Breastfeeding for any length of time, from shortly after the baby's birth to up to a year, gives you a sense of accomplishment and well-being. Extended breastfeeding is also good for you and your baby.
Understanding Extended Breastfeeding
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends feeding your baby breast milk only for the first 6 months of life. Then, you can start introducing pureed or solid foods, but you should continue breastfeeding until your child turns 1.
At that point, you may switch to cow’s milk or another milk alternative. Most experts agree that breastfeeding through the first year of life is most beneficial to your baby. After that, babies often lose interest in breastfeeding because they are becoming more mobile.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends breastfeeding for the first 2 years of life. Anything past 1 year is considered extended breastfeeding.
But keep in mind that extended breastfeeding is not all-or-nothing. You may wean during the day and breastfeed only at night, or vice versa.
Tandem nursing. Women who have two children close together may find themselves nursing both during the same period, like if your toddler isn’t done breastfeeding after you've given birth to another child.
Keep in mind that your milk changes to meet the needs of your newborn, so your toddler’s stools may change. Tandem nursing often helps to ease the transition of adding a younger sibling, even though it can be challenging for moms.
If you can’t or don’t want to nurse both of your children at the same time, you can have your toddler nurse after the baby does. This makes sure your baby gets milk first and lets your toddler nurse for comfort without drinking all of your milk.
Benefits of Extended Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding is most beneficial in the first days and weeks of life, but the benefits keep going after that.
Nutrition. Your breast milk gives complete nutrition for your infant. As they get older, your breast milk changes to meet their needs. Even if your toddler eats three meals a day, your milk provides valuable nutrients.
Improved immunity. When you or your baby are exposed to germs and begin to get sick, your breast milk includes antibodies to help fight off infections. Your milk continues to give special cells and antibodies that improve short- and long-term immunity.
Fewer health risks for mothers. As a mother, you benefit, too. Breastfeeding for 12 or more months lowers your risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.
Weaning Your Baby
The decision to wean your baby is personal. Sometimes, your milk production slowly lessens until you’re not making as much as your baby needs. Other times, you may be returning to work or just feeling like it’s the right time to stop.
If you decide to wean after extended breastfeeding, your toddler may be more resistant. Breastfeeding gives them comfort as well as nutrition. Having a plan for weaning is key.
It may be time to wean when your child:
- Loses interest in nursing
- Is fussy while nursing
- Nurses for less time or less often
- Plays or is easily distracted during nursing
- Nurses for comfort without drinking milk
Tips for weaning. Take it slow so you can both get used to it. Your baby adjusts emotionally while you keep your breasts from becoming engorged from stopping all at once. Try changing a single nursing session at first, offering milk instead, from a bottle or cup.
You might stop a midday feeding instead of one in the morning or evening, when your child is more likely to be seeking comfort. You can also leave it up to your child and wait until they lose interest. As you nurse for less time, your milk slowly dries up to match the lower demand.
Make sure your baby is drinking milk successfully from a cup. Breast milk offers the nutrients your child needs to grow, and you don’t want to wean without replacing those nutrients. Encourage them to drink milk during meals or snack time.
Other weaning tips include:
- Delay it if your child is going through a big life change, like getting new teeth or starting at a new day care.
- Cuddle while your baby drinks milk from a cup.
- Change your morning and evening routines.
- Ask your partner to help start a new routine at a typical nursing time.
- Encourage other comfort habits like snuggling toys, using a pacifier, or thumb sucking through the transition period.