Breastfeeding Benefits Don't End At Age 1

If you've made it a full year breastfeeding your baby, you are doing great. But the benefits to nursing — for both you and your little one — don't end when her first 12 months do, especially during the winter months when colds and the flu run rampant. Read on to learn why you should continue breastfeeding and a few tips on what to say to those who may raise their eyebrows.

toddler breastfeeding

The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding until at least 2 years of age — and beyond that if desired. However, mothers in the U.S. don't often breastfeed past the age of 1. Nursing, while becoming more of a cultural norm for mothers of infants, still suffers from social stigma, particularly the topic of nursing in public and breastfeeding beyond 12 months of age. The good news is that nursing your toddler is healthy, normal and recommended.

Learn about how Alanis Morissette feels about extended breastfeeding >>

Overwhelming benefits

Your breast milk, which has been a valuable source of nutrition for your little one from the day she was born, continues to help provide nourishment for as long as you nurse her. As your baby grows older, the nutritional content of your milk changes to suit her needs.

Keeping Mom close

Breastfeeding isn't solely about nutrition, either. Babies learn to love nursing for the warmth and closeness it provides. The breast becomes their home and a physical connection to their mother. As your baby grows, he may reach out to you to nurse after a tumble or a scare. Continuing to nurse beyond the age of 1 can also help alleviate stress in new situations or when your little one needs some extra comfort or reassurance.

Even better, you will continue to produce antibodies — valuable disease-fighting bonuses — the entire time you breastfeed your child. This can make the duration of your child's illness, if she were to get sick, shorter.

Jolene, mother of three, nursed her second child for 16 months and is currently breastfeeding a newborn. "She was never very sick," she explained. "I'd get a nasty cold and she would get a sniffle. I'm tempted to mix expressed breast milk into her milk to give her more antibodies."

Adverse health effects have been documented in developing countries when children are weaned before 3 years of age. In Guinea-Bissau, for example, children of this age group who no longer breastfed had a mortality rate three and a half times higher than their nursing peers. While the consequences are not as dire in the industrialized world, those statistics are startling enough to consider how breastfeeding beyond the age of 1 continues to have its merits.

What to say

If you get the stink eye for nursing your 1-, 2- or 3-year-old, you may feel flustered, defensive or embarrassed. You may choose to nurse "in the closet" because of how you picture your family, friends or the public reacting.

Bolster yourself in advance with a few things to say, such as:

  • The World Health Organization recommends a minimum of two years
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends at least 12 months
  • Both organizations encourage breastfeeding beyond these recommendations
  • Your toddler can fight off illness easier while still nursing
  • Breastmilk helps fill in any nutritional gaps left behind by a toddler's picky diet

You can also smile and say, "This is what works best for my family." Simply knowing the peace it instills in a child can be reason enough. Lisa, mother of a 23-month-old girl, said, "All I know is Madison still enjoys it and it makes her happy and comforts her."

Tell us

Are you an extended breastfeeder? How has it benefited your child? Tell us in Comments below.

More about breastfeeding

Why I love breastfeeding my preschooler
How to breastfeed in public
6 Benefits of co-sleeping with your chldren


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Comments on "Why you should breastfeed your toddler"

Becky July 31, 2013 | 3:29 PM

I adamantly believe that breastfeeding does have a very positive affect on a child's health. I breastfed my first son for 2 years and he is so healthy. He gets the odd mild cold but he's never had a chest infection or ear infection that most young children seem to get often and has only had a stomach bug once in his 4 years of life. I'm now still breastfeeding my 17 month old and plan to go onto at least two, not just for health benefits but because we both love it and I love the bond and closeness it gives us. I had quite a few problems breastfeeding my 1st son at the beginning but I'm so glad I persevered as otherwise I would have never known the benefits of it!! So many people give up so early and I feel so sorry for them that they will never know what an amazing experience it is!!

Rachel July 22, 2013 | 1:31 PM

Stephanie L, you are grossly misinformed. Check out LLLI if you want to educate yourself a little more on the topic. There are also lots of other good sites on the web, including anthropological studies. Yes, nursing until age 2.5-7 years is the physiological norm for humans. Spend some time with families who have done natural duration nursing/child-led weaning, and you will see just how healthy and independent those children are!!!

