According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, breastfeeding should continue for a minimum of one year or beyond, depending on mutual desire of mother and infant. That “beyond” part often gets missed in our society. Often times, people are taught to believe that breastfeeding cannot be beneficial after 12 months of age- like there is some expiration date on the benefits of human milk. What if we stopped focusing on an expiration date, and let moms and babies decide when to wean? In fact, the benefits of breastfeeding continue on long after weaning. Breastfeeding is more than nutrition for your baby. Here are three other benefits:
This is one of our favorite benefits of breastfeeding our babies. Many believe this benefit surpasses the nutritional bonus breastfeeding gives. During the process of breastfeeding, no matter the age, this connection between the mother and baby helps to decrease cortisol levels. Oxytocin, “the feel good hormone,” is released to help offset this inflammatory hormone that is a cause of many disease processes plaguing our culture today. You get snuggles, and your toddler actually stops and gives you their full attention. Both momma and baby relax. This is the time to savor all the moments when your child feels they need you.
2. Illness Support
Every mother can relate to this: when baby doesn’t feel well it’s hard to just sit back and let the illness take its course (even though that’s what we have to do sometimes.) If you’ve ever dealt with a baby that won’t eat because of a nasty stomach virus- sometimes getting even water down them is hard. Not for moms who breastfeed! The best way to heal a bad tummy bug is with momma’s milk. Breastfeeding can be better than any antibiotic. It aids in symptom management and prevents dehydration. Ever have a kid with pink eye? Guess what the quickest, most easily accessible cure is for a breastfeeding mom? Her breast milk! There’s some science behind it, too. There are tiny antibodies that are in your tears, which also are in high concentration in human milk. Other antibodies in human milk have even been cultured to kill MRSA- which many antibiotics can’t even kill. There are also many stories of mothers who breastfed their child with cancer- and it helped in so many ways.
3. Pain Management
Toddlers fall. They hit their heads. They bang their little elbows and knees. It happens. Moms have two “Band-Aids” available for any accident at anytime. This not only goes for physical pain, but emotional pain, as well. Ever dealt with a 2 or 3 year old with lots of emotions they are working through? The comfort of breastfeeding can be just what they need.
It’s our goal to encourage families to do what they feel is right. Open the discussion of the benefit of going beyond what you initially thought breastfeeding should look like. We hope to plant some seeds for families to focus on what is mutually desired between mom and baby. Breastfeeding may go on beyond the ages of one or two. You decide on the expiration date – it’s your journey.
BY AUTUMN WAKE, RN, BSN, IBCLC & LAURA COOPER, BA, IBCLCOF
ADVANCED BREASTFEEDING SUPPORT OF LAS VEGAS
Top Photo: Leslie Sullivan Photography