Thursday, May 10, 2012

Is nursing longer than a year beneficial?

I'm pretty sure by now everyone has seen the new Time Magazine cover with the mom breastfeeding her three year old. It has definitely racked up quite a bit of comments on Facebook, both good and bad. I haven't had a chance to read the whole article yet, but from what I've already read, it looks to me like the author didn't quite make attachment parenting sound all that great. I'll have to pick up the magazine one of these days and take a look.

I've had a few conversations with some people close to me that happen to be on the "bad" side of the topic of  extended breastfeeding. They believe there is nothing beneficial to nursing past one year and that it can even be labeled as "incestuous". :/ I thought that was a bit extreme, especially since I am only still breastfeeding an eleven month old. But I have no intention on stopping just because she's going to be one in a month. I did plan on weaning when I found out I was pregnant, but it never happened and it is just not a priority. (La Leche League's page on tandem nursing has been helpful for me, as I'm not sure if I will still be breastfeeding Betsey or not when baby #2 gets here.)

One of the pictures from the Time Magazine shoot.. I'm thinking if they had used a different picture, there might be a slightly less people complaining that the boy can already go and get his own glass of milk.. That's advertising though!

I've decided that since I am always alone on my side of the conversation, pro extended-breastfeeding, and have never really done the research to back up my decision to continue breastfeeding. I have always felt that it's my decision to continue doing what I'm doing, and as long as Betsey and I are happy and healthy, why not? I didn't care to have to explain myself to anyone, but I am curious now and would like to have some facts to back myself up, so it's time to do some research.

Everything in pink, I grabbed directly from this page on This page has a TON of info and references.
  • Although there has been little research done on children who breastfeed beyond the age of two, the available information indicates that breastfeeding continues to be a valuable source of nutrition and disease protection for as long as breastfeeding continues.
  • “Human milk expressed by mothers who have been lactating for >1 year has significantly increased fat and energy contents, compared with milk expressed by women who have been lactating for shorter periods. During prolonged lactation, the fat energy contribution of breast milk to the infant diet might be significant.”
    — Mandel 2005
  • “Breast milk continues to provide substantial amounts of key nutrients well beyond the first year of life, especially protein, fat, and most vitamins.”
    — Dewey 2001
  • In the second year (12-23 months), 448 mL of breastmilk provides:
    • 29% of energy requirements
    • 43% of protein requirements
    • 36% of calcium requirements
    • 75% of vitamin A requirements
    • 76% of folate requirements
    • 94% of vitamin B12 requirements
    • 60% of vitamin C requirements
    — Dewey 2001
  • Studies done in rural Bangladesh have shown that breastmilk continues to be an important source of vitamin A in the second and third year of life.
    — Persson 1998

  • The American Academy of Family Physicians notes that children weaned before two years of age are at increased risk of illness (AAFP 2001).
  • Nursing toddlers between the ages of 16 and 30 months have been found to have fewer illnesses and illnesses of shorter duration than their non-nursing peers (Gulick 1986).
  • “Antibodies are abundant in human milk throughout lactation” (Nutrition During Lactation 1991; p. 134). In fact, some of the immune factors in breastmilk increase in concentration during the second year and also during the weaning process. (Goldman 1983, Goldman & Goldblum 1983, Institute of Medicine 1991).
  • Per the World Health Organization, “a modest increase in breastfeeding rates could prevent up to 10% of all deaths of children under five: Breastfeeding plays an essential and sometimes underestimated role in the treatment and prevention of childhood illness.” [emphasis added]

  • Many studies have shown that one of the best ways to prevent allergies and asthma is to breastfeed exclusively for at least 6 months and continue breastfeeding long-term after that point. Breastfeeding can be helpful for preventing allergy by:
    1. reducing exposure to potential allergens (the later baby is exposed, the less likely that there will be an allergic reaction),
    2. speeding maturation of the protective intestinal barrier in baby’s gut,
    3. coating the gut and providing a barrier to potentially allergenic molecules,
    4. providing anti-inflammatory properties that reduce the risk of infections (which can act as allergy triggers).

