Breastfeeding Past Infancy: 9 Myths

By Kelly Bonyata, BS, IBCLC

Image courtesy of Dave / flickr.com

Image courtesy of Dave / flickr.com

MYTH #1– Breastfeeding a child older than a year is no different than breastfeeding a young infant.

FACT: Nursing frequency and duration vary widely from child to child after the first year. As time passes, and as the nutritional aspects of breastfeeding become less significant, the comfort aspect of breastfeeding becomes much more significant. Children also incorporate breastfeeding into their play, which can add a new dimension to the breastfeeding relationship.

MYTH #2– A breastfeeding child older than a year is not getting any food or drinks other than breastmilk. 

FACT: Depending upon their age, these children are eating and drinking the same things that other family members eat and drink, with the milk they get from mom as an added nutritional and immunological cushion. Some younger toddlers (12-18 months) may still be getting mostly breastmilk, but this will gradually change as they get older and eat more family foods. Some people also mistakenly assume that breastfed children won’t know how to drink from a cup; in fact, breastfed children are introduced to cups (and spoons, forks and other tableware) just like any other child.

MYTH #3– Mother’s milk becomes less nutritious after the first year.

FACT: Mother’s milk continues to provide substantial amounts of nutrients well beyond the first year. At some point after 6 months your child will need additional nutrients from other sources, but mother’s milk remains a valuable contribution to your child’s diet, including important nutrients designed especially for brain growth.

MYTH #4– The immunities in mother’s milk are insignificant after the first few months.

FACT: The immunities in mother’s milk continue as long as nursing continues, and some of the immunities increase in concentration as your child moves toward weaning. Children who are breastfed have fewer illnesses and illnesses of shorter duration than their non-nursing peers. The American Academy of Family Physicians notes that children weaned before two years of age are at increased risk of illness.

MYTH #5– Breastfeeding past a year (or any other arbitrary age) makes a child overly dependent and can cause psychological harm.

FACT: On the contrary, meeting a child’s need for breastfeeding fosters independence on the child’s own developmental timetable. Both research and the experiences of mothers worldwide indicate that children who nurse past a year have excellent social adjustment. Per the American Academy of Pediatrics, “There is no upper limit to the duration of breastfeeding and no evidence of psychologic or developmental harm from breastfeeding into the third year of life or longer.” The American Academy of Family Physicians notes that the natural age of weaning in humans has been estimated to be between 2 and 7 years, and adds “There is no evidence that extended breastfeeding is harmful to mother or child.”

MYTH #6– Mothers who breastfeed past infancy have not learned other ways of comforting their child.

FACT: For the typical mother, breastfeeding is only one of many tools in her parenting toolkit.

MYTH #7– Mothers only continue breastfeeding past infancy for their own benefit.

FACT: A child will not breastfeed if he does not have a need to do so. A mother typically continues breastfeeding because her child is not ready to wean, and because of the continuing health and emotional benefits to her child.

MYTH #8– Breastfeeding mothers need to wean for fertility to return. Breastfeeding during pregnancy is not safe.

FACT: Most mothers can get pregnant while continuing breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is considered compatible with a healthy pregnancy.

MYTH #9– The longer you breastfeed, the harder it will be to wean.

FACT: Age has much less to do with ease of weaning than does your child’s developmental readiness for weaning. Each child has his own developmental timeline for child-led weaning. If mom initiates weaning, then the closer the child is to weaning on his own, the easier it will be (for both mom and child) to accelerate this natural progression. If the child takes the lead in weaning, then this is not an issue at all.

For more information, see Breastfeeding After the First Year

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