Breastfeeding Past Infancy: Do You Know The Benefits?
Written by Johanna at Mama Naturelle (www.mamanaturelle.com)
Everyone is familiar with the phrase “breast is best” and many new moms do attempt to breastfeed at birth. For those that make it past the challenging first days when colostrum turns to milk, breastfeeding then becomes a goal, an obsession even: I need to make it to 6 months. In my case, I was willing to contact a milk bank if I needed to. That’s how serious I was.
But what happens after 6 months? Many pediatricians suggest breastfeeding until the 1 year mark, but many mothers decide to stop well before then. As a matter of fact, the number of breastfeeding mothers drops by more than half.
It is interesting to note that not only is the U.S. pretty low on this chart, well behind Sweden, Norway, Poland, and Canada, but that for most of these countries, the percentage of women who continue breastfeeding past 6 months is extremely low. The reasons vary: going back to work, needing to get their lives back on track, the myth that starting solids means that breastmilk is no longer needed, the stigma of nursing an infant/toddler in public and what people will think…
Below is a breakdown of the benefits, from birth to 12 months:
Breastfeeding until the 1 month mark
- You provide your baby with colostrum, referred to as baby’s ‘first vaccine’. According to Breastfeeding Basics, “it protects the newborn from infection by coating the baby’s intestinal tract and acting as a barrier to prevent the invasion of harmful bacteria”. It also acts as a laxative (cleans out meconium, the dark stool that baby’s intestines form before birth) and reduces the incidence of jaundice
- When your milk comes in within the first week, it provides antibodies for your baby.
- The protein in breast milk is much easier to digest than the protein in formula, making your baby less likely to suffer from digestive problems.
- According to Breastfeeding Basics, “babies who are breastfed have lower rates of many illnesses, including digestive and respiratory problems, pneumonia and meningitis, and SIDS.”
Breastfeeding until the 6 month mark
- Babies who were exclusively breastfed for at least four months had half as many ear infections as formula fed babies.
- Your baby will be much less likely to have allergies.
- Breastfeeding for at least six months has been shown to protect against many illnesses, such as childhood cancers.
Breastfeeding until the 9 month mark
- Even though an older baby has begun solids, breast milk is still the most important part of his diet. It protects him/her from germs as he/she begins to crawl and put everything in his/her mouth.
- According to Breastfeeding Basics, breastfeeding may have beneficial effects on a baby’s intellectual development: “breastfed babies score an average of 8 points higher on IQ tests than formula-fed babies, and this seems to hold true even when things like parent’s educational and socioeconomic backgrounds are factored in.”
Breastfeeding until the 12 month mark
- Long-term nursing protects against “ulcerative colitis, diabetes, asthma, Crohn’s disease, obesity, and high cholesterol in adulthood.” They are also less likely to need speech therapy or have dental problems later in life.
- The concentration of antibodies in human milk becomes more concentrated as the volume they consume goes down. Research shows that children who are breastfed long term tend to be more secure and independent. The reasoning behind this is that they have had their needs met during the vulnerable period of infancy.
Breastfeeding past the 12 month mark
- Baby continues to get immunological advantages of human milk during a time when he is increasingly exposed to infection and germs.
- After 1 year, human milk has more fat and energy contents, compared with human milk before 1 year (growing babies NEED the extra fat & especially human cholesterol!)
- In the second year (12-23 months), 448 mL of breastmilk provides (Dewey 2001): 29% of energy requirements, 43% of protein requirements,36% of calcium requirements,75% of vitamin A requirements,76% of folate requirements, 94% of vitamin B12 requirements, 60% of vitamin C requirements . Note that this is exactly what baby humans need; cow’s milk is designed to grow baby cows which have smaller brains per body mass (bestforbabes.org)
- Nursing toddlers (between the ages of 16 and 30 months) have been found to have fewer illnesses and illnesses of shorter duration than their non-nursing peers (Gulick 1986).
- Some of the immune factors in breast milk increase in concentration during the second year and also during the weaning process. (Goldman 1983, Goldman & Goldblum 1983, Institute of Medicine 1991).
- Breastfeeding toddlers (babies > 1 year), helps them learn to self-soothe and self-regulate, manage frustrations (some parents report avoiding the “terrible twos” altogether) and lessens pain from bumps and bruises (breastmilk contains analgesics, i.e. natural pain-killers) (bestforbabes.org).
- Breastfeeding toddlers (babies > 1 year) helps them make a gradual transition to childhood. Children who achieve independence at their own pace are more secure in that independence then children forced into independence prematurely (bestforbabes.org)
Interesting fact: Nursing is a great way to comfort a crying, hurt, sick, or frightened toddler. As a matter of fact, a sick child will accept breastmilk when he/she refuses other foods. Think about it: is there a better way to ease a temper tantrum or put a cranky child to sleep than by nursing him?
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