Making it to the one year breastfeeding milestone is HUGE, and now that you’re finally here, you’re wondering what’s next. Should you continue breastfeeding and what are the extended breastfeeding pros and cons?
My first baby was BOOB OBSESSED. And I was pretty obsessed too, I guess.
First of all, from the very first moment that she latched on, it just felt so… Natural? Right? I just LOVED it. And after the first few weeks of breastfeeding-related pain, it was so EASY. Well, maybe the easiness came a few months into it, but at some point it just became so easy.
And as your baby gets older, it becomes easier and easier and easier.
When my first child was 15 months old, I was forced to wean her due to a medication that I needed to start taking. If that didn’t happen, I’m not sure how long I would have nursed her, because I really didn’t have a plan. I just kind of kept going because it was easier (the thought of having to wean her was enough to cause me major anxiety, because I knew she would not take it well).
Weaning her was surprisingly heartbreaking, and not necessarily in the way that I had imagined. Yes, it was hard on her, but it wasn’t as hard on her as I thought it would have been.
But me? I felt guilty, and sad, and like I had been deprived of something that I hadn’t really even planned for anyway. I missed the closeness and the bonding. The one thing that she could do with me and me only was over.
When my second child was born, I didn’t want it to be that way. I prayed that I would stay healthy and that I wouldn’t have to wean her when we weren’t yet ready.
However, I was also a little unsure.
I mean, what does extended breastfeeding even look like? Would I regret my decision to continue breastfeeding beyond a year? Would she EVER stop nursing? (Seriously, I thought I wanted her to decide when to wean, but WHAT IF SHE NEVER WEANED?!)
It’s a legitimate concern, right?
When I was struggling with my decision, I was searching for some kind of article that would help me to decide without question whether or not I should continue nursing.
I never really found one, and all the way up until the end I had moments where I thought, “maybe I should just wean her” and “yes, this kid is NEVER GOING TO WEAN”. She finally weaned herself when she was 3 years, 3 months old. Even though just months before, it felt like she was going to be nursing for years.
But she stopped. On her own, without tears or sadness. She just… stopped. She decided that she didn’t need her “milkies” anymore.
And guess what? I wouldn’t have done it any other way.
If I could go back and do it all over again, I would again allow her to decide when she was ready to give it up. But I’m going to try to be completely honest here and tell you the pros, as well as the cons. I’ve also reached out to other moms who have nursed beyond a year to get their input as well.
Because nursing beyond a year ISN’T right for everyone. And that’s okay.
I hope this helps you with your decision.
How Long Is Breastfeeding Beneficial?
It’s simple. Your baby will reap the many benefits of breastfeeding for as long as he is breastfed (and some of these benefits last even after weaning).
And some of the benefits that a mother attains from breastfeeding never go away, such as the decreased risk for breast cancer. The longer you nurse, the less likely you are to get breast cancer. This was a HUGE factor that kept me going, as my mother lost her battle with cancer when I was still a child.
Benefits Of Extended Breastfeeding (source)
Meeting that one year breastfeeding milestone doesn’t mean that the benefits of breastfeeding suddenly go away. An 18 month old, a 2 year old, or (gasp) even a 3 year old who breastfeeds receives just as many benefits as a nursing newborn.
“I didn’t feel like there was anything magical about my babies turning one that meant they had to stop nursing right away. Instead I let them take more of a lead in letting me know when they were ready to wean.” Christina from Raising Biracial Babies
It Provides Healthy Nutrition
Toddlers are notoriously picky. There will be days when you will wonder how it is possible that your child is surviving on the minuscule amounts of food that he ingests.
With my second child, I didn’t have to worry if she decided not to eat dinner for the 5th night in a row because I knew that she was getting the nutrients that she needed from breast milk.
It Strengthens Your Child’s Immune System
Babies and young children get sick frequently. Breastfeeding for more time equals less chance that your child will become sick.
There Are Benefits For Mom, Too!
The longer that you breastfeed the more your risk decreases of getting breast, endometrial and ovarian cancers.
As someone who lost her mother to breast cancer, this is HUGE.
It’s Helpful During The Dreaded Tantrum Stage
Breastfeeding is comforting, warm and safe for your baby. As your baby gets older, he will become frustrated easily because of language and physical barriers. He simply can’t do or say the things that he desperately wants to do and say!
If you are still nursing through this stage, your child will likely ask to nurse when frustrated, angry or sad. There is nothing wrong with comfort nursing, and it will likely save you and your baby a lot of frustration and tears.
“I think breastfeeding is a built in toddler tool. Whenever he’s upset or having a meltdown, a quick nursing session instantly comforts him and reconnects us. Plus he gets excited for naps because it’s our special quiet bonding time.” Stormy from Pregnant Mama Baby Life.
Extended Breastfeeding Statistics
It’s difficult to find extended breastfeeding studies and statistics on breastfeeding past a year. If you do continue to breastfeed, you will likely deal with friends and family members who don’t entirely understand why you are continuing. You might already be dealing with that now!
My suggestion is this: don’t bring up the subject. What’s wonderful about breastfeeding an older child is that older children start to understand boundaries. Your child will likely not ask to nurse in public, or with other people around if that’s not your typical routine.
Okay, this understanding of boundaries might not happen right away, but after some practice your child will get used to only nursing in certain locations.
The CDC really doesn’t have statistics beyond the first year.
- Percent of US mothers who have ever breastfed- 79
- Percent still breastfeeding at 6 months- 49
- Percent still breastfeeding at a year- 26
Of course, it’s likely that the majority of those 26% will be stopping at around a year.
