August is National Breastfeeding Month so today I am thrilled to have my very own sister and best friend, Brittany Roberts, guest post about extended nursing. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends breastfeeding “until at least 12 months of age, and continuation of breastfeeding for as long as mutually desired by mother and baby.”
While the World Health Organization (WHO) encourages “continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond.” My sister is a breastfeeding advocate but also knows all about the fun challenges of extending breastfeeding past one year. Read through her extended breastfeeding stories and leave a comment for her (she’s not a blogger and would love comments).
Are you thinking about breastfeeding past one year? Well, let me tell you it’s no walk in the park! Before having kids I was a little creeped out by the idea of nursing past a year because so many things you see and read all talk about stopping breastfeeding at one year of age. Though the idea of nursing was always there I just didn’t know what it would be like until I became a mom to my first baby, little David. Nursing wasn’t something that really came all that easy to me.
Thankfully, I had wonderful nurses in the hospital that showed me the ropes and wonderful women in my local WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) office to help with a few small hurdles at the beginning. I honestly didn’t have any huge issues, but I did have a son with a BIG appetite! So that rule that babies only need to nurse every 3 hours was a JOKE for me! I nursed round the clock for 17 months.
I came to find though that the benefits of extended nursing seemed to outweigh the disadvantages, especially when you figure that in the second year of life (12-23 months), 448 mL (just 15oz) of breast milk provides (source: Dewey 2001):
- 29% of energy requirements
- 43% of protein requirements
- 36% of calcium requirements
- 75% of vitamin A requirements
- 76% of folate requirements
- 94% of vitamin B12 requirements
- 60% of vitamin C requirements
of your child’s daily vitamin requirements. That’s quite amazing!
Just like Jen Davis, a La Leche League Member, who said:
Despite the evidence that breastfeeding beyond a year is in a child’s best interest, passionate opinions can be found on both sides of the topic. Regardless of what scientific studies, health professionals, and history say about the benefits of extended breastfeeding, a mother may encounter comments and suggestions from family and friends that will make her second guess her parenting choices. Finding reliable information, support, and a positive role model can make all the difference in the world to a mom who doubts herself. I speak from personal experience. A lot of reading and one courageous woman at a La Leche League meeting inspired me to continue breastfeeding my son into toddlerhood after seeing her twins stand up and nurse simultaneously.”
I too was inspired to practice extended breastfeeding thanks a mother of twins! My friend Camille nursed her twins until 27 months when they were able to stop on their own without being forced to stop. How amazing a thought! If she could do that, I should be able to make it at least half that long with one, if not longer!
Benefits of Extended Breastfeeding (Past One Year)
There are so many benefits to nursing past a year old. Here are some of my favorite ones.
1. It Soothes The Baby Instantly
One of my favorite things about nursing is the magic of the boob. When your child falls and gets hurt a little cuddle and a little suckle was the best comfort in the world. And let me tell you my first was the worst at getting hurt all the time. But, it was magical to be able to help make him feel better lickity split.
2. Breastfeeding Has Health Benefits
Also, the health benefits are great! My son made it a full year without any real illness minus a cold with a fever here and there.
He, still to this day, at 3 and a half years old, has yet to have a single ear infection. He did have a few stomach bugs after a year and to be honest breast milk is the best thing to help soothe a poor stomach because it digests faster than any other thing you could give them, plus it’s not as gross as some stuff that comes back up (remember those early days of spit-up?).
Also with nursing, your children have a lower chance of asthma issues and eczema.
3. Burns More Calories
Nursing past the year mark is healthy for me too as I still burn hundreds of calories every day I nurse. Who needs a gym when you can just nurse?
4. Increases Intimacy with Your Child
I feel like it made me and my son closer and that we know each other better. We had a lot of quiet time just the two of us. It was nice because I know for a while I was my son’s favorite parent, likely because of the nursing. It nice to be needed by a toddler who is getting really independent because Mom is the only one with the good stuff.
5. Boobs Stay Larger Longer
Your boobs do stay larger longer with extended nursing. *wink*
There are a few moms out there that were really a big example to me and helped me get through some of those hard times. Boobs don’t spoil a child they just make them happy, as they should be.
Disadvantages of Extended Breastfeeding
But lets get down to the nitty gritty!
Nursing past one year sure has its disadvantages too. Here are some of the most common ones.
1. People Might Treat You Strange
People may look at you strange, may make off-hand comments, or might simply be downright rude.
I really only had one instance where someone made a comment to me and, to be honest, it still bothers me, though it was over two years ago.
I was about to get settled in a nursing room at my church and a woman, who was in there with a grandchild (they had great rocking chairs), simply said “You’re still nursing?” and I told her I was, even though my son wasn’t even a year a half by this point.
