Is Prolonged Breastfeeding Harmful to Mothers?
When a mother breastfeeds for more than nine months, she often encounters a lot of criticism from family members, friends and the general public. That social pressure is undoubtedly one of the greatest difficulties of prolonged breastfeeding, and it gets worse for mothers who begin weaning after two years.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months of life, and to combine it with other foods until at least two years. After that period, it is up to the mother and child to determine how to proceed.
Under this premise, prolonged breastfeeding could be perfectly normal for six or seven years, since there is no data showing that it is harmful to the child or the mother.
On the contrary, many studies endorse prolonged breastfeeding as a way to strengthen the bond between mother and child while providing nutritious food that hydrates, protects and develops the immune system. It also helps the child feel safe with his mother and provides beneficial skin-to-skin contact.
The studies conclude that the longer the time of breastfeeding, the greater the benefit obtained for both the mother and child, which will affect their health throughout their lives.
It should be noted that the natural weaning period can happen between two and six years. To ensure the child receives all the nutrients from milk to develop strong bones and organs, he should consume breast milk and not cow’s milk during that period.
However, and despite the multiple benefits that breast milk provides children, breastfeeding for a period of longer than two years is often not recommended.
Prolonged breastfeeding for the mother usually involves social and cultural difficulties. These are pressures that mothers do not always handle well, even knowing the benefits of breast milk.
Prolonged lactation could be perfectly normal for the mother until the child is 6 or 7 years old.
Often it is believed that prolonged breastfeeding can harm the child and cause psychological problems, and that after the first nine months, breast milk is no longer sufficient for proper nutrition.
The problem with prolonged breastfeeding is the lack of information on the subject. Society should know the benefits of prolonged breastfeeding in order to help the mothers who have chosen to continue breastfeeding for as long as they and their children desire to do so.
Benefits of prolonged breastfeeding for mother and child
There is scientific evidence that the longer breastfeeding continues, the greater the benefits for the child and for the mother. Among other things, it helps reduce childhood occurrences of diarrhea, acute infectious diseases, respiratory diseases, obesity, diabetes and cancer.
Far from being harmful, prolonged breastfeeding is beneficial to the mother’s physical and emotional health. Those who have practiced it have a lower probability of suffering from breast and ovarian cancers.
In addition, it helps keep blood pressure and cholesterol low. These mothers also have a lower chance of suffering from type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis.
Numerous studies indicate that breast milk does not lose its nutrients over time, and that after the first year it is richer in fat and energy. This is related to greater cognitive and psychomotor development in children.
Taking into account that a child’s immune system is not developed until the age of 7, pediatricians should recommend prolonged breastfeeding.
Breast milk is more beneficial than any other type of milk due to its high percentage of antibodies and nutrients, which offer babies greater protection against infections.
In summary, prolonged breastfeeding only offers benefits for the mother and for the child. Their questioning and criticism are based on false beliefs and prejudices.
All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.
- Binns C., Lee M., Low WY., The long term public heatlh benefits of breatsfeeding. Asia Pac J Public Health, 2016. 28 (1): 7-14.
- Abou Dakn M., Health effects of breastfeeding on the mother. Bundegesundheitsblatt Gesunhdeitsforschung Gesundheitsschutz, 2018. 61 (8): 986-989.