Extended breastfeeding your child is one of the most amazing things you can do for them.
In addition to all the nutritional benefits they get, the’ll also benefit from a bond of closeness, comfort and security.
Most moms stop breastfeeding too soon to be considered extended breastfeeding. This could be for several reasons.
They may not know all the benefits that nursing their toddler will continue to bring. Since it’s not widely practiced in the United States, it’s hard to get information about just how wonderful it can be for a growing child.
Another reason moms stop breastfeeding before giving extended breastfeeding a try is that they may have had problems nursing their child in the past and they are just ready to stop.
Whatever the reason, not many moms do it, so I’d like to share the many amazing benefits that I’ve found while breastfeeding my two and a half year old toddler.
Interested in learning how to breastfeed an older child but don’t know how or need more information? Read “Breastfeeding Older Children: Ages, Schedule, Problems & Myths” for everything you need to know to continue your breastfeeding journey.
Benefits of Extended Breastfeeding Toddlers
Emotional and Psychological
There is no end to the benefits breastfeeding provides for a child. Continuing to nurse will prolong many of those benefits and give your toddler a healthy head start in life. Here are a few of the benefits of extended breastfeeding.
Toddlers are awkward. It can be endearing, but if they fall and get hurt, they’ll be looking for comfort. Being able to breastfeed them even as they get older will help to comfort and calm a child that may be otherwise inconsolable.
They may have a lot of personality, but toddlers are also still learning how to deal with all of their emotions. Sometimes they need a bit of reassurance that mom is still there for them and that everything will be ok. Nursing is a way of saying, “You’re always safe with mama.”
Any person receiving emotional support will benefit from it. It serves as a huge boost to the confidence of the person who needs it.
Because of the emotional support of breastfeeding where a child feels comforted in his mother’s arms and the emotional support of reassurance where a child knows that a mother will always be there for him, a toddler can then have the confidence necessary to try new things and become even more independent.
Feelings of Security
There’s nothing like the warm and comforting arms of a mother. Just being able to climb in mom’s lap and snuggle up while nursing can give a warm sense of love and security well into the toddler years.
Additional Way to Bond with an Older Child
As kids grow they gain more independence. Sometimes as parents we look for ways to continue to bond with them as they gain more freedom.
Extended breastfeeding is another avenue that can continue to provide that closeness and bonding that many moms are looking for.
Even if it’s for just a few short minutes, the love that bonding through breastfeeding gives is irreplaceable.
Studies have shown that babies born prematurely received a boost to their cognitive development when breastfed versus babies who were formula fed, and that boost continued at 30 months old.
There have also been studies that show that the longer a child breastfeeds, the higher their vocabulary by age five, and that this correlation continued the longer they were breastfed.
Ease Adjustment to New Baby with Tandem Nursing
If you’ve been nursing a child all their life and suddenly tell them they have to stop because another baby is going to nurse instead, it’s understandable that they may be a little resentful.
Many moms think that getting pregnant and nursing a newborn means that their toddler can’t breastfeed anymore.
This is not true.
Nursing a newborn and continuing to breastfeed a toddler (called tandem nursing) is still an option and it may even help to ease the toddler’s transition into having a younger sibling. To a toddler, the feeling of sharing the nursing experience may be better than the feeling of giving up a source of comfort for someone else.
Nutritional and Immunological
Did you know the nutrition that breast milk provides in the infant years doesn’t stop even when extended breastfeeding?
When a baby is younger, breast milk provides more sustenance for its growing body, but as it gets older and becomes less reliant on breast milk and is able to eat more baby food, breast milk has the amazing ability to adjust to baby’s needs accordingly.
According to Unu.edu, 100 ml of breast milk contains:
It is also worth noting that studies have shown that a mother’s diet does not reduce the quality of her breast milk for her nursing child. (source)
There are numerous cells present in breast milk that help protect a child from infections, inflammation, and pathogens.
Breast milk also has a lot of antibodies, enzymes, prebiotics and immune factors that help support intestinal health and the immune system.
