Are there benefits to extended breastfeeding?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, followed by breastfeeding in conjunction with other foods for at least the one year or longer as mutually desired by mother and child. According to the AAFP, breastfeeding beyond the first year “offers considerable benefits to both mother and child.”

Benefits to your baby: 

  • Human milk contains more than 200 nutrients. It also includes antibodies, special factors that keep your child healthy. 
  • Human milk changes in composition to meet the needs of your growing child, something infant formula or cow’s milk (or any other type of “milk”) cannot do. 
  • Breastfed children have fewer respiratory infections and ear infections. 
  • Breastfeeding also lowers the risk of asthma, food allergy, and eczema in children with a family history of allergic disease. 
  • Breastfed children are less likely to develop some childhood cancers, such as leukemia and lymphoma. 
  • Breastfed children are less likely to develop insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, or to become obese throughout their lifetime.

Benefits to you: 

  • Your risk of breast, ovarian and uterine cancer is lowered by breastfeeding; the longer you breastfeed, the more your risk of developing these cancers declines.
  • If you have diabetes, you will find that your insulin needs continue to be lower when breastfeeding. 
  • Breastfeeding makes losing weight easier. 
  • Breastfeeding beyond a year makes the weaning process more gradual. 

New mothers often hear “watch your baby, not the clock” to determine when a feeding is over. The same goes for weaning. You should watch your baby, not the calendar as you decide when to begin the weaning process. The benefits of breastfeeding continue for you both as long as you are willing and able to continue breastfeeding. 

Getting ready to wean? Learn about child-led weaning versus mother-led weaning here.

Last updated May 30, 2017

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