If you are a nursing mother who has continued to exclusively breastfeed your infant for six months or more, you are now among an elite group – as only 20% of new mothers make it to this milestone by breastfeeding 6 months after childbirth. Knowing that breastfeeding has a host of benefits to both you and your baby, you may choose to extend your breastfeeding relationship for years to come. In this article we will discuss the benefits of extended breastfeeding after 6 months of age.
What Does the Science Say?
Based on research gathered by the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF infants should be exclusively breastfed up until 6 months of age. Many women hear this as a “magic number” and set the goal of ending nursing their child around the age of 6 months.
But, what is often overlooked is that WHO and UNICEF state that after 6 months babies should “receive complementary foods with continued breastfeeding”. This statement continues to say that there are benefits to extending the breastfeeding relationship to “2 years of age or beyond”. Six months is by no means a set cutoff point for breastfeeding,
So, What are the Benefits of Breastfeeding after 6 months?
Despite many people’s worry that breast milk is not enough nutrition for older infants. They talk about slender, hungry, breastfed babies; but at six months old with supplemental solid food and breastmilk your infant will thrive. The nutritional value of breastmilk is robust and changes to meet the child’s needs as he or she ages. You may even see a mom breastfeeding older child, age 4 or 5, due to the benefits of the nutrients in breastmilk.
Mothers that choose to breastfeed often do so for the many benefits, including benefits of extended breastfeeding for mom herself. By continuing to breastfeed your child beyond six months you are extending these breastfeeding advantages.
Breastfeeding provides your infant protection or the reduced likelihood of the following:
- Gastrointestinal infections
Additional benefits of extended breastfeeding for mom include:
- Prolonged lactational amenorrhea
- Increased postpartum weight loss
- Decrease chance of breast and cervical cancer
Breastfeeding from 6 to 9 Months
Once you have passed through your six month of breastfeeding your infant, you will likely begin giving him or her solids, or baby food. Waiting until this point decreases your child’s chance of developing some allergies and allows his or her intestinal tract to produce helpful antibodies. By continuing to give breast milk during this exciting time of first foods, you are actually helping your child to digest the solids.
An infant between 6 and 8 Months your infant will likely feed 6 to 8 times a day. Due to growth spurts you may notice an increase in nighttime feedings. This is not an unusual occurrence and will resolved itself with time.
Around 8 months you may notice that your child is more distracted at feedings, as the world become more exciting and the ability to crawl makes her want to escape your embrace! You may notice a slight decrease in feedings due to this distraction, so it is suggested that you nurse in a calm, quiet environment. Always maintain good breastfeeding positions to ensure comfort for yourself and the baby.
During this time you may also notice an increase in drooling, associated with teething. Your infant may become less interested in breastfeeding when his or her gums are sore and irritable. Continue to offer the breast to your child, as this is still too young of an age for a child to wean himself.
It is important to note that you should always offer your infant the breast before giving solids. The small amount of baby food that your child will consume during mealtimes has significantly fewer calories and nutrients than breastmilk. So, let your infant fill up on breastmilk and top her off with a little baby food. Because your infant has been exposed to various flavors through your breastmilk (which often changes taste with the consumption of certain foods), he or she will be more willing to try different foods than his formula fed peers. Having a picky-eater is never fun, so this is a great benefit!
Breastfeeding from 9 to 12 Months
When you reach the 9 month mark in your breastfeeding relationship your child will have provided your child an increased IQ and a decreased chance of developing childhood leukemia You may also notice that your baby is more alert and active than his peers.
During this stage babies are little busy bodies. They are learning to crawl, cruise and even walk. These physical developments may begin to interfere with your nursing relationship. Infants at this age tend to feed 4 to 5 times a day. But, don’t give up if your baby reduces his sessions significantly – he is busy after all. Some babies will nurse very few times a day and then the next week nurse as often as a newborn.
Weaning interest may also be caused by hormonal changes in your body. If you begin to menstruate or get pregnant the taste of your breastmilk will change. Your baby may temporarily refuse to nurse, until he or she becomes accustomed to the new taste.
As your baby begins eating table food and an overall increased amount of solid foods you may find that breastfeeding sessions are shorter or even skipped. Follow your child’s cues. A dropped session does not mean that your infant has weaned herself. Continue to gently offer the breast and your milk will adapt to meet his or her needs.
12 months and beyond
As your infant enters toddler-hood, he or she may still nurse 2 to 3 times a day. Often these occur in the morning and in the evening around bedtime. It’s important to know that although a 12 month old’s gastrointestinal system can tolerate cow’s milk it does not have to replace breast milk.
The benefits of extended breastfeeding after 6 months and beyond will last for the duration of your child’s life. For example, when he or she enters preschool they will have better social adjustment and you are less likely to have tearful goodbyes. It has also been found that the longer a child is breastfed, the higher his or her cognitive achievement
The health benefits, any of which we have already addressed above, will provide your child a longer, healthier life. He or she will experience fewer and shorter illnesses. This comes in handy when your child enters daycare or school where viruses abound. In addition, your infant will have a decreased chance of obesity and risk factors for heart disease – something he or she will greatly appreciate as they age.