Katherine July 22, 2013 | 8:54 AM

I breastfed my son until he was 30 months old and stopped on his own. I nursed him through a pregnancy and while nursing a newborn before he stopped. I am currently still breastfeeding my daughter who is 23 months. I love extended breastfeeding! My children have a closer bond with me, and more independent, and get sick less often. They were not force weaned, my son quit on his own and my daughter is slowly weaning herself off. This gives them control and makes them feel secure. The WHO recommends nursing until 2 old at least, and this is the norm in other countries. The U.S. has ualized women's breast so much that breastfeeding is not accepted as it should be.

Nicole July 20, 2013 | 4:59 PM

I am still breastfeeding my 34-month old and have no current plans to stop. It's not anyone's place or business to tell us when it should end. Only my daughter knows. She still takes great comfort in it, and as the article states, I worry less about her erratic eating habits since I know she's also getting nutrition from me. Some of my friends don't "approve," but honestly, they don't have kids themselves, and they're extremely ignorant when it comes to their knowledge of breastfeeding and the benefits. That said, I do have a hard time breastfeeding in public. I'm on the shy side, and as she's gotten older, I'm more embarrassed by it. It's becoming more and more common to see infants - and even toddlers - breastfed in public, but not so much with the preschoolers. However, if she truly needs it, I do, because that's what my body was designed to do. I will miss it when it comes to an end, for certain. Even on our worst days, it is such a defining bond between us.

angel_ June 20, 2013 | 4:28 PM

I was up until 3 weeks ago still nursing my 25 month old daughter I wanted to continue but was given no choice but to stop as her dr. said if I didn't he would no longer and I had a hard time finding him but as most moms have said she was rarely ever sick. I loved the cuddle time with my little girl we had a bond that was unbreakable lol that's what everyone told me...

Michelle June 09, 2013 | 1:07 PM

I am currently breastfeeding my 27 month old and 7 month old

Mel G February 05, 2013 | 12:46 PM

I been breastfeeding my son since he was born he is now 18 months and all he's been eating was healthy things but somehow his teeth still started to rot he brushes everyday. I need to stop in order to go to school. He's so clingy to me won't go to his dad can't leave his sight for 2 minutes without him flipping out. I need a break from this I'm glad god gave me the ability to breastfeed but I need him off

The Mama January 25, 2013 | 3:57 PM

I am the mother of a wonderful 16 month old baby boy that still breastfeeds. The ability that God has granted women to be able to do this is a miracle. I am so happy that my body can do this. Nursing my son has gotten us through some of the most difficult times we have had to face. There was a time when he was only 12 months that I tore muscles in my lower back; I was bed-ridden and useless, however, I could still cuddle with my son and he could lay next to me and nurse so that my husband could care for our two daughters. Now, just las week, my son developed serum sickness which is a nasty allergic reaction to an antibiotic and he was in a lot of pain, high fever, swollen, and broken out in horrendous rashes all over his body. The only thing that brought him any comfort and peace was nursing. I had originally planned to wean him at 12 months, but I am so glad I didn't. It's been a God send, no matter how anyone else feels about it; either good or bad opinions.

Missy October 29, 2012 | 5:29 PM

I'm still breastfeeding my 27 month old and very proud of it. The world average for weaning is 4 years. A baby's first teeth are called "milk teeth" people! And breast are not ual objects, they are for feeding your baby the most nutrient rich food on the planet! I consider it a tragedy when baby's are not breastfed at least 2 YEARS, so does the World Health Organization who has now updated their criteria to suggest AT LEAST 2 YEARS of breastfeeding. There are numerous health issues caused when they are not breastfed at least 2 years! For one, the jaw and arch don't form correctly and you end up with teeth crowding and sleep apnea (later in lie). You also get adult obesity because the growing brain was formed on artificial sugars from formula. All of this information is out there, just do your research and give your baby the gift of health by extended breastfeeding them.

