How Long is Too Long for Breastfeeding?

Creative Commons License photo credit: Caitlinator

In the past few weeks, we’ve seen a lot of talk in the general media about breastfeeding older children. A recent magazine cover is to blame, of course, as the image of a woman breastfeeding an older child has made its way across the world.

When making your decision about how long to breastfeed, you need to take into account all of the facts.

Here are some facts you need to know about long-term breastfeeding:

  • Past the age of 2, most women that continue to breastfeed do so because they’re listening to their child’s cues. Usually, women don’t continue to breastfeed beyond the age of 2 for nutritional purposes, but rather because their child was comforted by the practice and the child wasn’t ready to stop.
  • Many women who are appalled by the very idea of breastfeeding an older child before becoming pregnant find that it’s not so repugnant after all. They see the happiness and comfort it brings their child, and that makes it all right.
  • Nutritional benefits of breastfeeding beyond the first year aren’t certain. Often, the nutritional value is limited. In fact, one recent study suggests that there is a link between malnutrition and long-term breastfeeding if the child doesn’t also have a balanced diet beyond just breast milk.
  • Society can be very critical when it comes to breastfeeding older children. We’ve seen this in reactions to the Time magazine cover. Yet, while society overall may be slow to offer support, there are many support resources online. Women who choose to breastfeed older children can find other mothers who do the same, or who will at least encourage them.
  • It’s not very common to breastfeed after 2 years of age. About 85% of women attempt to breastfeed at birth. After a year of age, only about 30% are still breastfeeding. That number drops to about 5% after 2 years of age.
  • The World Health Organization recommends that women continue to breastfeed for a minimum of 2 years.
  • Breastfeeding offers a woman some health benefits. For each year that she breastfeeds, her odds of developing Type 2 diabetes will decrease by about 15%.

So, what do you think about long-term breastfeeding?

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