You’ve probably faced some challenges while breastfeeding since his birth, but you’ve overcome them. You’re near the one-year mark, the oft-cited recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
But if you look more closely at the AAP statement on breastfeeding, you’ll see that one year is the minimum length of time recommended for breastfeeding. And the World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for at least two years. While a first birthday is a sentimental event, it’s really just a mark on a calendar. The day before your baby’s “big day,” he needed you to breastfeed him. The day after, he will still need you to breastfeed him. Why stop now?
It used to be that some pediatricians told mothers they “had” to stop breastfeeding at 12 months so that their babies could “learn independence.” Some women were told they would face immense battles if they persisted too long into the defiant toddler years. Some were told to stop at a year just because they could, because their babies had reached that point in development where they could ingest and digest cow’s milk.
But by now, you know that your baby can learn to be independent even when turning to you for the nutrition and comfort of breastfeeding. (Remember crawling? Walking? Talking?) You know that just because your baby can ingest cow’s milk doesn’t mean that’s he should. You know that you and your baby can decide when weaning is right for you.
Breastfeeding isn’t just about nutrition. It’s about parenting, bonding, relationship-building. Even if you started on day 1 asking “How long do I need to breastfeed for my baby’s health?” by now you may be asking “At what age would continuing to breastfeed be harmful?” (The answer: None.)
Research shows that the benefits of breastfeeding don’t stop at your baby’s first birthday. He still gets nutrition. He still gets antibodies. He still gets tenderness and comfort.
And the benefits don’t stop with your baby. Your risk of breast, ovarian, and uterine cancer decreases more with longer duration of breastfeeding. If you have diabetes, you will find that your insulin needs continue to be lower when breastfeeding. You may lose weight easier while breastfeeding. You get a more gradual weaning process, which is easier on your body and has a lower risk of infection.