Breastfeeding is such a beautiful labor of love. Many organizations recommend exclusively breastfeeding for at least the first 6 months of life and starting to incorporate solids and still breastfeeding if desired after 6 months and up to a year. While these recommendations are not wrong, the truth of the matter is that the benefits of breastfeeding are plentiful and there is no reason to stop prematurely.
Many mothers set breastfeeding goals for 6 months or one year, but why stop then when the benefits of breastfeeding don’t stop when the clock strikes midnight on their 1st birthday? The World Health Organization words it best by saying, “Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond.”
One of the best reasons to nurse past age one is for comfort: there is nothing more comforting than mommy’s liquid gold! It is nicknamed that because of all of the nutrients it contains and its unmatched ability to change based on children’s needs.
In the early months, breastmilk is the only source of nutrition. As many babies start eating solids, the breastmilk changes and still provides these essentials, just in lesser qualities. Some of the many nutrients that babies get from breastfeeding past introduction of solids are proteins, vitamins A, C, and B12, folate, calcium, fat, and energy. The milk also provides antibodies from mom and is kiddie’s first defense against many things.
Continuing to nurse lowers children’s risk of childhood illnesses and decreases the severity of the sicknesses that they do get. In addition to all of these great reasons, research also shows that continued nursing has positive impacts on baby’s IQ, improved mental health, and less behavioral issues later on down the line!
The benefits of breastfeeding beyond a year are not just limited to the child: moms also benefit from it! Just to name a few, mothers have a lowered risk for diabetes, several types of cancer, and heart disease due to extended breastfeeding. Some moms take longer to get their period back because of it too, but that is not a reflection of delayed fertility.
The most obvious benefit is the convenience of it: food for baby is always just a few inches below your chin! It’s very natural to continue to breastfeed beyond the age of one; many moms still do it and it is very normal to nurse to 5 or 6 years of age in other countries.
There are many reasons to breastfeed beyond one year of age and continued research supports that. Recommendations will be revised and new discoveries will influence those revisions, but what will stay the same is the fact that breastfeeding is best for your children and the benefits do not cease after age one.
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Laria Herod is a wife and mother pursing her Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She is passionate about parenting and sharing her experiences with others in the hopes of educating and empathizing. She is a breastfeeding advocate in her community and loves to interact with new people from all walks of life.