Considering that the World Health Organisation recommends breastfeeding your child until 2 years, it always surprises me that breast feeding after the first year is often referred to as “extended”. Personally I prefer the term “sustained breastfeeding” which I notice is used by the Australian Breastfeeding Association.
There are many good reasons to continue breastfeeding your child as long as you both feel comfortable. There is widespread acceptance that breastfeeding offers benefits to both mother and baby, however frequently nursing mums find themselves having to justify continuing to breastfeed their child after the first year.
Some of the benefits of breastfeeding after the first year include;
- Breast milk continues to provide immunity protection and nutrition beyond the first year of lactation. Even if an infant is getting nutrition from solid food, there are still health benefits from the vitamins and enzymes found in breast milk.
- Strong emotional and bonding experience creates a greater sense of security for the child as they become more independent. They will feel assured and confident due to their strong maternal relationship.
- The positive association between duration of breastfeeding and cognitive development.
- Lower risk of anaemia, osteoporosis and breast cancer for the mother.
According to Dewey KG. Nutrition, growth and complementary feeding of the breastfed infant. Pediatric Clinics of North America. 2001: 48(1): 87-104, in the second year (12-23 months), 448 mL of breastmilk provides:
- 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
Clearly the objections to breastfeeding beyond the first year are social ones. It can be wearing for a nursing mum to be justifying herself to family, friends and sometimes even strangers! Perhaps what is required is further education within our communities to change those social perceptions.