Many mother’s feel pressure to stop breastfeeding and wean once their child has reached one year of age. But this timeline is not rooted in scientific or medical knowledge. Breastfeeding beyond infancy is recommended by many health organizations as it provides nutritional benefits to the child and offers mothers long-term health benefits.
Both the World Health Organization and UNICEF encourage mothers to breastfeed to two years and beyond.
The World Health Organization and UNICEF recommendations on breastfeeding are as follows: initiation of breastfeeding within the first hour after the birth; exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months; and continued breastfeeding for two years or more, together with safe, nutritionally adequate, age appropriate, responsive complementary feeding starting in the sixth month.
Absolutely! The Mayo Clinic shares that, “Worldwide, babies are weaned on average between ages 2 and 4. In some cultures, breast feeding continues until children are age 6 or 7.”
Historically, breastfeeding played a crucial part in lowering infant mortality rates and children were rarely weaned until they self-weaned.
Studies have found that extended breastfeeding leads to a higher concentration of fat and energy per ounce of breast milk.
"Thirty-four mothers, of term, healthy, growing children, who had been lactating for greater than one year (12-39 months) were recruited. Control subjects were 27 mothers, of term infants, who had been lactating for 2 to 6 months. Fat contents of the milk samples were estimated as creamatocrit (CMT) levels. Energy contents of the milk were measured with a bomb calorimeter.
Human milk expressed by mothers who have been lactating for greater than one year has significantly increased fat and energy content, compared with milk expressed by women who have been lactating for shorter periods. During prolonged lactation, the fat energy contribution of breast milk to the infant diet might be significant."
So as your body continues to produce milk, that milk continues to support your growing child.
KellyMom shares the nutritional benefits of breast milk for children in their second year. In the second year (12-23 months), 448 mL or 15 oz of breastmilk provides:
Breastfeeding has many long-term health benefits for women. The Cleveland Clinic reports that women who have breastfed are at a lower risk for different cancers, diabetes and several diseases.
Breastfeeding may result in:
"Breastfeeding is a warm and loving way to meet the needs of toddlers and young children. It not only perks them up and energizes them; it also soothes the frustrations, bumps and bruises, and daily stresses of early childhood. In addition, nursing past infancy helps little ones make a gradual transition to childhood." -Elizabeth N. Baldwin, Esq. “Extended Breastfeeding and the Law”
The notion that breastfeeding must stop at year one is a recent and arbitrary date. For as long as you and your child wish to continue, breastfeeding past infancy should be encouraged.
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Folate and folic acid play a vital role in embryo development, healthy pregnancies, and infant survival rates. Up to 50% or more of neural tube defects could be prevented with proper folic acid supplementation prior to conception, reports The American Academy of Pediatrics. Read more about this important micronutrient for women of childbearing age and learn the recommended daily intake as well as foods that provide folate.