Antibodies passed from breast milk to a child helps the child fight diseases better. Breastfeeding beyond six months reduces a child’s risk of developing childhood acute leukemia and lymphoma, and reduces the chances of becoming obese in adulthood and developing type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
Fill in Nutritional Gaps for Picky Eaters
Toddlers who are picky tend to be the rule, not the exception. Because of this many parents worry that their child isn’t getting all the nutrition needed to be healthy.
Extended breastfeeding can help to alleviate those worries by providing the missing nutrients through breast milk.
Even breastfeeding an older child one time per day can give her a boost in calories and nutrients that she might not have gotten because she is a picky eater.
Emergency Food Source
Extended breastfeeding can also be a source of emergency food when you’re out and about and need a quick snack for your toddler.
If you planned a short trip out of the house, but later find that the trip is taking longer than expected, being able to nurse a hungry toddler can save the day.
Maybe you packed a snack but your toddler wasted it on the floor and you need something quick to satisfy her hunger until you get home. Breastfeeding to the rescue.
Or perhaps you need to feed your child while out, but instead of going through the drive through, you opt for breastfeeding instead. In all of these scenarios extended breastfeeding can be seen as a rewarding emergency food source.
Lowers Risk of Allergies and Intolerance from Cow or Soy Milk
Cow milk and soy milk are both some of the most common allergies in children. (source)
Since both of these milk sources can be a cause for allergies, they can cause symptoms such as diarrhea, bloating, vomiting and hives if a child is intolerant or allergic to them. Breast milk doesn’t have this effect and is more easily digestible for a toddler’s body.
Benefits of Extended Breastfeeding for Mothers
Extended breastfeeding doesn’t just benefit the child. Moms can get lots of benefits from continuing to nurse past infancy, too. Read on for long term breastfeeding benefits for mothers.
Reduced Risk of Certain Types of Cancer
Women who breastfeed longer reduce their risks for certain types of cancer like uterine and ovarian cancer. Breastfeeding may also help reduce the risk of endometrial and breast cancer. (source)
Good Hormones for Mon: Prolactin and Oxytocin
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, Prolactin is a natural hormone produced by mothers when nursing their babies.
“Prolactin produces a peaceful, nurturing sensation that allows you to relax and focus on your child.”HealthyChildren.org
In addition to helping the uterus shrink back to it’s normal size post birth, the AAP further states that oxytocin is also a good hormone released during breastfeeding that helps promote a strong sense of attachment to a nursing child.
Reduced Risk of Osteoporosis
After breastfeeding, any bone mineral density lost during that time may return and a nursing mother’s bone density mineral may even increase once she’s weaned her baby.
Reduced Risk of Rheumatoid Arthritis
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), breastfeeding for longer than 12 months has a direct correlation to a reduced risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.
Reduced Risk of Cardiovascular Diseases
In one study of postmenopausal women, a longer prevalence of breastfeeding was associated with a lower risk for cardiovascular disease. (source)
Reduced Risk of Type 2 Diabetes
Women who breastfeed are fifty percent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes versus women who don’t breastfeed. (source)c
Easier Weight Loss
Breastfeeding for at least six months or longer promotes weight loss.
Physical and Emotional
It’s no secret that when you breastfeed, there’s a good chance your monthly cycle won’t come back for a while after you’ve had a baby.
If another baby isn’t in the cards for you just yet, you’ll be happy to know that extending your breastfeeding time into toddlerhood could potentially also extend your delayed fertility.
Keep in mind that breastfeeding is not a one hundred percent fail proof method of birth control, but it can give you a bit more peace of mind.
More Rest for Mom
Having a baby that won’t sleep through the night can be tough. If it continues into the toddler years, extended breastfeeding could be very beneficial. Nursing a toddler can be a quick way to get him back to sleep and help you get more rest as opposed to having him cry it out, bribing him or him getting up out of bed constantly because he can’t sleep.
Another benefit of extended breastfeeding can definitely be the cost savings.
When they’re babies, you can save on formula by breastfeeding, and as toddlers you can save on pricey snacks. A toddler can nurse instead of reaching for the cookies or chips which will help with your bottom line.
In summary, the benefits of extended breastfeeding are numerous and should be taken into consideration.
I certainly enjoyed my extended breastfeeding journey with my toddler and can attest to the bond of love that it promotes between a mother and her child.