Until the widespread introduction of formula, many children breastfed for 2–3 years. Unfortunately, many mothers these days find themselves having to justify breastfeeding their non-infant child. Another big contributor to this is many people erroneously believe there is no or little benefit in breastfeeding toddlers.
While the importance of breastfeeding is widely recognised, the duration of breastfeeding is still a controversial topic.
Research suggests the importance of breastfeeding doesn’t cease after infancy, but continues to be important for maternal and child health, for as long as it continues. Leading health organisations, such as the World Health Organization, recognise this, and recommend breastfeeding for 2 years and beyond. In Australia, however, only 28% of babies are still being breastfed at one year and only 5% at two years.
Breastfeeding a toddler – 7 big benefits
Here are 7 benefits of breastfeeding a toddler:
#1: Breastmilk is still a valuable source of nutrition
Breastmilk remains a valuable source of nutrition in a toddler’s diet.
Research has shown that between 12 and 23 months, the average intake of breastmilk is 448 ml per day, which can provide a toddler with:
- 29% of her energy requirements
- 43% of protein needs
- 94% of vitamin B12 needs
- 76% of folate needs
- 60% of vitamin C needs
- 70% of iodine needs
Breastmilk also provides a valuable source of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids – docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachodonic acid (AA) – which are important for normal brain and eye development. Since 62% of 1-2 year old Australian children have low intakes of DHA, breastmilk can help toddlers meet this requirement.
#2: Breastfeeding assists with emotional regulation
Critics often consider breastfeeding only from a nutritional standpoint. However, a child’s emotional needs are also important to consider.
Mothers often cite the emotional benefits of breastfeeding among the important reasons for continuing breastfeeding the older child. Many mothers find breastfeeding to be a great way to ‘reconnect’ with their children after being separated from them all day, and also a good way to settle children after a long day at childcare for example.
Children describe how breastfeeding makes them feel happy, good, warm, loved or cuddly. Indeed, breastfeeding can be a very useful parenting tool to calm and comfort children. For example, some older children breastfeed when they are hurt, upset or tired.
Research has demonstrated a clear dose-response relationship between breastfeeding and various health outcomes, meaning that the longer the breastfeeding duration, the better the outcomes. Whenever a clear dose-response relationship is found, researchers can be more confident in claiming the effect of breastfeeding is causal rather than just an association. Below are further benefits of breastfeeding a toddler, for which research shows a dose-response relationship with breastfeeding duration.
#3: Provides immunological support for your toddler
Breastfeeding provides a child with valuable immunological support.
Various factors in breastmilk (e.g. secretory IgA, lactoferrin and lysozyme) continue to provide immune protection for a child, even into the second year of lactation.
Research has found that breastfeeding for longer means children have fewer episodes of sickness.
#4: Reduced risk of maternal breast cancer
Research has demonstrated a clear dose-response relationship between breastfeeding and breast cancer risk, meaning that the longer a mother breastfeeds, the lower her risk of breast cancer.
One study compared women who breastfed for a lifetime total of 11 months, with women who breastfed for 12–23, 24–35 and 36–47 months. The reduced breast cancer risk was 66.3%, 87.4% and 94%, respectively.
A worldwide study of breast cancer risk in 30 countries found the relative risk of breast cancer was reduced by 4.3% for every 12 months of breastfeeding, when compared with the risk in women who had never breastfed, or had breastfed for a short time.
#5: Reduced risk of maternal cardiovascular disease
There has been research to show that women with a lifetime history of breastfeeding greater than 12 months are less likely to have high blood pressure, diabetes, hyperlipidaemia or cardiovascular disease, compared with women who have never breastfed.
#6: Reduced obesity risk
Research continues to show a dose-response relationship between obesity and breastfeeding; the longer the duration of breastfeeding, the greater the protection against obesity.
For example, one study found a clear, inverse, dose-response relationship between breastfeeding duration and obesity risk, with a longer breastfeeding duration being a significant protective factor.
Another study found children who ceased breastfeeding before 18 months gained more weight from 12 to 24 months, when compared with children who breastfed for longer than 18 months.
#7: Enhanced cognitive development
Research continues to demonstrate a dose-response relationship between higher IQ scores and breastfeeding.
For example, one study tested children who were breastfed up to 2 years of age for IQ and school grades. The results showed a dose-response relationship between higher scores and duration of breastfeeding.
It’s likely that the close physical and emotional contact between a mother and her child, as well as the breastmilk itself, positively influence a child’s cognitive development.
So, as you can see, there are many benefits to breastfeeding a toddler – both for you and your child. When you decide to start weaning your toddler is up to you and your child.
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