Jen October 11, 2012 | 11:03 AM

I'm currently nursing my 22 month old & my 3 week old. My 22 month old nurses before bed. He is by no means a clingy child. He's comfortable & confident in social setting. He walked early, talked early and has never been sick for longer than a day. All of this, I contribute to genetics enhanced by breastfeeding. Some of these comments are crazy. Stop BF when they have teeth? Some get teeth at 3 months. Having teeth has nothing to do with the ability to consume solid food. Put it in a bottle? Some women don't respond to pumps and some children don't do bottles. Mine didn't. And, even at almost 2 years old, he will drink out of a cup but not breast milk. Why isn't it okay to allow our babies to be babies? Why are we in such a rush to force them to grow up before they are ready? I know quite a few adults who remember BFiing and they are perfectly well adjusted people. The lack of knowledge in some of these comments are exactly the reason why I couldn't care less about any negativity bestowed upon me when it comes to BFing.

Rebekah September 19, 2012 | 7:56 AM

Why should you breastfeed your toddler? because it comforts & relaxes them, healthy for there growing bodies, and is perfect when they have a cough or are sick. I mean come on, it can cure pink eye! haha I like the term I heard once, "Breast milk is like liquid gold" because really, some women would LOVE to breastfeed and can't produce enough. So don't take advantage of something so precious! :)

Rebekah September 19, 2012 | 7:51 AM

I always said I wanted to breastfeed for at least six months. The thing is, I had problem after problem for the first couple months. BUT I stuck with it and followed through. It's all about your determination and setting goals. I got to 6 months and by that time it was so convenient I saw no end in sight. My daughter is now 21 months old and she still nurses a couple times a day AND I work full time now. Just because she got teeth--which by the way, some infants get as early as 3 months--did not mean she was ready to wean or be done breastfeeding. YOU may want to believe they are done breastfeeding when they get teeth, but with my daughter, the only way I got through teething phases (until she had all her teeth) was by nursing her. Nursing for comfort?? You betcha! Our children won't be little for long, and if we as women are willing to sacrifice some of our 'me' time for a short time, you will never regret it. I never hear a woman regret nursing her child, but I hear it with some who never tried it. Should you breastfeed your toddler? Its different for every child...but they say natural weaning age is between 2-4. Obviously not exclusively nursing, but there's a reason babies/children are wired the way they are. Think about it!

Denise September 05, 2012 | 2:07 PM

I don't think that breastfeeding has anything to do with a child having a more loving relationship whith its mother, nor any kind of intelligence, nor illnesses. I breastfed our first daughter for 11 months, until she decided that she was done. My second daughter was different, she was way more interesed in nursing from day one on and i breastfed her for 2.5 years. Both my children are loving, compassionate kids, now 8 and 10 years old. Both of them are about the same in school and have a very good relationship with eacht other and with us parens. However, my younger daughter who was nursed for 2.5 years, has different allergies of pollen, some animals and some fruits. Plus we found out 2 months ago that she also suffers from Asthma. I've nannied for a family with two kids. Their son (now a well rounded, intelligent, kind college student) was brestfed for two weeks. Their daughter (now a 15 year old high school student. Was breastfed for 3 months. They were always very healthy happy kids. So, in my humble opinion. Breastfeeding has little to do with health, intelligence or any emotional attributes. In some cases the MOTHER needs the nursing more then the Child. And in other cases the CHILD needs it more. I thinks its about giving the child what it needs be that for comfort, as it was with my second child, or just for nutrition, as it was with my first child.

Kat September 02, 2012 | 11:10 PM

I nursed my son until he was 3 and my daughter until 5. Not only are they extremely well behaved older children but they are social, independent, loving, and kind. I do think it has to do with nursing them until they were ready to stop. Both of them put their hand up to me and said, "no more" when they were ready and that was the last day. They are extremely close to me & trust me with their thoughts and feelings. Nursing them until they were ready to wean was the best decision I made for them. Let God tell you when it is time to stop...not some psychologist or magazine!

lp September 02, 2012 | 10:17 AM

Very simple, just put the breast milk in a bottle. Problem solved and no one knows or cares!

