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What Are the Benefits of Breastfeeding Past One Year?

Updated: Aug 24, 2023

It is a common misconception that the benefits of breastfeeding have an expiration date. However, we are here with Summer Friedmann, IBCLC, to shout the truth about this controversial topic. Mama, you should never feel embarrassed if your child is old enough to ask for your milk, you should feel proud of your incredible accomplishment. All major health organizations, such as The World Health Organization and The American Academy of Pediatrics recommend breastfeeding for two years or beyond, so it’s time to end the negative stigma surrounding breastfeeding into toddlerhood.


Photo of Summer Friedmann, IBCLC and Founder of Done Naturally
Summer Friedmann, IBCLC and Founder of Done Naturally

Summer Friedmann is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant with over 17 years of experience, the Founder of Done Naturally, (Binge her YouTube videos-you won’t regret it!) and a member of our Expert Panel. We discussed the nutrition and comfort that breastfeeding provides toddlers, the benefits for mom, and the importance of ending any cynicism associated with breastfeeding past infancy.


In celebration of Breastfeeding Awareness Month, let’s learn from Summer’s expertise on this important topic.


“Thankfully, today people understand and respect the importance of breastfeeding and breastmilk-feeding our babies. The science surrounding the physical, mental and emotional health benefits for both mom and baby cannot be disputed,” Summer said.


But what about breastfeeding a toddler?


Photo of a toddler breastfeeding and smiling

“Now, replace the word baby with toddler, a child older than one year, and some big opinions, stigma and misunderstanding enter the conversation. It has always confused me why something regarded as healthy and quite frankly, necessary for a child’s growth and development, could have a hard ‘cut-off’. That there is an age reached where it is seen as unnecessary, gossiped as gross, weird, inappropriate, sexual, or selfish of the mother to continue. All these things I have heard (and actually abhor) over the nearly two decades I have been in the field of lactation.”


According to The World Health Organization, Breast-milk is “an important source of energy and nutrients in children aged 6–23 months. It can provide half or more of a child’s energy needs between the ages of 6 and 12 months, and one third of energy needs between 12 and 24 months. Breast milk is also a critical source of energy and nutrients during illness, and reduces mortality among children who are malnourished.”


Summer also explained that the longer a mom breastfeeds, the more benefits for baby AND mom.


“Breastfeeding is what we call dose-dependent. This means that the longer a child is exposed to breastmilk or breastfeeding, the more protection they have from disease and illness because it builds a stronger immune system. A mother also gains important health benefits from extending breastfeeding beyond one year.


"Breastfeeding even helps protect against breast and ovarian cancers, the hormonal cancers.

"Wait. What did you say? Yep! The risk of breast cancer decreases by 4.3% for every 12 months of breastfeeding and breastfeeding for at least one year was associated with 32% risk reduction in people with changes in the BRCA1 gene. More recently, studies from 2015 and 2019 found that breastfeeding protects against hormone receptor-negative breast cancers (Stordal, 2023). I don’t know about you, but any protection from cancers, I’m game for.”


In addition to the health benefits for mom and baby, breastmilk can provide parents with extra peace of mind when all their child wants to eat is gold fish or chicken nuggets.


“Toddlers can be extremely picky and finicky eaters. Some days they may eat 3 cups of blueberries and then not eat at all for many days, or only eat a slice of toast in a week. Breastfeeding during this period can help give some added insurance to their wavering moods towards the food on their plate. Parents who are breastfeeding or pumping often express how grateful they have continued breastfeeding because otherwise they would be more concerned and worried about their toddler’s eating habits.”


To end any negative association of breastfeeding into toddlerhood, society needs to better understand the recommendations and the many benefits breast milk provides.


“I do recognize every family is different and each mother and baby have different needs, goals and temperaments. There has never been one way to do things. But certainly we, as a society, need to honor people’s choices, stop any ridicule and open our eyes. People have a natural fear of the unknown. So let’s take the unknown away and shed light on breastfeeding beyond infancy. Let’s support the decision to breastfeed or breastmilk-feed past 1 year. Let’s listen to the AAP and WHO with their recommendations. Finally let’s flash a smile as we walk past someone with their 2 year old on their lap, snuggled in their loving arms as they enjoy their nursing relationship.”



Sources:

Stordal, B. (2023, February). Breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast cancer: A call for action in high-income countries with low rates of breastfeeding. Cancer medicine. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/infant-and-young-child-feeding


World Health Organization. (2021, June). Infant and young child feeding. World Health Organization. (https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/infant-and-young-child-feeding




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