Extended Breastfeeding Cons
We’ve already talked about many of the pros of extended breastfeeding.
Let’s talk about the cons, because it’s not all rainbows and unicorns.
The longer you breastfeed, the harder it will be to wean if you decide to stop.
It’s kind of like sleep. Some moms sleep train their babies, only to find that once their babies turn into toddlers and can talk, their children start sleeping with them in their beds.
It’s a little bit easier to wean a baby who can’t talk and say “but mommy, I LOVE milkies, please just ONE MORE. I PWOMISE”.
You might even be forced due to your health or other outside circumstances to wean. And believe me, toddlers are much more demanding and relentless than babies.
Your child can lift up your shirt and help himself.
While this is nice in a way (you literally don’t have to do ANYTHING), it can also be really annoying, especially the first time that it happens in public. There will be times when you just want your body to yourself.
If you do decide to continue breastfeeding, talking to your child and establishing some boundaries is crucial to having a breastfeeding relationship that you’ll continue to enjoy at this stage.
Your child might be super squirmy while breastfeeding.
If you thought nursing a more mobile baby was challenging, try nursing a more mobile toddler. Again, this is when it’s important to set some boundaries and let your child know that you aren’t going to sit down every time your child wants to nurse only to have him get distracted 5 seconds later. Or that twisting each and every possible way (or treating your body like a jungle gym while breastfeeding) just isn’t cool.
Sometimes, you’ll feel touched out.
Some toddlers can be very clingy (my second child was and actually still is at age 3 and a half). There will be times when you will just want your boobs back.
“I still have times when I get angry because she chooses to breastfeed instead of eating food.” Ioana from Weaningful
Any existing intimacy issues will continue.
If your intimacy has been negatively affected at all due to nursing, those issues will likely continue until you wean.
It may prevent your from getting pregnant again.
If you are planning to add to your family sooner rather than later, extended breastfeeding might interfere.
However, getting pregnant while breastfeeding is absolutely possible.
According to Kelly Mom, “many mothers can conceive without deliberately changing their toddler’s breastfeeding pattern”. There is no magic threshold of breastfeeding that will allow you to breastfeed- every mother is different. Some moms need to stretch out breastfeeding frequency and/or shorten breastfeeding sessions to make it easier to conceive- babies naturally do this themselves as they get older”.
Nursing frequency might increase at various points of toddlerhood.
When my second child was 18-22 months, she wanted to nurse constantly. Okay not constantly, but that’s what it seemed like at the time. I’m guessing that she was going through some kind of tough mental leap. It was definitely frustrating, and it lasted for a long time. However, that time might have been even more difficult if she didn’t have the comfort of nursing to help her through it.
The frequency and length of your child’s nursing sessions is definitely not linear. Think of everything that deals with your child’s development as a huge rollercoaster of ups and downs.
Extended Breastfeeding Myths
As I was researching for this post, there were a few things that I came across that I disagreed with, and that I wanted to give my perspective on. I believe that other moms who have breastfed for an extended time would disagree with these statements also.
Myth #1- It’s Inconvenient
Breastfeeding an older child is much different from breastfeeding a baby. And I might argue that breastfeeding a younger baby isn’t inconvenient either!
Breastfeeding is easy. Baby is hungry. Nurse the baby. It’s literally one step.
Breastfeeding an older child is even more convenient because they nurse MUCH less frequently, for less time, and you can usually convince them to wait to nurse if you are busy, in public, etc.
“I had a wonderful breastfeeding experience with my first. It was challenging in the beginning like it is for all new moms but after a few weeks it was easy. And I loved the closeness with my daughter. Which is why I continued as long as I did. I was sad when my baby self weaned.” Elizabeth from Worth Writing For
Myth #2- It’s Painful
If you have made it to one year, you’re likely not going to experience pain during the second year and beyond.
At this point, your toddler is likely eating many more solids, is drinking water, and even though he is still nursing, his nursing sessions will not be very long.
Therefore, you likely will not experience any engorgement at this point. Nipple pain shouldn’t be an issue at this point either.
The only way that you WILL experience pain while breastfeeding at this point is if you become pregnant.
When Is A Child Too Old To Breastfeed?
There is no right or wrong answer when deciding how long to breastfeed. The answer is going to be different for everyone. It’s really up to you and what you are comfortable with.
Don’t feel that breastfeeding beyond 2 years is for you? Then don’t do it!
Want to stop at one year? 18 months? 3 years? Perfect!
I never expected to be nursing a 3 year old (but we do many things in parenting that we never thought we’d do, right?). And besides, in many parts of the world, breastfeeding a 3 year old is normal.
I remember telling my mother-in-law, if she’s still nursing when she’s 2 and a half, I was going to run away. And then she turned 2 and a half. And when I looked at her, she didn’t look any different than when she was 2 and 5 months. So we kept going.
It’s what was right for us.
I also spoke with over 50 moms about their experiences with extended breastfeeding.
Here are my takeaways:
- Most mothers never really planned to breastfeed extensively, it just kind of happened because it felt right to continue.
- Most mothers did not regret their decision to breastfeed past a year. Out of the 51 participants, 2 said that they regret their decision.
“Almost all of my parenting decisions in the early years are influenced by what feels right and what is easiest. To be honest, I can’t imagine NOT breastfeeding into toddlerhood. It is a natural progression that just feels right and brings an easy form of comfort and connection for both me and my little one.” Bethany from Strength Love Birth.