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Mother's Milk: Breastfeeding Beyond Six Months

breastfeeding toddlerEditor’s Note:  This breastfeeding story is from guest writer Heather Garvet. Heather blogs at A Mama’s Blog, where she has written other posts on C-sections, VBACs, breastfeeding, pregnancy, and birth issues, as well as her two boys. Heather is also a monthly contributor on API Speaks. This post originally appeared on A Mama’s Blog.

World Breastfeeding Week starts on August 1st, and runs through August 7th. The theme of this year is “Mother Support- Going for the Gold.”
Supporting a mother who is breastfeeding is so important. There are so many other demands that a new mother faces when nursing, having support can be invaluable to the mother and new baby to establish breastfeeding.

But did you know that nursing a baby past six months and has many health benefits for the baby and the mother? Sadly it seems that once a baby is nursed passed six months and beyond, support often turns to opposition?

Nursing mothers who continue to breastfeed past six months, a year, a year and a half, two years, three years, and even four years and beyond also need support. Likely they have heard negative comments about nursing their older child.

I am happy and proud to say that I nursed Ryan (my first son) until he was 26 months old. I wanted to nurse him longer but I was seven months pregnant with my second son, Cole, and my milk had gone, and it was incredibly irritating to me- pregnant hormones and all. I am still nursing Cole, mainly before nap time and bedtime, but he has shown no interest in weaning, and I don’t have any interest in forcing him to do so. In fact, it is a very nice bonding quiet time for us at the end of the day.

So many mothers who nurse a baby older than a year, feel like they have to hide it, and not talk about it. Sometimes mothers are made to feel like they are doing something wrong, or potentially stunting their child’s development, but that is not the case at all.

In honor of supporting breastfeeding mothers, who nurse their babies of all ages, I am posting one of my favorite pieces about breastfeeding, by Diane Wiessinger, MS and International Board Certified Lacatation Consultant (IBCLC). Perhaps you will learn something you didn’t know about breastfeeding, or maybe it will inspire you to support a breastfeeding mother to keep nursing a bit longer if she wishes to do so.

I think it would be great as a a society if we supported ALL nursing mothers, whether they were nursing a newborn, infant, toddler, pre-schooler, etc. It truly is one of the single best things a mother can do for her child, and that should be supported and celebrated.

What if I Want to Wean My Baby?

by Diane Wiessinger, MS, IBCLC

Breastfeeding your baby for even a day is the best baby gift you can give. Breastfeeding is almost always the best choice for your baby. If it doesn’t seem like the best choice for you right now, these guidelines may help.

IF YOU NURSE YOUR BABY FOR JUST A FEW DAYS, he will have received your colostrum, or early milk. By providing antibodies and the food his brand-new body expects, nursing gives your baby his first – and easiest – “immunization” and helps get his digestive system going smoothly. Breastfeeding is how your baby expects to start, and helps your own body recover from the birth. Why not use your time in the hospital to prepare your baby for life through the gift of nursing?

IF YOU NURSE YOUR BABY FOR FOUR TO SIX WEEKS, you will have eased him through the most critical part of his infancy. Newborns who are not breastfed are much more likely to get sick or be hospitalized, and have many more digestive problems than breastfed babies. After 4 to 6 weeks, you’ll probably have worked through any early nursing concerns, too. Make a serious goal of nursing for a month, call La Leche League or a Lactation Consultant if you have any questions, and you’ll be in a better position to decide whether continued breastfeeding is for you.

IF YOU NURSE YOUR BABY FOR 3 OR 4 MONTHS, her digestive system will have matured a great deal, and she will be much better able to tolerate the foreign substances in commercial formulas. If there is a family history of allergies, though, you will greatly reduce her risk by waiting a few more months before adding anything at all to her diet of breastmilk. And giving nothing but your milk for the first four months gives strong protection against ear infections for a whole year.

IF YOU NURSE YOUR BABY FOR 6 MONTHS, she will be much less likely to suffer an allergic reaction to formula or other foods. At this point, her body is probably ready to tackle some other foods, whether or not you wean. Nursing for at least 6 months helps ensure better health throughout your baby’s first year of life, and reduces your own risk of breast cancer. Nursing for 6 months or more may greatly reduce your little one’s risk of ear infections and childhood cancers. And exclusive, frequent breastfeeding during the first 6 months, if your periods have not returned, provides 98% effective contraception.

