Why I Love Breastfeeding Beyond One Year

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Primary Blog/Why I Love Breastfeeding Beyond One Year

Here's a common truth that I wish more women shared with each other - most of us don't fall in love, or even like breastfeeding in the first 6 weeks. This doesn't go for everyone. We all have that friend (or maybe you were the lucky one) who had a smooth sailing breastfeeding journey where everything was beautiful and pain-free from day one. But for most of us, this is not our story. It certainly wasn't mine. In fact, with my daughter, I didn't really fall in love with breastfeeding until probably closer to the 6-8 month mark. Now, this may differ for many as well, and I ran into a lot of bumps in the road.

However, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I have grown to love extended, or what I like to call full-term breastfeeding. This is a term referring to breastfeeding beyond 1 year of age. I call this the "sweet spot" of breastfeeding, and I'll tell you why. Funny side note: as I was writing this my sweet newly 3-year old pressed her face to the office door, and then politely came in and quietly asked for mama's milk. It doesn't always go that smoothly, but there are many benefits to breastfeeding a toddler.

First of all, breastmilk is still very nutritious, for your toddler. It doesn't lose its nutritive value. Breastmilk is estimated to provide a toddler with 25-30% of their calorie needs, 40-45% of their protein needs, over 90% of their B12 needs, 60% of their vitamin C needs, and 35-40% of their calcium needs, plus more. This can be especially reassuring as toddlerhood is also a common time when some picky eating behaviors start to develop. It is nice to know that if my toddler doesn't eat a wide variety of foods on a certain day, she is getting those extra nutrients in a way that is highly bioavailable to her.

Breastmilk continues to offer strong immune support for your toddler. Breastmilk is an antibody factory. Your child may be exposed to some germs at daycare, and when they come to nurse, they introduce those microbes into your milk (think of it as breastfeeding back-wash). Your milk starts immediately producing antibodies to those microbes and then gives them back to your child through breastfeeding. How awesome is that! This means way fewer sick days for your kiddo.

Breastfeeding continues to support our own health, decreasing risk of some hormonally driven cancers, such as breast, ovarian, and endometrial cancers. Breastfeeding is associated with a higher likelihood that you will return to your pre-pregnancy weight. Now I don't want to encourage anyone to expect their pre-pregnancy body back. I believe we are different women after we have babies, and we shouldn't expect our bodies to be the same. However, as a dietitian, I get a lot of questions about breastfeeding and weight loss. And while, for some weight loss does happen, for many breastfeeding doesn't lead to weight loss. But many are not breastfeeding beyond 1 year and weight loss becomes more likely the longer you breastfeed.

Breastfeeding boosts brain development in your little one. It is also very soothing, and works as a great tool for taming those toddler tantrums. Breastfeeding acts as an emotional regulator for your child. It actually calms their central nervous system and re-centers them. Breastfeeding helps your toddler cope with fear and stress. It provides them with a sense of safety and security. And it actually promotes more independence.

Breastfeeding beyond 1 year has some other bonuses too, which is again, why I refer to this stage as the "sweet spot." After 1 year, you likely are no longer dealing with engorgement. While it is normal to still have night wakings from your toddler, your boobs are no longer waking you up full and leaking. Also, another thing I wish someone had told me, you likely no longer have to pump after 1 year. Your toddler will trigger milk production when they nurse, so you don't have to worry about supply dipping if you don't pump. Just pump for comfort as needed and call it good. No more pumping every 3-4 hours at work or worrying that if you go 6-8 hours without nursing your supply will suddenly vanish - trust me, it won't! At this point, your toddler is an expert nursling, and breastfeeding no longer hurts. Risks for things such as clogged ducts and mastitis greatly reduce. And it continues to be a wonderful bonding experience with your little one.

Now don't get me wrong, it's not all roses. There are times I have had to set boundaries around nursing, as a toddler can be a bit more verbally demanding than an infant. But that is for another post. Overall, I know now that my daughter is in the process of weaning. And that's a hard reality. But wow, how wonderful to have had this experience with her. To overcome some of the hardest physical challenges I've ever faced to be here, still feeding her this perfect food from my body. I know I'll be partly sad when it ends, but so incredibly grateful for our journey.

Photo Credit: Lauren Wright Photography


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Hi, I Am Donielle

CEO Of Breast to Table

I am a registered dietitian and international board certified lactation consultant. I am also a mom of two. I had a very difficult breastfeeding journey with my oldest and after much support and education, I realized my desire to help others in their journeys. My expertise is in helping women optimize their nutrition during pregnancy, postpartum and throughout their breastfeeding journey. I also help families introduce solids to their little ones through a baby-led approach. I love working with families from preparing the body for breastfeeding, to eating solid foods and weaning - providing support from breast to table.