Sixteen years ago, I was a first-time mom. And like any first-time mom, I wanted to do EVERYTHING right. And so I read all of the books and consumed any material I could get my hands on. Sleeping, diapering, breastfeeding, and more. If there was a right way to do these things, I was going to find it!
Since my husband and I were away at Bible School, I was pretty much on my own with parenting. It wasn’t that either of our moms or grandmas didn’t care, it was just before the days of unlimited long distance (hooray for great cell phone plans!) and you didn’t just pick of the phone for any old reason! Especially on a college budget!
And forget about the internet! That was definitely not in a college student’s budget! (How did we EVEN survive??!)
Sometimes the Books Aren’t Right
So while my husband was away at class and work all day, I read (real books from the library! 🙂 ) and those well-intending books told me one thing….Be SURE to wean your baby no later than one year! After all, you don’t want to spoil your baby! That would be terrible!
Yes, there were cultures in the far away third-world countries whose mamas nursed their babies long into toddler-hood, but that was because they couldn’t afford more than a small bowl of rice to feed their starving children. And so nursing would have to do (as if it was less than acceptable.)
Of course, as college students we were poor, but we at least had a nice little supply of mac-and-cheese on our shelf from the local discount grocery store!
With that in mind, I dutifully and diligently weaned my sweet 12-month-old baby. I was proud to be able to say that I had accomplished such a milestone by his first birthday.
When we took him to his pediatrician for his one-year checkup, I was thrilled to be able to say with confidence that “Yes! He was completely weaned!” I stood perched as if waiting for my next assignment…Teach him the ABC’s? Yes! I can do that!
It seemed that (at least in my circles) you were less of a mother if you “allowed” (gasp) your baby to nurse longer than a year (how disgusting.) I do realize that this may not be typical of everyone, but for me, it was the norm in the circles we traveled.
After all, a toddler should not be so disrespectful to be pulling at his mommy’s shirt in search of comfort and nourishment.
A Year Old is Still So Little
For some reason, ONE year old seemed a lot older for my first baby. Maybe because I was reading all of the crazy textbooks and letting others determine which milestones my baby should be making! Yet it never really seemed quite right to me.
But I did it anyway. I didn’t want to keep feeling ashamed as he neared his first birthday and people would ask how much longer before I was going to wean.
Fast forward now sixteen years and six more babies later and I have a TOTALLY different perspective.
I have nursed each of my babies (except my first and the one who self-weaned at 10 months – sniff!) until they were two or beyond. I usually stopped nursing because my baby was ready and another baby was coming and I was just too sick to continue nursing into pregnancy. (I did accomplish nursing into half of my pregnancy with my last baby!)
What I Wish I Knew Then
Now, I have learned so much more and my thoughts and opinions have changed drastically. And now people expect me to be crunchy, so hey?? Why not nurse til they’re seven?? Kidding! Although kudos to the ones who do! 🙂
The mainstream ideas have also changed. As new research becomes available, our culture has begun to embrace nursing with more of an open mind.
With that said, I would like to highlight some of the benefits of breastfeeding beyond one year of age. And show you that breastfeeding (for any length of time) is well worth it to both you, and your baby.
If you find yourself in the position that I did, and you’re doubting, then hopefully you will see that it is mutually beneficial for both you, and your baby to continue breastfeeding beyond the first year.
Breast Really Is Best
Breast milk is saturated with uncanny amounts of nutrients. And the cool thing? It changes as your body and your baby change!
At birth, your breast milk contains colostrum, which is perfect for starting a newborn off right. Colostrum alone (also known as liquid gold) is so nutrient dense that some people call it the baby’s ‘first immunization’ (VERY interesting! 🙂 )
Mature milk (which usually comes in at 6-8 weeks postpartum is packed with over 200 KNOWN elements (I’m sure more will be discovered!)
Did you know that breastmilk actually changes in composition according to the time of day and the age of your baby? (Also what you eat will affect the nutrients in the breastmilk) Breastmilk is so complex. It is conformed so nicely for your baby. And as your baby grows, he will actually get more nourishment!
A quick Google search on the benefits of breast milk will turn up more reading than you could do in a lifetime!
Breastfeeding Develops Natural Immunities
A baby’s immune system isn’t fully developed until he is at least two years old, and more likely three. If you want to give your baby the absolute best start in life, breastfeeding beyond the first year is crucial.
Specially designed antibodies are created in breast milk to help mature your baby’s immune system. They will help him grow into a healthy child and then eventually an adult.
There are so many benefits, ranging from helping protect your child from asthma to even preventing certain cancers!
Breastfeeding Provides Comfort
The world is an ever changing and scary place for a new baby (yes even a one-year old is new!)
What better way to find comfort and love, than in the arms of his mommy? Breastfeeding will make your baby feel safe and secure (and loved).
There is just something about snuggling your precious baby and nursing him when he is scared, sick, unsure, tired, fussy, etc.
If you’ve ever had a sleepless night, you know what I’m talking about. Sometimes you just need to nurse your baby and you’ll both feel better!
Breastfeeding also brings comfort to you. There have been many times when I have just needed to nurse my baby and then the world feels all right!
Breastfeeding Has Maternal Benefits
If you think that your baby is the only one benefiting from the richness of breast milk, think again! A breastfeeding mom will also reap many rewards from breastfeeding her baby, including lowering the risk of female cancers, and especially breast cancer.
That’s a HUGE benefit! And the longer you breastfeeding the greater the protection.
Breastfeeding Can Supplement a Picky Toddler’s Diet
Most babies (toddlers) will go through at least one (probably way more) stage of picky eating.
Sometimes I joke that I should just prepare my child’s plate and then walk over and scrape it into the garbage. It feels like toddlers don’t eat at all at times. And during that time, I am so thankful to fall back on the benefits of breast milk. I know that although my toddler isn’t getting many nutrients from solid food, he is still reaping the benefits of breastmilk. There is great comfort in that.
It’s much nicer to look at eating solid foods as more of a learning process. And breastmilk is there to fall back on when he doesn’t eat well on any given day. Which is often when you’re teaching a toddler to eat!
It will help you not to worry as much if you are still breastfeeding.That’s a good thing! You have enough to worry about, as it is!
Are You Convinced?
There are many more benefits to breastfeeding beyond the first year can than this short article can include.
We could talk all day about the ways you and your baby will benefit by breastfeeding beyond the first year. I hope that these ideas will at least spark your interest. And help encourage you to keep nursing long past infancy and to do it with confidence!
Don’t let others opinions of what is best influence the decisions and choices you make. You know what’s best for you and your baby.
If you need additional support, the Modern Alternative Mamas! Facebook group is a GREAT place to chat and ask questions! There are many women who are in (or have been in) your shoes.