"Your child is STILL breastfeeding?!" - What you need to know about extended breastfeeding
Singapore lactation nurse Jophia Bok talks about extended breastfeeding, its benefits, and more...
I breastfed both my boys till they were over two years old.
When my second son turned one, I was advised by many to stop breastfeeding him as it had “no nutritional benefits” to him neither did it have any benefits for me (this is not true as you will find out in this article).
I chose to ignore this advice because, nutritional benefits or not, I truly enjoyed the time I spent with my little one while he breastfed.
I loved having him cuddle up to me in the quietness of the night as we both drifted off the sleep. I loved kissing the soft skin of his cheek and marveling at the length of his eyelashes, his perfect little nose, his gorgeous curly hair, as he nestled close to me, nursing.
We all know that breastmilk is best for babies and as recommended by the WHO, exclusively breastfeeding a baby for six months has a multitude of benefits for both baby and mum.
Given this, many mums attempt to breastfeed their babies for at least six months and some may even breastfeed for up to one year.
But what about those of us who choose to extend breastfeeding for beyond a year?
If you are one of these mums, how do you cope with questions from others that may come with your decision to nurse your child for beyond a year? You might have even wondered about the benefits of nursing your child for over a year.
To help answer some commonly asked questions about breastfeeding for over a year, we spoke to Singapore lactation nurse Jophia Bok, who provides her expert opinion on the matter.
Extended breastfeeding and its benefits
According to Jophia, extended breastfeeding is usually used when a mother is still breastfeeding her child even when her child has started eating regular table food as part of his normal diet.
The Mayo Clinic defines extended breastfeeding as when a mother continues to breastfeed her child beyond a year of age.
There are plenty of benefits in extended breastfeeding for kids, including those with special needs, according to Jophia and other lactation experts.
- In toddlers and young children, extended breastfeeding helps them to cope better with new experiences and changes in routine.
- Breastfeeding moments are the few moments to help children return to “their familiar and safe place”. This will help them to face new challenges with better control of their own anxieties.
- When young children fall ill, breastfeeding helps to give immunity and replenish (but not totally replace) nutrition when their appetite is down. Breastmilk is gentler for the human body to digest and faster absorbed by the body.
- According to the Mayo Clinic, as your baby gets older, the composition of your breast milk will continue to change to meet his or her nutritional needs. There’s no known age at which breast milk is considered to become nutritionally insignificant for a child.
- Research has shown that second-year milk is very similar to the first-year milk nutritionally. Even after two years or more it continues to be a valuable source of protein, fat, calcium, and vitamins .
- According to La Leche Leage International, the immunities in breast milk have been shown to increase in concentration as the baby gets older and nurses less, so older babies still receive lots of immune factors.
Jophia further explains that in young children with special needs, especially those who have oral issues, breastfeeding helps in oral development and forces the oral muscles to continue to work harder. She presents her own three-year-old son as an example.
He was born with oral hypersensitivity that resulted in poor sucking, hypersensitive gag and led to delay acceptance of physical food and she admits that breastfeeding her little boy was extremely challenging.
Yet she persevered with breastfeeding for two whole years because she knew how much it would benefit his oral development.
Extended breastfeeding is also beneficial to the mother as explained by experts at the Mayo Clinic:
- It reduces the risk of certain illnesses such as breast cancer, ovarian cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.
- Research suggests that the longer breast-feeding continues and the more breast milk a baby drinks, the better a mother’s health might be.
Do you know what “tandem nursing” is?
Breastfeeding two little ones at the same time
What do you do when your breastfeeding toddler has a new sibling? Should you stop nursing your older child? Jophia explains that it is possible to breastfeed both an older toddler and a younger baby at the same time. Here’s her own story:
When I gave birth to my boy, my little girl was 30 months old. My little girl stopped breastfeeding at two years old as I was pregnant and felt contractions every time she breastfed.
She requested to drink together with her new baby brother and told me that she had forgotten how to suck. So, I taught her. It was a very special moment for my girl.
I positioned my baby and latched him on first. Then I taught my girl how to latch and from there, she would find a position that she was comfortable with and latch on. She would position herself facing her brother and happily drink while stroking her brother’s face and head — a heart-melting sight indeed!
Your body will always produce milk according to the growth of your latest baby. Currently, my boy is three and my girl is six. They still still enjoy their special moment together before their bedtime at night.
However, I continue to encourage my kids to rely on physical food for growth and further development. They have to learn that they cannot rely on breastmilk as their food source.
It’s your decision
Worldwide, babies are weaned on average between ages two and four. In some cultures, breast-feeding continues until children are six or seven years old.
In other parts of the world, however, extended breast-feeding is less common and can sometimes provoke negative reactions from family, friends and even complete strangers.
How long you breast-feed is up to you and your baby. If loved ones — and even strangers — share their opinions about when to wean, remind them that the decision is yours.
Try not to worry about what other people think. Instead, trust your instincts. Extended breast-feeding is a wonderful way to continue nurturing your baby, so do enjoy this special time together and disregard any criticism that may come your way.
Here is what Jophia has to say on the matter:
I would usually not be bothered with side comments about my decision to extend breastfeeding. When it comes to my own kids, I know and will be able to sense when it will be a good time to slowly wean my children off.
Each child is unique and so is his/her development. Hence, I will try to tune myself to their body development and try to support their developmental stages appropriately.
I do realize as I attend to more and more mothers that they tend to get upset and troubled when they are faced with criticism especially from family members.
My observation: it may be due to other people’s lack of knowledge of the benefits of breastmilk and other relevant knowledge about breastfeeding.
Some final points on extended breastfeeding…
When you do decide to wean your child…
So the day has finally come when you decide to wean your little one off the breast. How do you do it?
Jophia explains that gradual and gentle weaning is the answer. Educate your child that as a person is growing up, he must turn to other food sources for growth and further development.
Encourage your child to eat by creating positive experience during mealtimes. If you have a fussy eater, sometimes, eating with his friends will help him enjoy his meal.
If you have decided you want to wean your older child off the breast, here are some steps to follow as described by Jophia:
- Limit breastfeeding to once a day.
- Lessen the breastfeeding time, e.g., from 25 minutes to ten minutes.
- Delaying the breastfeeding time. For example, Jophia’s kids only breastfeed for about five to ten minutes before they sleep at night. Some nights when she knows that they are tired or in good spirits to sleep, she delays going into their bedroom while they are winding themselves down on their bed. After a while when the room is quiet, she peeps in and finds them sleeping on their own.
You might want to also explore other methods that are suitable for your lifestyle and family culture.
Breastfeeding support networks in Singapore
- Breastfeeding Mothers’ Support Group, Singapore (BMSG). Jophia explains that some mums who practice extended breastfeeding gather in the Yew Tee area or Choa Chu Kang Community Centres.
- Breastfeeding Mums Support Group Facebook Page. This Facebook page is an amazing source of information and support for breastfeeding mums in Singapore. Please note that it is a closed group, so you will have to ask the friendly admin to add you to the group.
Jophia herself gathers together a few mothers to breastfeed their older kids for mutual support and she also conducts “hands-on sessions” for breastfeeding mums who are having nursing issues.
We hope you found this article useful. Do let us know your thoughts on extended breastfeeding by posting a comment below.
theAsianparent would like to thank Jophia Bok for her valuable insights and opinion on the topic of extended breastfeeding.