Dr. Jennifer Lincoln is a board-certified generalist obstetrician/gynecologist and attending physician in Portland, Oregon.
You’ve probably heard the recommendation from experts that it’s a good idea to nurse your baby through his or her first birthday. Despite this, most moms in the United States wean before then. Internationally, however, many moms often practice full-term breastfeeding, or “extended breastfeeding.” This is when a mother continues to nurse her baby to the second birthday and beyond. Here’s how to practice extended breastfeeding.
Bundoo: Why do you think the United States medical establishment settled on weaning by 12 months of age? Do you think we should extend the recommended age?
Dr. Jen Lincoln: I don’t think they’ve settled on 12 months as a weaning age, and in fact the recommendations actually state that the goal should be 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding, and continuing to a year or longer as is mutually desired by the mother and her baby. So there is no actual recommendation to wean once your baby turns a year old — longer is absolutely OK! These recommendations highlight the one-year mark because we know up to this point, breast milk should be the main source of calories and nutrition for a baby, but after this it is still an amazing nutrient for your baby and a great way to bond.
What are some of the reasons you hear moms give for weaning before or at 12 months of age? What do you say to a mom who plans to wean because she thinks it’s the “right thing” to do?
Most moms wean sooner than they planned because something didn’t go right with breastfeeding, and the number one reason in this country that moms stop nursing before they wanted to is because they think they don’t make enough milk. Truly, many do, but they are led to believe they need to supplement because of bad medical advice or pressures from friends, family, or society. Returning to work far too early, with not enough support for pumping, is another issue. And sadly, many moms who make it to the 12-month mark are made to feel like they should wean because their baby is “old enough.”
To a mom who feels like she must wean, I would let her know there is no harm in full-term breastfeeding, and so, so many benefits! She should only initiate weaning if she or her child wants to, not because anyone is telling her to!
It’s really amazing how breast milk adapts to the baby’s needs as he or she grows. How is breast milk for a toddler or 2-year-old different than breast milk for a newborn or infant?
It really is so cool. Your milk is always changing to meet your baby’s needs. The milk of a nursing toddler is actually more concentrated and has much higher levels of antibodies — perfect for when your 2 year old wants to swap snot at the local playground!
What’s your advice for moms who worry about potential social stigma when breastfeeding a toddler or older child? Are there strategies and approaches they can use to make it easier?
It’s true in this country that nursing an older baby or toddler isn’t as much the norm as elsewhere in the world. I would encourage these moms to realize that this is another area where you know your child best, and you can’t worry about what others think. Some moms will adapt how they nurse their older toddlers; that is, only at home or in private to avoid unwanted comments, but by no means do you have to do this. Think how much you are changing the standard and helping future moms every time you feed your baby in public!