When I had my first child back in 2013, I already knew I wanted to breastfeed. I was also aware that for many Moms, the breastfeeding journey isn’t a straight forward one. For that reason, I didn’t put too much pressure on myself, and was quick to remind myself that breastfeeding would be a new experience for both me and my baby, and that I could expect some breastfeeding challenges along the way. What no one tells you about breastfeeding is that once established, the time absolutely flies, so whilst I originally intended to breastfeed for 6 months; before I knew it, a year had passed and my daughter showed no sign of weaning from the breast. With both my daughters I breastfed up until the age of 2 (my youngest is still going at 2.5), otherwise known as extended breastfeeding.
From personal experience, here are some of pros and cons of extended breastfeeding.
First things first, it has been proven scientifically that extended breastfeeding is good for both Mum and baby. Studies by WHO reveal that breastfeeding substantially reduces the risk of death from infectious diseases in the first 2 years of your child’s life. Breastfeeding can also have physical benefits for your child, such as improved vision, lower number of ear infections and an improved immune system, as you pass on some of your own immunity via your breast milk.
It’s not just the baby who benefits from extended breastfeeding – exclusively breastfeeding for longer can also help reduce the risk of breast cancer in the mother.
Extended exclusively breastfeeding can also delay the return of your periods, which can give Moms a well earned break from Aunt Flo – although it’s crucial to note here that breastfeeding is NOT and should not be used as a method of birth control!
For me personally, one of the biggest positives about extended breastfeeding is creating that emotional security for your child. Breastfeeding has become a huge comfort to my daughter. Those moments of calm before bed at the end of a busy day, where it’s just me and her in the dark, having a cuddle as she slowly drifts off to sleep are priceless. Feeding instantly calms her, helps her relax, and the oxytocin released is hugely beneficial for me too. It is very rare at any time of the day for me to sit still and do nothing, so these before bed feeds have become a great way for me to practice mindfulness and just focus on being in the moment with my child.
That said, extended breastfeeding doesn’t come without its challenges.
Negatives of Extended Breastfeeding
As lovely as those bedtime feeds are, it means that the bedtime routine always falls to me. Whilst she no longer NEEDS the milk in the same way as she did when she was a baby, it’s all she’s ever known, and as such, she struggles to settle without it, wanting me, and only me at bedtime. This can at times, feel a little bit relentless, as it would be nice on occasion to have a break.
Breastfeeding also becomes a bit more challenging the bigger your child becomes. Gone are the days of your baby being cradled comfortably in your arms – they fiddle, they wriggle, they get distracted by absolutely everything, and at times having them climb onto your lap and get themselves ‘ready for a feed can give you what I can only describe as ‘touch rage’ – where you just want to be left alone without being poked and prodded.
Older babies also have TEETH – no explanation needed. On the rare occasion where they clamp down or try to turn around to look at something mid feed with a sudden jerk of the head, it can be more than a little unpleasant!
For me, the biggest challenge of extended breastfeeding has sadly been the judgement. In some cultures extended breastfeeding can be frowned upon, but regardless of this, many people feel the need to pass comment or try to pressure you to stop before you are ready. These comments can be hurtful, so much so that I have felt uncomfortable feeding in public for fear of a stranger making me feel like my behaviors are inappropriate.
At the end of the day, how long you decide to breastfeed your child for comes down to personal choice. No matter the length of your breastfeeding journey, remember to do what feels right for you and your baby and be prepared to take the rough with the smooth!