years, or longer, if it is mutually desired. In fact, the average global age of weaning is three years.
While breastfeeding is crucial for young babies, toddlers also benefit from breastmilk.
Most toddlers are actively exploring their world by putting everything in their mouths, including germs. Their immune systems are not fully developed, but breastmilk can provide the additional protection they need. As the amount of breastmilk they consume decreases (due to weaning), the percentage of antibodies and other immune building factors in the milk actually increases. Nature knows how much toddlers need infection protection!
While some moms choose to wean to cow’s milk at age one, breastmilk continues to be the biological norm for human children. As many mothers know, toddlers can be picky eaters and continuing to nurse them is like giving them a vitamin. Even if they’re not eating all of their table food, they can get the additional nutrients they need to grow and develop, both physically and mentally, via breastmilk.
In short, if you and your baby enjoy your breastfeeding relationship, there is no reason to abruptly stop just because your infant is growing. Nursing for the first few years of life is natural, healthy, and can continue to be part of the way you mother your child.
For support as you breastfeed, consider one of the many resources that Community Health Network provides.
Sources: kellymom.com and llli.org