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The Practical Benefits of Breastfeeding Past One Year

I'm Megan, a paraprofessional, freelance writer, and mom of two little girls and one cat.

Is it okay to breastfeed a toddler? Yes, and here is why.

Is it okay to breastfeed a toddler? Yes, and here is why.

Breastfeeding Older Children

Many moms count down the days until their baby is ready to wean from breastfeeding. Especially if you have more than one child to look after, breastfeeding presents many challenges to a busy mom. Research overwhelmingly shows that “breast is best,” but it is not always the easiest way to provide nutrition for your little one. It takes a lot of time and effort. Is it worth it to continue?

In the US, mothers who breastfeed generally have the goal of making it to either the six-month or one-year mark. Many experts tout the benefits of breast milk during these growth periods, but it is much less common in the US for a mother to continue nursing past the first year, partly because not many medical professionals talk about the benefits of doing so, and partly because it has become less socially acceptable to do so. Women are often encouraged to stop breastfeeding after this milestone and are not properly educated about the benefits that continued breastfeeding can offer both their baby and themselves.

In other parts of the world, breastfeeding well into toddlerhood or beyond is normal. The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding up to two years old. Research shows that the benefits of breastfeeding continue as long as nursing continues, which is reason enough for many women to continue breastfeeding after one year. However, there are several benefits that are not so obvious, which we’ll cover here. These benefits focus on emotional and practical reasons for breastfeeding to continue a little longer.

6 Reasons to Keep Breastfeeding Your Toddler

1. The Many Emotional Benefits of Bonding During Breastfeeding

It may be stressful when your baby is hungry and you’re the only one who can console them because you’re the only one who has what they want, but the bond formed during breastfeeding can offer emotional benefits to both baby and mom. This bond also is beneficial to mom—there is something about being needed by that little human that makes mom feel special, loved, and important.

2. Breastfeeding Increases a Baby's Future Independence

According to La Leche League, babies wean naturally, and when they aren’t forced into independence by bottle feeding too early, they actually become more independent as older children.

3. Breastfeeding Is Less Disruptive to Sleep

Preparing and washing bottles takes time. Baby crying at 2 am? It takes only a few seconds to wake up, take baby out of the crib, and lift up your shirt. Baby will usually fall back asleep after five to ten minutes of nursing and typically won’t even fully wake. Taking the time to prepare a bottle allows too much time for the situation to escalate and increases the risk of a long night of crying and convincing baby to go back to sleep.

4. Pumping Is Guaranteed "Me Time"

Pumping may get old, but it can be considered “me time” you’re guaranteed to have uninterrupted. If you are a working mom and breastfeeding after one year, you’re more than likely hauling a breast pump to work with you every day. Many moms loathe pumping, but some really look forward to having a time-out for a few uninterrupted minutes. This is sometimes the only time throughout the entire day that a working mom can sit down without worrying about a phone call, email, older child, etc. asking for something. You can use this time to relax.

5. Mom's Weight Loss Will Be More Sustainable

Weight loss related to breastfeeding is shown to be more sustainable if weaning is delayed. Many women lose weight while breastfeeding. Most of the pounds come off during the first few months post-partum, but studies show that the weight is more likely to stay off the longer you continue nursing.

6. Breast Milk Is Free

Formula is expensive. Babies can have cow's milk after one year, which costs less than formula but is still not free. Breast milk doesn’t cost anything. Even in cases where the mom is malnourished, most women are able to produce enough milk for their baby's needs, and by one year, your child will be eating solids for additional nutrition anyway.

Breastfeeding Is a Choice

Of course, breastfeeding after one year, or breastfeeding at all, is your choice, and no one should cause you to feel that you made the wrong choice one way or the other. There are also benefits to weaning, such as no longer having to worry about pumping and making feedings on the go more convenient as baby can now manipulate a bottle. These are merely some of the benefits to continued breastfeeding that are often overlooked.

How long do you plan on breastfeeding?

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: I haven’t breastfed in three months, but I still produce milk. Could I start over again and breastfeed when my baby is a year old?

Answer: Yes, you can! Just try feed at regular intervals for consistency. After a few days, the milk will come back.

© 2016 Megan Machucho