IF YOU NURSE YOUR BABY FOR 9 MONTHS, you will have seen him through the fastest and most important brain and body development of his life on the food that was designed for him – your milk. You may even notice that he is more alert and more active than babies who did not have the benefit of their mother’s milk. Weaning may be fairly easy at this age… but then, so is nursing! If you want to avoid weaning this early, be sure you’ve been available to nurse for comfort as well as just for food.

IF YOU NURSE YOUR BABY FOR A YEAR, you can avoid the expense and bother of formula. Her one-year-old body can probably handle most of the table foods your family enjoys. Many of the health benefits this year of nursing has given your child will last her whole life. She will have a stronger immune system, for instance, and will be much less likely to need orthodontia or speech therapy. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends nursing for at least a year, to help ensure normal nutrition and health for your baby.

IF YOU NURSE YOUR BABY FOR 18 MONTHS, you will have continued to provide your baby’s normal nutrition and protection against illness at a time when illness is common in other babies. Your baby is probably well started on table foods, too. He has had time to form a solid bond with you – a healthy starting point for his growing independence. And he is old enough that you and he can work together on the weaning process, at a pace that he can handle. A former U.S. Surgeon General said, “It is the lucky baby… that nurses to age two.”

IF YOUR CHILD WEANS WHEN SHE IS READY, you can feel confident that you have met your baby’s physical and emotional needs in a very normal, healthy way. In cultures where there is no pressure to wean, children tend to nurse for at least two years. The World Health Organization and UNICEF strongly encourage breastfeeding through toddlerhood: “Breastmilk is an important source of energy and protein, and helps to protect against disease during the child’s second year of life.”(1) Our biology seems geared to a weaning age of between 2 1/2 and 7 years(2), and it just makes sense to build our children’s bones from the milk that was designed to build them.

Your milk provides antibodies and other protective substances as long as you continue nursing, and families of nursing toddlers often find that their medical bills are lower than their neighbors’ for years to come. Mothers who have nursed longterm have a still lower risk of developing breast cancer. Children who were nursed longterm tend to be very secure, and are less likely to suck their thumbs or carry a blanket.

Nursing can help ease both of you through the tears, tantrums, and tumbles that come with early childhood, and helps ensure that any illnesses are milder and easier to deal with. It’s an all-purpose mothering tool you won’t want to be without! Don’t worry that your child will nurse forever.

All children stop eventually, no matter what you do, and there are more nursing toddlers around than you might guess.

Whether you nurse for a day or for several years, the decision to nurse your child is one you need never regret. And whenever weaning takes place, remember that it is a big step for both of you. If you choose to wean before your child is ready, be sure to do it gradually, and with love.

1.) Facts for Life: A Communication Challenge, published by UNICEF, WHO, and UNESCO, 1989
2.) Katherine Dettwyler. A Time to Wean. Breastfeeding Abstracts vol 14 no 1 1994
copyright ©1997 Diane Wiessinger, MS, IBCLC

Comments

  1. Thanks for posting the article on the benefits of breastfeeding for different ages and stages. I will forward this to my mama friends who are nursing little ones.

    I nursed my son until he was past 2 and my daughter continued nursing until age 3. For both, I was sure my children were ready to let go of nursing and move on to exciting things at that age like talking, climbing, all that toddler stuff. It was hard to leave behind the memories of them nursing, but I was proud to see them grow. I felt especially secure knowing that they had had the best start.

  2. I stumbled upon your blog and wanted to comment on the picture in this one. I love it :o) I love nursing pictures, the babes always look so content! Great article too. I’ve nursed mine past 2 and my third is almost 1 and still going strong. He’s a boobie man :o)

  3. Hi,

    I enjoyed the above article and I’m even more inspired to continue breasfeeding until my baby is ready to move on (he’s 3 months now) . My question to the for ever nursing mothers, is: don’t the teeth hurt? Do you mean no other food is introduced at all? How many times a day does a toddler get the milk? Thank you.

    Ciao!