  • Extensive research on the relationship between cognitive achievement (IQ scores, grades in school) and breastfeeding has shown the greatest gains for those children breastfed the longest.
  • According to Sally Kneidel in “Nursing Beyond One Year” (New Beginnings, Vol. 6 No. 4, July-August 1990, pp. 99-103.):

    “Research reports on the psychological aspects of nursing are scarce. One study that dealt specifically with babies nursed longer than a year showed a significant link between the duration of nursing and mothers’ and teachers’ ratings of social adjustment in six- to eight-year-old children (Ferguson et al, 1987). In the words of the researchers, ‘There are statistically significant tendencies for conduct disorder scores to decline with increasing duration of breastfeeding.’”
  • According to Elizabeth N. Baldwin, Esq. in “Extended Breastfeeding and the Law”:
    Breastfeeding is a warm and loving way to meet the needs of toddlers and young children. It not only perks them up and energizes them; it also soothes the frustrations, bumps and bruises, and daily stresses of early childhood. In addition, nursing past infancy helps little ones make a gradual transition to childhood.
  • Baldwin continues: “Meeting a child’s dependency needs is the key to helping that child achieve independence. And children outgrow these needs according to their own unique timetable.” Children who achieve independence at their own pace are more secure in that independence then children forced into independence prematurely.

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that “Breastfeeding should be continued for at least the first year of life and beyond for as long as mutually desired by mother and child… Increased duration of breastfeeding confers significant health and developmental benefits for the child and the mother… There is no upper limit to the duration of breastfeeding and no evidence of psychologic or developmental harm from breastfeeding into the third year of life or longer.” (AAP 2005)
  • The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends that breastfeeding continue throughout the first year of life and that “As recommended by the WHO, breastfeeding should ideally continue beyond infancy, but this is not the cultural norm in the United States and requires ongoing support and encouragement. It has been estimated that a natural weaning age for humans is between two and seven years. Family physicians should be knowledgeable regarding the ongoing benefits to the child of extended breastfeeding, including continued immune protection, better social adjustment, and having a sustainable food source in times of emergency. The longer women breastfeed, the greater the decrease in their risk of breast cancer.” They also note that “If the child is younger than two years of age, the child is at increased risk of illness if weaned.” (AAFP 2008)
  • A US Surgeon General has stated that it is a lucky baby who continues to nurse until age two. (Novello 1990)
  • The World Health Organization emphasizes the importance of nursing up to two years of age or beyond (WHO 1993, WHO 2002).
  • Scientific research by Katherine A. Dettwyler, PhD shows that 2.5 to 7.0 years of nursing is what our children have been designed to expect (Dettwyler 1995). 
Another picture from the Time Magazine shoot. Would have made a more appropriate cover photo if you ask me..

MOTHERS also benefit from breastfeeding past infancy

  • Extended nursing delays the return of fertility in some women by suppressing ovulation.
  • Breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast cancer. Studies have found a significant inverse association between duration of lactation and breast cancer risk.
  • Breastfeeding reduces the risk of ovarian cancer.
  • Breastfeeding reduces the risk of uterine cancer.
  • Breastfeeding reduces the risk of endometrial cancer.
  • Breastfeeding protects against osteoporosis. During lactation a mother may experience decreases of bone mineral. A nursing mom’s bone mineral density may be reduced in the whole body by 1 to 2 percent while she is still nursing. This is gained back, and bone mineral density may actually increase, when the baby is weaned from the breast. This is not dependent on additional calcium supplementation in the mother’s diet.
  • Breastfeeding reduces the risk of rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Breastfeeding has been shown to decrease insulin requirements in diabetic women.
  • Breastfeeding moms tend to lose weight easier. 
Another picture from the Time Magazine shoot.

Everything in purple is from this site.

Breastfeeding for at least one year has been associated with better oral development due to the unique sucking action required with nursing at the breast. There is also evidence that extended breastfeeding results in earlier reading in boys and fewer speech problems.

The closeness of nursing enhances the child's relationship with his mother and provides a sense of stability during a time of rapid growth and development.

Another picture from the Time Magazine shoot
Handling criticism from friends and family is apparently a very common thing for those who decide to breastfeed their children longer than a year. Dr. Sears and La Leche League have given some great advice.

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