Extended Breastfeeding

Susie McGee
You can extend your breastfeeding.

Is extended breastfeeding the right choice for you and your child?

Breastfeeding Decisions

Breastfeeding is an extremely personal choice that only the nursing mom can make. How long she chooses to breastfeed often depends upon several issues.

  • Health: The health of the breastfeeding mother and baby can have a direct bearing upon the length of time a mom chooses to breastfeed. If a mother must take medications which could harm the baby, she may need to stop breastfeeding and turn to formula. Likewise, if an infant is having difficulty gaining weight while breastfeeding, her pediatrician may suggest to the mother that formula is the better choice. However, if there aren't any health issues that directly relate to breastfeeding, a mother can breastfeed for an extended period of time.
  • Contentment: Both mother and baby should derive pleasure from the experience of breastfeeding. If a woman continues to feel undue stress during nursing sessions, the experience can be frustrating for her and may cause her milk supply to diminish causing frustration for the baby as well. Sometimes, toddlers decide they've had enough of breastfeeding and want to stop. In this case, it may be time for mom to stop nursing a child.
  • Convenience: In some cases, it can be difficult to breastfeed, especially if a mother has to return to work and has trouble finding time to pump and store her breast milk.

Extended Breastfeeding Pros and Cons

The American Academy of Pediatrics (pg. 3) recommends that mothers breastfeed their babies for the first year of life. The benefits are many, but there are some mothers who choose to continue extended breastfeeding. In many countries around the world, the image of nursing toddlers is a common sight.

In the United States, however, breastfeeding children beyond their infant years has often caused controversy and discomfort to those who may witness a breastfeeding mother and her child. In fact, many mothers encounter open hostility from those who disagree with their choice of breastfeeding beyond the first year. What are the pros and cons of this issue?

Pros

It's easy to point out the positive reasons for supporting extended breastfeeding.

  • Convenience: While toddlers are big enough to hold their own cups or bottles, breastfeeding is still a convenient way to provide children with important nutrition. In some cases, mothers continue to pump their milk and choose to give their children that milk in a cup instead of at the breast.
  • Health: Toddlers should typically be getting the majority of their nutrition from solid foods, but breast milk can provide additional nutrition to help keep toddlers healthy. In some cases, breast milk may be the only type of food a baby can digest when he or she is sick.
  • Emotional needs: While the urge to encourage independence in small children is often present, breastfeeding can provide emotional reassurance as well. People mistakenly believe that a breastfed child will have a difficult time adjusting as he grows, but in many cases the opposite is true.

Cons

Are there any negative issues that surround the topic of extending breastfeeding beyond the first year?

  • Right reasons: Be sure you and your child are breastfeeding for the right reasons. If your child becomes increasingly clingy to you, refusing to participate in normal activities and preferring to nurse throughout the day, it may be time to wean him or her.
  • Health: Breastfeeding requires a lot from the mother's body. Your body will need to get enough food to provide enough nutrition for both you and your child. If you find yourself feeling weaker because of the demand of milk production, it may be time to stop.

Finally, choosing to extend the time you breastfeed your child is a purely personal decision that you must make for yourself and your baby.

Extended Breastfeeding