Extended breastfeeding is defined as breastfeeding an infant beyond his or her 1st birthday. In the United States‚ 30.7% of breastfeeding mothers were still breastfeeding their infant (although not exclusively) by the age of 12 months as per a national breastfeeding report card published in 2016.[i]
This may seem like a long time for some who live in the Western world, but in many cultures, it is actually expected that a mother breastfeed her child for much longer than 12 months. In fact, the World Health Organization recommends that children be breastfed until the age of 2 and then as long as mutually desired by the mother and child.[ii]
One of the first questions that mothers ask themselves about extended breastfeeding is whether their milk continues to provide the nutrition required by their child, and the answer is ‘yes’. Your breast milk continues to change based on your growing child’s needs and there has not been an age for a breastfed child which showed that the nutrition of the mother’s breast milk was no longer good enough for the child.[iii]
Keep in mind that although breast milk is the absolute best nutrition for your child, studies have confirmed that most mothers’ breast milk typically does not contain enough vitamin D to meet their child’s needs. This is true for mothers who are breastfeeding infants as well as those who are breastfeeding a child over the age of 1 year. [iv],[v],[vi] Doctors and multiple medical organizations recommend that breastfed children receive a daily dose of vitamin D even those who are older than one. Your breast milk also continues to provide antibodies that your child needs to boost their immune system even after the 1 year mark.[vii] This is important for a toddler’s health since their immune system is still immature.
One very large study that followed up on babies who were breastfed for an extended period of time discovered that at the age of 6.5 years, those children scored higher on various intelligence measures, IQ as well as teacher ratings for both reading and writing. This suggests that prolonged breastfeeding may be linked to improved cognitive development for the child.[viii]
There are challenges in breastfeeding for a prolonged period of time, but there are benefits as well, and many would say that the benefits far outweigh the challenges. Let’s be honest, breastfeeding, let alone extended breastfeeding, is not for everyone. Whatever you decide is best for you and your child, for whatever reason, just enjoy each special moment because your baby will be all grown up in what will seem like no time at all.
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Natalie Bourré is a Ddrops Guest Blogger. She is a mom of 4 young children, health writer and social media consultant who is passionate about promoting good health for the entire family. She is keen to share scientific information about about vitamin D in an easy to understand fashion. She also truly listens to people’s input and as such, she welcomes you to connect, discuss and share your questions and feedback with her on our social media accounts.
[i] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Breastfeeding report card – Progressing Toward National Breastfeeding Goals United States 2016. August 22, 2016 (webpage last updated).
[ii] World Health Organization. Breastfeeding. 2016. http://www.who.int/topics/breastfeeding/en/
[iii] Mayo Clinic. Healthy Lifestyle: Infant and toddler health. 1998-2016. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/infant-and-toddler-health/in-depth/extended-breastfeeding/art-20046962?pg=1
[iv] HolickMF, Resurrection of vitamin D deficiency and rickets. J Clin Invest.2006;116:2062–72.
[v] ThacherTD, Fischer PR, Strand MA, and Pettifor . Nutritional rickets around the world: causes and future directions. Ann Trop Paediatr. 2006;26:1–16.
[vi] Weisberg P, Scanlon KS, Li R, Cogswell ME. .Nutritional rickets among children in the United States: review of cases reported between 1986 and 2003. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004; 80(6, Suppl)1697S–705S.
[vii] Mayo Clinic. Healthy Lifestyle: Infant and toddler health. 1998-2016. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/infant-and-toddler-health/in-depth/extended-breastfeeding/art-20046962?pg=1
[viii] Kramer MS, Aboud F Mironova E et al. Breastfeeding and child cognitive development : new evidence from a large randomized trial. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2008 May;65(5):578-84.