The first thing that caused me doubt when writing the post was the title. I have often heard the terms prolonged breastfeeding to refer to children older than 12 months who are still nursing. Or breastfeeding in older children. And yet, I get the impression that these terms refer to something that is not normal, as if breastfeeding had to have a short duration or children beyond the age of 2 years were considered too old to breastfeed.
However, breastfeeding up to 24 months should be the norm, and in fact it was in most cultures and societies until the beginning of the 20th century . Finally I have decided on the term breastfeeding in older than one year to talk about this breastfeeding that exceeds the “usual age limits” thus understood by a large part of our society.
Is it recommended to prolong breastfeeding beyond the year of life?
Absolutely yes. And I don’t say it but the main scientific societies. The WHO , the Spanish Association of Pediatrics , UNICEF, the American Pediatrics Association or the Australian Breastfeeding Association , among others, recommend exclusive breastfeeding during the first 6 months of life and combined with other foods at least until 12-24 months of age, being able to prolong it as long as the mother and the baby wish .
What are the risks of continuing to breastfeed beyond one year of life?
None. There is no proven risk of breastfeeding beyond one year of life. The relationship of the so-called prolonged lactation with caries or child malnutrition has not been proven.
The only “but” that I find about breastfeeding beyond what is “socially common” is that we have the rejection of society, health professionals (sadly still frequent) and even our relatives .
To fight against these barriers, it is good to surround yourself with pro-breastfeeding professionals, go to breastfeeding groups and/or create a tribe with mothers in similar situations.
I remember a couple of months ago a situation in the park. There were two women breastfeeding children over a year old (a 13-month-old boy and a 2-and-a-half-year-old girl) when a grandmother arrived with her granddaughter and commented: “ Wow, I thought this one (referring to her granddaughter of more than 3 years) was the only one! ” and I noticed in his expression a sense of relief and normalcy.
It is something that is changing very little by little, but it seems that families are becoming more and more aware of how beneficial it is to continue breastfeeding beyond the year.
Does it have benefits to drink breast milk beyond the year of life?
Of course! And more than the benefits of breastfeeding beyond the year we could talk about the risks of not doing it. The Spanish Association of Pediatrics, in its document on breastfeeding in older or “prolonged” children, comments that the risks of feeding with infant formula are even greater in developing countries, where hygienic and sanitary conditions are still precarious. Optimal breastfeeding in children under two years of age is the preventive intervention that has the greatest impact on improving the health of infants and children in developing countries. In any case, also in industrialized countries, early weaning or not breastfeeding carries significant risks, both for the mother and for the baby.
A study published in the journal The Lancet estimated that increased breastfeeding could prevent more than 800,000 infant deaths and up to 20,000 deaths from breast cancer each year.
Regarding breast milk as food, it should be noted that it does not lose its properties over time . Breast milk is never ” aguachirri ” or a ” dessert “. Breast milk is “magical” and its composition can vary depending on different circumstances. Thus, the breast milk of children older than 12 months has a higher fat content , providing children who breastfeed with up to a third of the calories and protein they need to take in per day, in addition to carbohydrates and numerous vitamins and minerals. So, far from “not feeding” it provides even more calories. A baby or child who takes 4-5 breastfeeds a day does not need to receive another dairy intake.
In addition, it maintains its immunological benefits , protecting against gastrointestinal infections, otitis or respiratory infections. This benefit appears to be greater with longer duration of breastfeeding. In fact, some immunological factors increase in breast milk during the second year of the baby’s life .
Its protective role is also maintained against other diseases such as certain types of cancer, metabolic diseases (babies who receive prolonged breastfeeding have fewer autoimmune diseases). Not only that, it has been seen that children who are breastfed for a longer time could have greater intellectual development and show better school grades.
On the other hand, breastfeeding has indisputable benefits for mothers, which seem to be greater the longer the total time of breastfeeding. Mothers who breastfeed have a lower risk of ovarian and breast cancer and a lower risk of diabetes and high blood pressure .
Letting our children older than one year suckle is spoiling?
Absolutely! As we have seen, the benefits of continuing to breastfeed beyond 12 months (or the risks of not doing so) are many. How then to offer something good to our baby is going to be spoiling? Many people also wonder if offering the breast to calm a baby or child when they fall down, get frustrated, or have a “tantrum” is spoiling. No way.
We know that breastfeeding is much more than food. It is comfort, calm, security, closeness, love . And that is exactly what our children need in times of crying, frustration or pain. Also, it helps strengthen the mother-child bond . And it has been seen that breastfed babies have better psychosocial and emotional development .
How long can we breastfeed?
There is not limit! Breastfeeding can continue as long as the mother, the baby or child, or both, want it. In most cases, it is the mother who decides that the time has come. But other times it’s the babies. There is no need to be scared; all, absolutely all, the children end up being weaned . Various anthropological studies establish the natural weaning age between 2.5 and 7 years of age. In other words, if we do nothing to wean, they will do it on their own at some point in that age range. The baby’s body grows and changes, making breastfeeding difficult: the mouth increases in size, they lose suction capacity, the epiglottis descends, the amount of fat in the cheeks decreases…
Different studies have proposed different ages for weaning:
. Around the age of 2 and a half, which is when the child quadruples the weight at birth
– Around the age of 6, when the first molar appears.
– Around 4½ years, when the child’s age is six times the length of gestation
– The main scientific societies recommend exclusive breastfeeding for up to six months and accompanied by other foods for up to 2 years or more, for as long as the mother and baby want .
– Breast milk changes its composition as the child grows; for example, from the year contains more fat. It remains an excellent nutritional food . Children who breastfeed 4 times a day do not need additional dairy intake and receive up to a third of their daily calorie and protein needs through breast milk.
– The benefits of milk continue as the baby grows, both for him and for the mother . In general, the longer the duration of breastfeeding, the greater the benefits.
– Weaning occurs when the mother and/or the baby do not want to continue breastfeeding . Leaving infants and children to make the decision, weaning usually occurs sometime between the ages of 2 1/2 and 7 years.