If you thought breastfeeding was only good for the baby, think again mama! Breastfeeding has been proven to have many benefits for both mum and bub, but did you know extended breastfeeding (that is breastfeeding your child past their first birthday or even after they turn two years old) isn’t necessarily widely supported by all parents.
However you feed your baby – whether that’s bottle or boob – is totally fine, fed is always best. If you’re enjoying your breastfeeding journey and you want to keep going even after your baby has turned one, then good on you!
There are many benefits of extended breastfeeding you may not know about and should consider before making your final decision on how long to breastfeed your child.
Here we round up 6 benefits of extended breastfeeding that you need to know about if you’re considering this option, or are just curious what it’s all about.
1. Less formula, more savings
One of the most common extended breastfeeding problems is worrying that you won’t have enough milk. But what if we told you that long-term breastfeeding can actually help you increase your milk supply? And extended tandem breastfeeding (ie. breastfeeding two of your children) can save you money on formula (win-win).
If you’re still breastfeeding your toddler while you welcome your second baby, and are able to keep breastfeeding both of them, well first of all go mama! It also means you won’t need to spend money on formula for either child.
However, breastfeeding two children at once is a huge undertaking so you can always outsource bottle-feeds to your partner as well to share the load.
2. Lower risk of breast cancer
Breast cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. They estimate that one in seven women are diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, which means that many Australian families are more likely to be affected by breast cancer than any other type of cancer.
Various research, including a study from the National Library of Medicine, has found that childbearing, along with long-term breastfeeding, is linked to a reduced risk of breast cancer. It is thought that the hormonal changes during a full-term pregnancy or breastfeeding may make the cells less likely to become cancerous. This could explain why women who have had children (especially those with more than one) or have breastfed for a prolonged period are at less risk of acquiring breast cancer.
Mums who breastfeed for two years or more have a lower risk of developing breast cancer than mothers who breastfeed for less than six months — noteworthy since premenopausal women make up a huge chunk of all diagnosed cases.
3. Protection from infection
Breastfeeding may lower your child’s risk of certain types of cancer and chronic diseases later in life, but it can also lower their risk now.
When a baby is born, their immune system is not yet fully developed, so it’s important for them to get antibodies from their mama’s milk. These antibodies support their natural defences and help protect against common childhood illnesses like ear infections, allergies, and asthma — even E. coli and rotavirus infections (a.k.a. diarrhoea).
Extended breastfeeding also lowers the risk of respiratory infections, particularly those caused by rhinoviruses or coronaviruses — common causes of childhood upper respiratory tract infections.
4. Unlimited brain food
Another welcome benefit of extended breastfeeding is that it promotes brain development. Studies have shown that breastfed bubs tend to have higher IQs than those who were not breastfed, and extended breastfeeding can help reduce the risk of developing ADHD and other learning disabilities.
That’s right mum! The milk you produce is literally brain food. Your breast milk contains important nutrients and antioxidants that can protect your little one’s developing brain. The omega-3 fatty acids are necessary for normal growth, while antioxidants support cell communication and minimise oxidative stress, which can contribute to neurodegenerative diseases later in life.
If that’s not enough — breastfeeding also helps with social development. Children who continued breastfeeding until the age of two exhibits fewer symptoms of conduct disorder, hyperactivity and behavioural disorders than their peers who stopped breastfeeding earlier.
5. Reduced obesity risk
There are a few reasons why children who are breastfed for longer periods are less likely to be obese as adults. First, breastfeeding helps babies regulate their calorie intake. Second, breast milk contains hormones that help babies feel full and reduce their appetite. Third, breastfeeding can help improve a child’s gut health, which may lead to better weight management. All of these factors combined can help reduce the risk of obesity later in life.
Studies from WHO and UNICEF also reveal that children who were never breastfed were more likely to be obese than those who had been breastfed for an extended time, and the protection for children who were exclusively breastfed for six months – with no formula or weaning foods involved – was even higher. Locally, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare encourages breastfeeding because of its health, nutritional and developmental benefits for infants.
6. A strong bond between mum and bub
We’ve talked about the physical and mental benefits, now let’s talk about another very important part of extended breastfeeding — strengthening your bond as mother and child as you continue to feed. However, you can still bond with your baby just as much if you feed them with a bottle.
The many benefits of extended breastfeeding often aren’t fully realised until later on in a child’s life, but hopefully, they make extended breastfeeding worth a try for you and your family. At the end of the day it comes down to making the best choice for your child and yourself when it comes to your breastfeeding journey and whatever it may look like.
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