Extended Breastfeeding – Can A Mum Nurse For Too Long?

Extended Breastfeeding – Can A Mum Nurse For Too Long?

2 Aug 2022 | 4 min Read

Reema Shah

Author | 490 Articles

After a mum starts breastfeeding, she usually doesn’t have a timeline of how long she is going to do it. She is usually trying to just make it through sleeplessness, sore nipples and those back-to-back nursing sessions. Let’s find out if a mum can go overboard with breastfeeding.

What Is Extended Breastfeeding?
Extended breastfeeding as a term has a different meaning depending on each mum. Newborn babies are usually only on breast milk for the first six months before solids are introduced to their diet. Breastfeeding past one year is considered extended breastfeeding even though the WHO recommends breastfeeding infants for the first two years of their life, as breast milk is beneficial for their health.

In certain cultures, it’s considered perfectly normal for a mum to breastfeed her child post the first year of life. Hence, breastfeeding a baby over 12 months isn’t considered extended at all. Even in India, extended breastfeeding is a common practise. Over 25% of babies are still breastfeeding for over 24 months or more. However, many people consider breastfeeding past the minimum suggestions or even over the first few months as extended breastfeeding.

Benefits Of Extended Breastfeeding

While breastfeeding is most beneficial for the baby in the first days and weeks of life, breast milk is good for babies even after that.

1. Nutrition

Breast milk helps to provide complete nutrition to the baby. Once your child gets older, your breast milk changes to meet his or her needs. Your breastmilk provides valuable nutrients even if your toddler eats three full meals in a day.

negative effects of breastfeeding
One of the negative effects of breastfeeding on the mother is that it can suppress ovulation / Credit – Pexels

2. Improved Immunity

Your breastmilk consists of antibodies that help your baby to fight off infections. Breastmilk also continues to provide antibodies and special cells that help to improve both short-term and long-term immunity.‌

3. Reduced Health Risks for Mothers

A breastfeeding mother also benefits from extended breastfeeding. Breastfeeding a baby for 12 months or more, lowers the risk of ovarian cancer, breast cancer, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

negative effects of breastfeeding
One of the negative effects of breastfeeding is the stigma that mums face as a result of extended breastfeeding / Credit – Pexels

Negative Effects Of Extended Breastfeeding

Needs Time Commitment

Breastfeeding takes effort and time and those who have young children already may be struggling to get enough sleep, work or do self-care. In such cases, extended breastfeeding can make life difficult. Other feeding options like formula and bottle-feeding are more convenient options.

Cultural Stigma

Extended breastfeeding can lead to a mum facing judgment and not receiving the support she requires from her partner or family. She can feel isolated or embarrassed. 

Suppressed Ovulation

Extended breastfeeding can suppress ovulation. However, this chance decreases as the baby grows older. Hence, if your periods have not returned post-birth and you plan to conceive again, you may need to decrease breastfeeding.

Tips For Extended Breastfeeding

Nursing your child well above the recommended breastfeeding duration can be a challenge. Here are some ways to cope.

1. Handling Critics

If you choose to breastfeed your child for longer, it is very likely for you to face judgement. However, since there is so much evidence to support the benefits of extended breastfeeding, learn to ignore them. 

2. Setting Boundaries with Your Child

It’s normal if you want to continue breastfeeding your child as he or she gets older “on demand”. While some parents only nurse in the evening or during naptime, some do it during different times of the day too. However, you need to pick what’s comfortable for your mental health.

FAQs

Is there any benefit of extended breastfeeding for the child, or is it only for the breastfeeding parent?

Extended breastfeeding has benefits not just for the breastfeeding mum but the child as well. According to the AAP, breastfeeding your child for the first four months exclusively prevents them from developing allergies later in life if the family has had a history of allergies.

Can extended breastfeeding affect your child’s emotional development?

There hasn’t been any proof that extended breastfeeding is harmful to the psychological and emotional development of the child. The AAFP says that the estimated natural age for weaning humans is between the age of two to seven years old. However, each child is different and hence weaning should be done once your child is ready. There is no defined timeline to stop nursing your baby and it is completely your choice. However, every mum needs to assess how well breastfeeding works for her and her child before making a decision.

Cover image – Food and Nutrition Magazine

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