However, my son has always been rather large for his age (which may have provoked the comment more than actual age), but it bothered me, especially receiving such a comment in a place designated for nursing mothers; a place I had felt safe to do what I needed to do was no longer safe like it had been. Due to distraction issues from my son, I usually nursed in my car or a dressing room in a store while out (I loved the dressing room most because it’s nice and quiet).
2. It’s Painful To Nurse A Child With Teeth
Nursing a child with lots of teeth can be painful, kind of like nursing a baby shark, with some of the sharpest teeth known to mankind. When your child is an easily distracted nurser, it can be frustrating and painful as a mouthful of teeth pull sharply away from one of the most tender parts of your body, especially when they don’t open their mouth first.
And biting is not fun! There are many ways to work around it, but what worked best for me was to simply detach them, put the little one of the floor, and to walk away for a few minutes to collect myself. Kids learn fast that biting equals no breast. My first got that lesson pretty fast.
3. Child Might Appear Clingier To You
Another disadvantage is my son only wanted me, a lot! So it was hard to do muchwithout him. He wouldn’t go to bed without nursing beforehand. He would fall asleep without nursing for naps, but from about eight months or so he would not fall asleep without breastfeeding at bedtime.
If you are in a place where you don’t feel comfortable nursing or maybe are busy, a kid might attack to get what they want! Nothing like having your child ripping at your clothes that are getting between him and what they want more than anything else. We taught both of our kids the ASL sign for milk so they could tell you what they wanted before they had the words to say it.
4. Older Children Are More Difficult To Breastfeed
It does suck that the longer you breastfeed, the larger your kid gets, and the more acrobatic breastfeeding becomes. I cannot tell you how many times I have had sharp little toenails digging into my cradling arm, a baby that tries to stand while still attached, and a foot kick me in the face! And let’s not forget the pinching either!
Looking Back and Ahead
My decision to stop breastfeeding my son came shortly after I got pregnant with my second child. If you haven’t nursed on a pregnant boob you are lucky! It hurts sooobad! So between a dwindling milk supply, a mom who no longer really wanted to nurse, we painfully made it twelve weeks into my second pregnancy. I am proud to say my son was 20 months old.
I am still currently nursing my 15-month-old daughter now. Since another pregnancy is not in our near future, I have not decided to when we will stop breastfeeding this time around. Though I don’t feel the need to figure that out anytime soon and just plan on going with the flow, letting my daughter lead the way.
I guess the only thing I would like to change is having tougher skin when it comes to nursing: I need to not downplay my decision to nurse longer than one year to others. It’s a big deal to breastfeed beyond a year! If you have made it this far give yourself a big pat on the back! It’s an amazing feeling to kind of put some things on hold in your life to be able to do this for your child(ren).
The other thing I wish I would have tried is to let my son attempt to nurse again after my second was born, because I have now read over and over again that it helps with the bond at the very beginning between siblings, and we dealt with a lot of jealousy issues from my older one. Ironically, the jealousy now comes more from the younger one. You can never fully win with kids.
A few resources that really helped me a lot through my now 35 months of nursing:
- LLLI | Find La Leche League Groups in the U.S.
- Dispelling Breastfeeding Myths – A great source for those questions you don’t truly know where else to ask. This Facebook group has a great group of girls and a few trained professionals. Not the fastest way to get answers, but is still very helpful.
- KellyMom : evidence-based breastfeeding and parenting -A great resource of information of stuff you might have not even thought about yourself.
- Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) – The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides Federal grants to States for supplemental foods, health care referrals. It is an income-based program, but if you do qualify has many helpful tools and staff to help you on your journey.
- 1-877-271-MILK – A breastfeeding hotline that has a lactation specialist help you over the phone.
- Check with your local hospital or birthing center many have programs where women meet to help with nursing blunders. Call your local hospital to see what programs they offer. Also see if there is a local breastfeeding group on Facebook.
Brittany is a stay at home mom to two kids and a former Navy wife. She’s passionate about raising great kids, breastfeeding, car seats, friendships, her faith, and much more. She’s my very best friend, and a joy to be around. She’s humble, laughs a lot, and is a great mother, wife, and sister.
Tell us, did you decide to nurse beyond one year? Why or why not? Would you do it differently if you could?
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Ann @ Such a Mama! says
Great post! I nursed both my kids well beyond their first birthdays. The second one is still at it well over two. It is nice to know we are not alone! Yes, it is hard and yes we might get disapproving glances, but that snuggle time is still wonderful!
Sarah Nenni Daher says
Congratulations for your open support of extended breastfeeding. For the life of me, I don’t understand why it’s such an ‘issue’ still for so many. Like you, I never thought I’d be THAT mom, but it turned out I was.
I love the points you made and went through every, single one of the m as well. My daughter nursed until she was 29 months old and I don’t regret it one bit. I stopped feeding her in public, doing what you did or just waiting until we got home, after she turned a year.
