Editor’s Note: Lately there have been a lot of questions about the how’s and why’s of extended breastfeeding. In the US, “extended breastfeeding” generally means breastfeeding past a year. Here at Breastfeed, Chicago!, we recognize that mommyhood is not a race, and there is no such thing as the perfect length of time to breastfeed – every mother/child pair is different. Christine does an excellent job of exploring the many benefits to mom and child when breastfeeding goes past infancy. No matter how long you breastfeed, you can rest assured that *every day* that you breastfeed your child, you are giving them something really awesome. Rock on.
The American Academy of Pediatrics currently recommends that “breastfeeding continue for at least 12 months, and thereafter for as long as mutually desired.” The World Health Organization and UNICEF recommend that babies be breastfed for AT LEAST two years.
While my daughter enjoys eating and drinking regular food, we have chosen to continue our breastfeeding relationship.
The health benefits of breastfeeding are so numerous: immunities and vitamins, better teeth and speech development, significant increase in intelligence, stronger eyes and bones, lower rates of ear and respiratory infections, allergies, asthma, meningitis, pneumonia, diabetes, obesity, ulcers, Crohn’s disease, colitis, constipation, urinary tract infections, cancer, multiple sclerosis, high blood pressure and heart disease.
These benefits are increased the longer the child is breastfed. Past infancy, into childhood, adulthood, and even in old age, people who were breastfed demonstrate better health. So why WOULDN’T I continue? Do I no longer want the best health for my child just because she’s had another birthday? Or because we’re out in public? Of course not! (Oftentimes, I will wear my daughter in a baby carrier while nursing in public. Most people don’t even realize that we are also breastfeeding!)
Yes, my daughter has been sick on occasion, and nursing was a great comfort to both of us. In fact, a toddler with an upset stomach may be able to tolerate nothing but mother’s milk.
I’m continuing to breastfeed for my health too. Women who have breastfed for many months have significantly lower rates of breast, ovarian, cervical and uterine cancers, urinary tract infections and osteoporosis as they age. Breastfeeding mothers also have lower occurrences of postpartum depression.
I breastfeed to save my family money. One year’s supply of formula is between $1300 – $2800 per child, per year. Then factor in the savings from in medical costs. It is estimated that medical expenses for breastfed infants are $200 LESS per child for the first 12 months of life than those for formula-fed infants.
I also breastfeed for ecological reasons. Breastmilk is delivered without pollution, waste, unnecessary packaging or processing. Therefore, I am contributing to the conservation of our planet.
By continuing to breastfeed, our lives are much less stressful. When we go out, I never have to worry if I brought enough food, if the drinking water is clean, or if I’ll be able to buy healthy snacks. My milk is always fresh, clean and warm.
Finally, breastfeeding is about SO MUCH MORE than just nutrition, health benefits, cost savings and the environment! This unique relationship with the mother facilitates a child’s emotional maturity, independence and self esteem.
Breastfeeding makes parenting so much easier! Anytime my daughter is hungry, tired, overstimulated, bored, has her feelings hurt, has a hurt finger, or any of the other million things that can go wrong in her day– mama’s milk makes everything better! It’s soothing for both of us; she gets a healthy snack, some cuddling from mom; and then we’re off again to conquer the day!
Christine Sheets Nutile lives in the southwest suburbs of Chicago with her husband and their three children. Much to her surprise, she’s been breastfeeding for almost nine years – through two pregnancies, hyperemesis and despite the numerous food allergies in her nurslings. She’s a co-founder of the APChicagoSouth parenting group and offers private consultations and group workshops on babywearing. Her family practices autodidacticism, also known as child-led learning, a form of home education.