There are a lot of different opinions on breastfeeding past the first year. Before I had kids, I thought that moms who breastfed their babies when they could walk and talk were insane. Now I understand that every woman and every baby are different, and breastfeeding doesn’t look the same for everyone. It’s also not our place to judge someone for breastfeeding their baby at 18 months or giving their baby formula at 3 months. We are all different.
I just finished nursing my third son at 13 1/2 months, and it was really hard for me to wean him. Nursing him was the only time he’d really lay still and let me hold him, and since he might be our last baby, I struggled with the finality of feeding him for the last time. Honestly I probably would have kept nursing him if I could have.
Today I want to talk about the benefits of breastfeeding past the first year, plus a few of the cons. Honestly, there aren’t really many cons. As long as you are comfortable with it, I’d say go for it!
Benefits of breastfeeding past the first year:
1. Bonding. The emotional bond that comes with breastfeeding is unmatched. There’s really nothing like it. I absolutely believe that formula feeding is great, too, especially if you are unable to breastfeed, but the bond that comes from breastfeeding is a HUGE benefit of of breastfeeding, especially past the first year as your child turns into more of a tiny person than a baby!
2. Physical closeness. Once your baby (or toddler in this case) is mobile, they most likely will not sit still. Breastfeeding was the one time of day I could get my son to lay still in my arms and be as close to me as possible. And I loved it.
3. Your toddler still gets nutrients from your breastmilk. Your breastmilk doesn’t just become water when your baby turns one, so your toddler still gets things like protein, calcium, fat, and Vitamin A from breastmilk. Yes, he can get the same nutrients from cow’s milk and other solid foods. But breastfeeding provides those things, too!
4. Immunological advantages. Toddlers can still get the antibodies and hormones from breastmilk that help boost their immune system, even after they turn one. Studies show that breastfed toddlers get sick less often than their peers (source).
5. It’s free and it’s always available. Cow’s milk is not free, and it’s not always on hand (personally, our kids always drink less milk when we’re traveling just because it’s not as accessible as at home). You also don’t have to run to the store for more!
6. It can be a source of comfort for your child. Toddlers can get UPSET sometimes (didn’t you know?) and breastfeeding can be a good way to calm them down when nothing else will!
7. It’s good for your health, too! The benefits of breastfeeding are the same for you regardless of the age of your baby. So yes, breastfeeding past the first year can reduce your stress, lower your chances of getting postpartum depression, burns calories, can delay your period, and even lowers the risk of breast and ovarian cancer (source).
The cons of breastfeeding past the first year:
1. Mom judgement. As much of a bummer as this one is, some moms just be hatin’. I wish we could just all support each other for our different decisions, but whatever. Hopefully you’re tough enough that you can tackle this one (or you can just feed your toddler at home so you don’t have to worry about it). Either way, it sucks.
2. It can be harder to wean your toddler. You may not have noticed this, but as kids get older, they get a little more defiant and stubborn (just kidding, I’m sure you’ve noticed this one!). I can only imagine that the longer you nurse your toddler, the harder it gets to try and wean them. The first few mornings I didn’t nurse my son I could tell he was mad at me and didn’t want any other food. So if you breastfeed past the first year you’ve got that to look forward to.
That’s it. Like I said, there aren’t very many cons to breastfeeding past the first year.
Whether you decide to wean at 12 months, formula feed at six months, or nurse your baby all the way up until he’s two, it’s your decision. Do what works for your family and what works for you and your baby. As long as you are healthy and your baby is healthy, it really is up to you. I personally really enjoyed nursing my toddler (it still feels weird to call him that!) and I for sure would’ve kept nursing him if I could have.
Whatever you decide, be proud of your decision, don’t have any regrets, and respect people who may make a different decision. And good luck on your breastfeeding journey!