Have you heard this before? Are you a dedicated breast-feeder to a toddler or older child? If so, you are not alone. I see many women in my office each week who continue to breastfeed their toddlers, sometimes while also nursing younger babies. Women who breastfeed "older" children are often stigmatized and looked at as strange. But are all these moms 'hippy-dippy' types, or are there legitimate benefits to breastfeeding after one year?
I am one of the lucky/unlucky ones who cannot get pregnant while breastfeeding, at least I haven't to date. I stopped breastfeeding our first son when he was 13 months old in order to get pregnant with our second, and stopped breastfeeding my second when he was 15 months old to get pregnant with our baby. How long will I breast feed this baby for? I guess that depends if we want to have another...
I enjoy breastfeeding. Sure there are downsides; as a working mom I am tied to my breast pump during work hours, my constant accessory in my purse. But I do love breastfeeding. It's my snuggle time. My one-on-one, undivided-attention time for baby Jason. It's quiet. He smiles at me. He loves me. He (kind-of) only pays attention to me when we feed. Only I can provide him this nutrition, and he is growing and thriving on it. After so many struggles with breastfeeding with our first son, it is a little miracle to me that nursing is second nature to us now, and so I am taking advantage.
Do I like waking up every two to three hours in the first months to nurse? Hell no! But, c'est la vie for a nursing mom, unless I wanted to wake and pump. I personally would rather breastfeed than pump any day, so I endure.
For all you doubters, there are benefits to extended breastfeeding. It may make you uncomfortable to see a toddler nursing, but the child (and likely the mom) are getting something out of this relationship. In fact the World Health Organization, Canadian Paediatric Society and American Academy of Pediatrics recommend exclusive breastfeeding to six months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond.
What's great about breastfeeding?
Breast milk is considered the gold standard for infant nutrition. Even once your baby is on solid food, breast milk continues to provide great nutritional benefits. Breast milk bolsters your baby's immune system. Numerous studies find breast-fed babies to be healthier than their formula fed counterparts. Fewer illnesses, less risk of allergies and (minimally) higher IQ are cited.
Mom benefits too, with a reduced risk of certain illnesses such as breast cancer, ovarian cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. Not to mention the cuddle time with your baby and the oxytocin-induced relaxation that breast-feeding provides.
So should you opt for extending breast-feeding? Maybe, if you want. Do I recommend it? I think you should do what feels right for you. If you want to introduce formula from day one, and you are happy with this decision, good on you. If you want to breastfeed partially but not exclusively, that's a great choice if you're happy with it. At the end of the day, I rejoice in knowing we can make these choices and do what works best for our families. And please, respect other's choices -- we are all doing what we think is best for our kids!
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