World Breastfeeding Week: Benefits and Disadvantages of Extended Breastfeeding

If you are a mother who is breastfeeding your toddler, you should read the pros and cons of extended breastfeeding.

Chanchal Sengar
Written by: Chanchal SengarPublished at: Aug 01, 2022Updated at: Aug 01, 2022
World Breastfeeding Week: Benefits and Disadvantages of Extended Breastfeeding

When it comes to extended breastfeeding, it's highly mother- child dyad specific. There are several factors that contribute to the length of breastfeeding decisions such as past experience, current circumstances, support and social coercion. There is no fixed definition for extended breastfeeding as for one mother- beyond one1 year is extended while for others continuing breastfeeding for two2 years or beyond could be extended breastfeeding. Tandem feeding or feeding a toddler in urban areas could be shocking, while in rural or tribal areas it may be considered as normal tradition. In ancient times it was considered as normal and natural expectation from mothers due to lack of medicines, clean water and extended breastfeeding improved infant/child survival odds. While it is relatively a new concept in today’s world after post industrialised revolutions.

WHO Infant and young child  recommendation clearly states that “Exclusive breastfeeding from birth till the completion of six months; start complementary feeds at end of six months and continue breastfeeding at least till two years age or beyond."

Benefits of Extended Breastfeeding

According to Ms. Mansi Shah, Lactation Consultant at Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre, continuation of breastfeeding for 2 years and beyond provides immense health and emotional  benefits to child and mother including:

  • As long as child breastfeeds, the child will be blessed by immunological benefits provided  from breast milk
  • It provides a lot of short term benefits to a toddler. Around 35-40% caloric requirement from age of 12-24 months are met by breastmilk  due increased concentration of fat content, which aids in absorptions of fat soluble vitamins like A & D, enhances calcium absorption due to  accurate calcium to phosphorus ratio
  • It increases the level of acceptance  fornew foods leading to higher variation in  food  items the child would eat. 
  • At the time of illness a child would breastfeed over food thereby providing fluid and nutrients to some extent. Immunological factors in breast milk will aid in faster recovery.
  • Breastfeeding is a key component of the “First  1000 Days Nutrition” to improve child growth  starting from gestation to  second postnatal years of child life. As breastmilk remains a source of immune factors and many nutrients.
  • Extended breastfeeding for working mother acts as effective method to reunite with child, thus strengthening bond
  • Increased durations of breastfeeding is positively associated with reduced risk of childhood cancer, type 1 and type 2  diabetes . It also decreases the chances of obesity in childhood, adolescents and adulthood.

Extended Breastfeeding

Long term health benefits which mothers get because of extended breastfeeding include protection against premenopausal breast and ovarian cancer risk. It also reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes  and cardiovascular diseases.

Are There Any Disadvantages of Extended Breastfeeding?

Only disadvantage of extended breastfeeding,  that studies have noted, is increased risk of dental caries. Leading cause for it is poor oral hygiene and offering expressed breast milk via bottle at night. Remedy is stop bottle feeding at night, maintaining oral hygiene after every meal, light brushing of primary teeth starting at nine months old with xylitol based toothpaste or syrup after consulting your paediatrician. There is also a strong association between early dental caries and iron deficiency anaemia. Therefore it's important to regularly examine a toddler's nutritional status and incorporate iron rich foods in their diet.

Also Read: Breast Cancer In New Mothers- Signs To Look For While Breastfeeding

Final Word

It is equally important and necessary to promote breastfeeding till two years and beyond in society and there is also an urgent need to change perception about it as lack of support from family, society, health care professionals has forced many to do premature weaning  or keep it in secrecy because of negative stigma  associated with this practice.  Many mothers are subjected to intense social scrutiny which can lead to isolation. 

Image credits- freepik