We have all been told that breastfeeding is the best way to feed newborns, but what are the advantages to extended breastfeeding? How can continuing to breastfeed your baby as he becomes a toddler benefit both of you?
Extended Breastfeeding is defined as nursing a child past the age of one year. In the US, only 17% of mothers nurse their child at 1 year of age. By 1 year and 6 months, less than 5% of American children are still breastfed. However, more information is continually coming out about the benefits of extended breastfeeding. Fortunately, as doctors begin to advocate extended breastfeeding, and as the practice of extended breastfeeding is becoming more accepted, a greater number of American mothers are deciding to breastfeed their children past the first year.
Extended breastfeeding benefits both children and nursing mothers. Children and mothers who continue to breastfeed into the second year benefit both physically and psychologically.
How Children Benefit from Extended Breastfeeding:
Breast milk contains special immunologic agents that help to protect breastfed children from illnesses and infections. Human breast milk actually increases in immune factors in the second year of nursing. Incidentally, the immunologic agents in breast milk increase the longer a child breastfeeds. As a child becomes older, and begins to socialize with other children, he receives a greater concentration of immune factors though his mother’s milk, protecting him from possible infections. In fact, research shows that breastfed children who are in daycare have a lower incidence of infections than non-breastfed children.
Breast milk, ounce for ounce, is the most nutrient-dense food available. Human milk actually changes in composition as a child grows. Therefore, it is specially designed to nourish a child at any stage in his development. Breast milk is specifically designed for the nutrition of human children and is therefore more easily digested. The nutrients in breast milk are absorbed at a much higher rate than those in cow’s milk. It also contains properties that encourage the rapid growth of the human brain. This is especially useful for a child who is a poor eater. A breastfeeding mother can be confident that her child is receiving a good amount of nutrition even if he is a picky eater.