  4. Yes, the teeth hurt, but your child will quickly learn not to bite. Both of my kids got their teeth super early at 3 months. I read not to pull your breast out when they bite, as they will clamp down harder. If instead you push your breast further into their mouth each time they bit, it sort of gags them a little and they quickly learn not to bite if you do it consistently. Just like Pavlov’s dog:)

  5. Does nursing provide 98% effective contraception only during the first 6 months or afterward (as long as nursing)?

  6. hi,
    i always knew the benefits of breast feeding, for all the time i’ve known it, i’ve also seen the difference in health of a child being breastfed and a child whose formula fed.My girl is nearly 3 now and yes is still being breastfed. Till now i can say she is amoung the healthiest babies i’ve seen..i’ve been through people passing remarks that i still breastfeed to eyes staring oddly that am breastfeeding in public but i’ve been regardless of what people might say or think as i knew i was doing the best a mother can give to her child, for her to have a good and healthy start in life and years to come..so i would say bravo and keep it up to all mothers who breastfeed.

  7. thanks for the inspiration! I was looking for tips on weaning my 6 month old (going to formula) and stumbled upon this. I am going to continue to nurse.

    I guess I was just having a bad day running from work pumping like a mad woman and thought for a second “what the heck am I doing all this for?”… thank you for reminding me!

  8. I am nursing my little man, almost 4 months now and would like to nurse for at least 6 months and if possible, further. I would like to know who do people cope when they are back at work. I’m back one day a week and i find it hard. Also, do you combine breastmilk and solids from 6months onwards or just breastmilk?

    thanks

  9. @K

    You can pump at work, but I agree it is hard. If your schedule allows, seeing your little one at lunch to nurse can also be a relief.

    As far as after six months, you need to see what your child is ready for and follow his lead. Keep breastfeeding, and it is even suggested to mix the first food (rice cereal) with breastmilk. I didn’t, and neither of my kids took to solids right away. It was a slow process, and I continued to breastfeed them on demand. It’s really about following your child’s lead when feeding solids and breastfeeding.

  10. Corli Brittz says:

    Thank you very much for this information the LORD answered my prays by reading this I was looking for answers My little girl is 13 months and I really enjoy nursing here and by grace I can do my work and be there for her But I felt many times I should not let people know I am still nursing because they would think I’m doing the wrong thing But after this info I am pruod to say I am still nursing my girl

  11. shazia khan says:

    i nursed my three kids upto 30 months. it is great experience and being muslim it is duty of mother to feed the child by breast. it not only provides satisfaction but also avoids ailments concerned to breasts, child health and immunity.

  12. hi,
    i hv been able to nurse my daughter for 7 months only along with formula too. as i was working so needed formula.Moreover milk stopped at 7 months and so the nursing.Will it going to effect my baby.she is now 2 year old and does not take milk atall.Please help.

    • Lousi – People don’t NEED cow’s milk at all. Get calcium somewhere else. It’s only pushed in the U.S. because the dairy industry is so big.

  13. It is advised to the parents to study of baby milk for healthy and sick children and to choose some reputable global manufacturers that have already been present for decades in market. Necessarily see the declaration of origin and try the milk before use, because it is important that babies get milk of a pleasant taste.

  14. I nursed my baby for 4 months and then left due to some reason. Now she is 13 months. I still see colostrum sort of thing coming of my breasts. Do u think I can relactate. I want to nurse her as long as possible. please help me if you have any advice on how to relactate.

  15. I never knew how important breastfeeding is. Thank you for this vital info.

  16. I found this website while trying to decide what to do next week when my daughter turns 6 months. I work full time and my baby only takes my breast in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning because she prefers the bottle…which is full of breast milk. I have decided that I need to continue feeding her breast milk as long as possible. This article really helped make that decision. Thank you for the information!

  17. Thank you for the article. I nursed my daughter for 17 months and now my son who happens to be almost 7 months. I pump at work and given him all breast when i get home as well as solids if he takes. It is a joy to know that you are given your child the milk that God has provided through human.

  18. Thank You for this article. Really inspiring and interesting. I feel proud of myself that I gave my baby colostrum milk the first days. I have now breastfed for 16 months. My goal is 24 months. I never knew it helps protect against breast cancer. What are other benefits of breastfeeding?

  19. I now understand why my baby never got sick and why he is so intelligent and learned walking quite fast. He also never got any rash on his skin and no colic. So I guess it must be the breastfeeding. I am blessed to have a healthy child who never got sick. His teeth came without any pain or side effects. Maybe that is due to the breastfeeding.

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