The Benefits of Prolonging Breastfeeding

June 28, 2023
This article has been written and endorsed by the pharmacist Angela Herrero Marin
In this article, you'll find all the benefits that prolonging breastfeeding offers to the child, both physically and emotionally.

In some cultures, prolonging breastfeeding is normalized and it’s common for it to last for several years. However, in Western countries, it’s not so common and, sometimes it’s even frowned upon.

In many cases, the mother who decides to continue breastfeeding beyond one year faces rejection by society. She also has to deal with comments from family, friends, and health personnel, which can be very painful.

What’s prolonged breastfeeding?

Prolonging breastfeeding refers to breastfeeding beyond the first year. In any case, the language we use on certain occasions should be taken into account in order to normalize an act.

Actually, referring to this act as “prolonging breastfeeding” can give rise to misunderstandings, as it gives the impression that a mother is breastfeeding her child for longer than what’s considered usual or normal. However, it shouldn’t be understood that way. In this regard, you should know that breastfeeding is equally valid and beneficial both at three months and three years, without distinctions of any kind.

A mother holding her baby boy.
Prolonging breastfeeding has benefits for both the baby and the mother. However, in some cultures, it’s not well regarded by society in general.

Discover the benefits of prolonging breastfeeding

The benefits of breastfeeding are endless, but the longer it lasts, the greater the benefits can be. Moreover, these advantages aren’t only for the baby, but also for the mother. We’ll tell you what they are below.

The benefits of prolonging breastfeeding for babies

These are some of the benefits that your baby will have from prolonged breastfeeding:

  • Continued reinforcement of the immune system.
  • Prevents cardiovascular diseases.
  • Prevents childhood obesity and also in adulthood.
  • Prolonging breastfeeding provides a bond with the mother that offers security and comfort.
  • It provides emotional advantages.

Studies showing the emotional benefit of prolonging breastfeeding

Prolonged breastfeeding is related to lower anxiety scales in adults, according to Bushnell (1977) and Hawkins (1975). In addition, according to Baumgartner (C. 1984), breastfeeding contributes to a gradual transition to childhood, as it helps to alleviate frustrations, shocks, and daily stresses.

A study done specifically with infants with prolonged breastfeeding showed greater social adjustment and lower behavioral disorder tendencies in regard to longer duration of breastfeeding (Ferguson, 1987).

Children with greater attachment in infancy didn’t exhibit behaviors associated with fear of abandonment when their mothers left the room. The children accepted separation because they knew that their mother would be accessible in case they needed her. In contrast, women who breastfed for less time had children who cried more when separated from them (Stayton, 1973).

Benefits for the mother

The mother will also enjoy advantages if she practices prolonged breastfeeding.

  • It protects the mother from breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and endometrial cancer.
  • It reduces the risk of osteoporosis.
  • It reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes.
An Asian toddler hugging his mom.
There’s no limit and there’s no scientific evidence to advise weaning at a certain age, although it usually occurs around the age of 4 years in cases of prolonged breastfeeding.

When to wean

The duration of lactation is until the mother or the baby decides. The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) recommends breastfeeding, at least, until the child is 2 years old. In addition, it must be exclusive during the first six months.

Natural weaning usually occurs between 2 and a half and 7 years of age, so the average is around 4 years of age. When we talk about older children, the emotional bonding provided by breastfeeding becomes much more important. This is because it provides the child with the security and comfort they need.

Myths about prolonging breastfeeding

As we mentioned at the beginning of the article, nowadays, we can still find mothers who talk about the rejection they’ve experienced from society when they decided to breastfeed their child over one year old.

We may hear comments claiming, for example, that after six months of age, milk doesn’t nourish as much, which is totally false. We can also find the belief that prolonging breastfeeding creates an excessive dependence of the baby on the mother.

However, to raise independent, secure, and emotionally stable adults, we must first provide everything they need during the highly dependent infancy stage.