Marlene September 02, 2012 | 8:42 AM

I nursed most of my kids for 3 yrs, having them approx. 2 yrs apart.(meaning I tandem nursed every 3rd yr.) They got table food, when ever they had the interest & teeth for it, usually somewhere between 5-12 months, but continued to nurse for sustenance & comfort until their 3rd birthday, at which point I cut them off. I did always work, at least part time, but never pumped nor bought formula. All 7 of them are well adjusted adults now. I nursed discreetly at church, school, zoo, meetings,restaurants, etc. I got some "looks" but never got told I couldn't. I find it incorrigible anyone would care, let alone c/o of anyone else's choice of infant feeding! When I see parents feeding their little kids McDonald's junk food, do I c/o? Unfortunately they have that right to feed junk food to their kids, so why should anyone object to me feeding my kids the God-given substance best suited to their not only nutritional needs but also immune system & psychological needs as well? If I were told I could not breastfeed anywhere, I would never darken their door again, but I would pray for them!

Catie July 31, 2012 | 11:46 AM

The conversation that I think needs to be had is "why do women feel the need to judge and polarize each other into the classification of breast feeders and bottle feeders." We should be ashamed of ourselves for judging each other in such harsh terms. Where is the support for mothers in general going to come from if we can't even agree to support each other. These days if your not for something you are against it and its silly. I am pro mother and pro women. Each women has the right to take care of her children the way she sees fit as long as it is in accordance with the laws where she lives. Do I silently judge? yes, because i'm not perfect. But I give myself a stern talking to since I haven't walked in someone else' shoes. Be pro-mother like me and put an end to this silly debate. The whole extended breastfeeding debate was created to sell magazines, get people to watch TV shows featuring the most extreme habits, and increase readership in blogs. This manufactured trend has gained so much media attention that it has become sensationalized. To be honest nothing could be less interesting to other people than watching women breastfeeding. Its not really a spectator sport. Do your own research come up with your own conclusions and parent based on what you feel is best for your child. Trust other mothers to do the same. In the end if you see someone parenting differently than you take heart in the fact that they are doing the best they can for their children. (these statement bar instances of mistreatment of children by parents)

Kay June 17, 2012 | 6:45 AM

I breastfed my daughter until she was 10 months old and thereafter she had expressed milk (I had a surplus of 3,000+ ounces in a deepfreeze) until she was 14 months old. While I am not disputing the articles mentioned above, I am confused as I have also read many articles about how there are no additional health benefits after six months of breastfeeding. Also, I've read articles about how breastfeeding after age 1 can be detremential to a child as the fat content is significantly higher than cow's milk. Not arguing, just confused as there is a great deal of conflicting literature out there for people to read. From a personal standpoint, I applauded myself for breastfeeding as long as I did; less than 15% of mothers breastfeed past 6 months. However, as a working-mother I did find it difficult to maintain - work would get busy and it was a challenge to find time to pump. In today's world so many of us (me included) are judgemental. However, breastfeeding is a deeply personal choice - to not breastfeed at all, or to continue until your children are 3+. I am looking at my 3 year old right now, she's 41 inches tall and 41 pounds and I can't imagine still breastfeeding her. If I were to see a mother breastfeeding her 3 year old, I would agree with it - but the key is: I wouldn't say anything or call her names like I see others above doing. How society feeds their children is not anyone else's business -- if you don't like it, fine, but being rude and mean is never acceptable.

Stephanie L. May 28, 2012 | 6:40 AM

There is an issue here that hasn't exactly been addressed from a psychological point of view. As a psychotherapist who has taught parenting classes, it's worth considering that breast feeding past the separation stage that naturally occurs at about 9 -15 months of age, can create a level of dependence that isn't good for the child. Mothers seldom want to admit that they may be continuing breast feeding beyond this stage to unconsciously foster this dependence so that some of their own needs to feel wanted and depended upon are met. I have seen many children breastfed for too long who exhibit overly-dependent and clinging behavior styles. There is nothing wrong with breast feeding. It is a wonderful bonding and nurturing experience for mother and child, but there is no need to continue it much beyond 12 - 15 months when babies develop teeth and need to start developing more independence from their mommy.

Wilhemina May 26, 2012 | 9:09 PM

Also I would like to add that I did not potty train my child, let him speak, or walk until he was seven either. This helped keep him in the house away from jezebels and life experiences that could lead to personal development.

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