Are there benefits to extended breastfeeding?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, followed by breastfeeding in conjunction with other foods for at least 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 help 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 babies 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 babies are less likely to develop cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma during childhood. 
  • Breastfed babies are less likely to develop insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, or to become obese throughout their lifetime.

Benefits to you: 

  • Breastfeeding reduces your risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and uterine cancer; 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 helps ease the transition process of weaning.

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 and mother-led weaning here.

Last updated August 24, 2018

Suggested Reads