As you mentioned, it was much more about the comfort and connection than for the nutrition. I hope you have the ability (and the little one is willing) to continue as long as you and your family feel is necessary.
What a wonderfully written article, Brittany. Thank you for sharing!
Great article and resources. I’m impressed with the nutrition info, Britt 😉 Into the toddler months, nursing definitely becomes more after comfort than nutrition, but there’s also the benefit of antibodies and probiotics from mom’s milk.
After maybe two and a half years (we were done at 32 months), my son became a 10-second nurser: play, nurse a few seconds, run away to play again, nurse a minute more… That’s when I was done. As I reflected on the time of weaning recently, I realized our relationship really changed afterward, like we weren’t as close anymore. I wonder if he would have better behavior now if that method of bonding continued until he was ready and I just set a few boundaries to maintain my sanity! It was not a difficult weaning though, since it was only a few times a day, gradually less and less at his will. He requested to nurse several times after I decided to stop, and I just told him milk is all gone. He got over it pretty quickly and easily.
I don’t remember when we stopped nursing in public, but it was more because he was busy, not because I would be embarrassed by the stares or whatever. If my daughter nurses til she’s three years and wants to do so in public, I welcome the stares. God designed us to nurse that long, and it’s unfortunate that our culture is so blind to that. I’ve only had a male doctor criticize the fact that I was ‘still breastfeeding’ after a year, and I simply told him the WHO recommends at least two years.
Great article, Brittany! Of my five babies, I have done extended breastfeeding with three of them. My first baby was born too fast and had fluid in his lungs, was taken to the special care nursery and given bottles by the nurses before I had much sense of what was happening. We gave up on nursing/pumping after two weeks.
With my second, I was determined to make it work so I educated myself on how to make breastfeeding a successful experience for my baby boy and me. Because of a lack in insurance and feeding issues with solids as he grew older I decided to keep breastfeeding him in the hopes that he would get as much antibody protection and nutrition through the breast as possible. I breastfed him until 18 months.
My third child had “silent reflux” which led to many problems with food as she grew from an infant. I breastfed her until she was 21 months because, until we could find the right medication to help the reflux, she wouldn’t eat anything. I kept her at the breast until I was comfortable with the weight she had finally gained.
Number four child did not have any of the other problems but I didn’t want to deny her all the benefits I offered the other breastfeeders so I also breastfed her until she was about 21 months.
Now I am on month nine of breastfeeding my little guy. I have no plans for stopping anytime soon. I would like to say that he enjoys the cuddles with mommy but he really is only using me for my boobs! I feel like I’m nursing a tornado these days as he spins and sits up and latches back on, only to sit up and turn and grab the closest thing he can get his hands on (usually a TV remote or my cell phone, and occasionally his big sisters’ hair) and then climb up over my shoulder then lie back down and latch back on for a few more gulps. It makes me tired wrestling him all day but he’s happy and that makes me happy. <3
Amy @ Oh So Savvy Mom says
I’m nursing my third child right now, but this is my first time ever nursing longer than 6 months. My “baby” and are at month 19 our our breastfeeding journey! It was really refreshing and encouraging to read your experiences because I don’t really know many people who have nursed this long. So many of the things you mentioned: the wanting only mommy, the acrobatic nursing (my son thinks it is funny to stick his fingers up my nose when he is nursing–grrr), the pinching…oh the pinching! actually were encouraging to hear. Extended nursing isn’t always easy, but it is a far cry easier than the experience I had nursing each of my boys when they were infants. I am so grateful that I was able to make it through the rough first 9 months (yeah, it was rough for a while, LOL) and keep nursing!
Katelyn Fagan says
Good job to you! That is so great, well except for the nursing nightmares. And extended nursing is certainly different than those first few months, and not as many people do it, let alone write about what it’s really like, other than, perhaps, to share why you should do it. Thanks for your comment!
Like many others, I never thought I’d do extended nursing, but my daughter and I have had a perfect nursing relationship right from the start. Well, as perfect as one could ask for. Others’ comments have taken a bit of a toll on me (her grandmother in particular keeps asking if we’re done yet, or worse, occasionally directly tells her she’s too old for nursing) and sometimes I wonder if others at work notice I still bring a pump and use the lactation room. And I’m certainly not immune to our cultural pressures – she’s turning three this October and even here on this reasonably anonymous comment I hesitated to type that. But it’s so wonderful to be able to come home and connect with her in such a special way. Nursing is very important to her, so I’m planning on letting her lead our eventual weaning. It’s such a treasure.
Great article. I breastfed my daughter until she was 1 1\2 years old. There were great advantages because she was a healthy baby, we had a close bond,and you burn hundreds of calories every time you breastfeed. I went from a size 18-20 to a 9-10. I only fed her breastmilk and that was a disadvantage because she cried a lot when I was not with her. My breast sag now and before they were perky. I would definitely do it again but I would offer regular milk., and do exercises to keep breast from sagging though.