“Breast is best” is a slogan or motto that most breastfeeding and infant health and nutrition advocates promote globally — and for good reason. The World Health Organization (WHO) actually recommends that mothers all over the world “exclusively breastfeed infants for the child's first six months to achieve optimal growth, development and health.”
The WHO further advises that once the child can eat solid foods, “they should be given nutritious complementary foods and continue breastfeeding up to the age of two years or beyond.”
Thus, the “beyond” part of the WHO statement implies that breastfeeding for more than two years is still beneficial to the child. This is actually confirmed by different breastfeeding experts like International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) Kelly Bonyata of the well-known website “KellyMom”, which provides evidence-based information on breastfeeding and parenting.
Breastfeeding beyond two years is good for your kid Bonyata cites numerous benefits of breastfeeding toddlers and young children, saying it contributes to children’s nutrition and health, plus their intellectual, social and mental development.
Locally, IBCLC and pediatrician Dr. Jamie Cumpas, who holds clinic at Parkview Children’s Clinic Makati, shares with us a few of the advantages of extended breastfeeding. Joining her is La Leche League Leader Abbie Venida-Yabot, a lactation counselor certified by the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH).
1. Nutrition and health benefits “According to a study by Mandel in 2005, ‘human milk expressed by mothers who have been lactating for more than 1 year has significantly increased fat and energy contents, compared with milk expressed by women who have been lactating for shorter periods,’” Dr. Cumpas says. “Extended breastfeeding has also shown a decreased risk of childhood obesity.”
Venida-Yabot, who also talks about extended breastfeeding in her classes at The Parenting Emporium, adds that babies who are breastfed longer “receive continued protection from sicknesses, as they continue to get the antibodies that are present in the mother’s milk.”
“So, for example, during flu season, the last to get sick and the first to get well (if they even get the virus at all) are the breastfed babies and their mommies,” she adds.
2. Intellectual development According to Dr. Cumpas, research has shown that the greatest increase in cognitive scores is related to children who breastfed the longest.
“In a study of Mortensen in 2009, a significant positive association between duration of breastfeeding and intelligence was observed in 2 independent samples of young adults, assessed with 2 different intelligence tests,” she expounds.
Venida-Yabot, a mother of four, and currently pregnant, says extended breastfeeding also leads to “calmer, more intelligent babies.”
“We have the ‘terrific’ 2s, 3s, onwards,” she shares. “And this is probably because they are exploring the world, which makes them prone to scraping their knees, getting upset or even being bullied by bigger kids.”
“But instead of crying inconsolably, breastfeeding helps them calm down and get the emotional comfort they need,” Venida-Yabot continues. “Hence, when there is less crying, they have more energy to just be happy and learn about their environment.”
3. Beneficial to the mom “Extended breastfeeding also has health benefits to the mother, such as reduced incidence of breast, uterine and endometrial cancer, reduced risk of osteoporosis and type 2 diabetes,” Dr. Cumpas continues.
Venida-Yabot also cites “convenience” as a benefit. “You need not deal with any bottles, ergo no cleaning and sterilizing, no big diaper bags, no apportioning formula,” she explains.
“Your child can have milk anywhere and anytime. This is especially great for moms and families on the go.”
She also gives more “practical” benefits, like continued savings from vitamins, medicines, trips to the doctor and possible hospitalization fees.
How long should extended breastfeeding last? Given that prolonged breastfeeding has its own set of advantages, you might be wondering, “How long should I continue then?”
Dr. Cumpas answers, “The term ‘extended breastfeeding’ is simply nursing a child past what is ‘normally’ accepted in society.”
“To some people it may be one year, to others it may be two years, etc.,” she continues. “Based on the recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics, ‘breastfeeding should be continued for at least the first year of life and beyond for as long as mutually desired by mother and child.”
“’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."
Venida-Yabot shares how she breastfed her third child until he was four years old. “When he was two and a half, I got pregnant but continued to breastfeed him all throughout the pregnancy,” she recalls.
“We had a one-day break during my CS operation, then the day after, he was tandem feeding with his newborn sister,” Venida-Yabot continues. “That continued for almost two more years. Meanwhile, my daughter Kyle was breastfed directly until she was almost six years old.”
So remember, when it comes to extended breastfeeding, you have the right to decide on how long you want to do it. You are the main person responsible for your little one’s health and nutrition.
Curious to learn more about extended breastfeeding? It is just one of the topics discussed by The Breastfeeding Club, which Abbie Venida-Yabot founded in 2008. To register for classes, and for more information, text 0917-8110821.
References: February 29, 2012. "Why Pediatricians Say Breast-Feeding is About Public Health, Not Just Lifestyle". time.com
July 26, 2011. "Breastfeeding Past Infancy: Fact Sheet". kellymom.com