One of the best things you can do for your child's wellbeing is to breastfeed. Start as soon as you can after birth and breastfeed exclusively for 6 months. This means that you're giving your baby no other food or drinks other than breast milk.
Once you and your baby have learned the skill of breastfeeding, it becomes easier every day.
Every day of breastfeeding makes a positive difference for your baby. You don’t need to decide at the start how long you will continue breastfeeding for.
How long to breastfeed for
If you can, continue to breastfeed for up to 2 years and beyond. Include safe and appropriate complementary foods in your child's diet after 6 months. Introducing your baby to solid foods is also known as weaning.
Breast milk provides large amounts of key nutrients even after the first year of life - especially proteins, fats and vitamins.
Breastfeeding for longer
Children breastfed for longer have lower risks of chest, ear and tummy infections. This benefits children attending creche and can stop them getting ill as often. It also protects against them being overweight.
Research shows that breast milk contains more antibodies once your child is a toddler. This can help to protect them as they become more mobile.
For example, in your child's second year (12 to 23 months), 448 ml or 15 oz of breast milk provides:
- 29% of their energy requirements
- 43% of their protein requirements
- 36% of their calcium requirements
- 75% of their vitamin A requirements
- 76% of their folate requirements
- 94% of their vitamin B12 requirements
- 60% of their vitamin C requirements
Benefits of breastfeeding for you
Breastfeeding has huge health benefits for mothers.
Breastfeeding protects against osteoporosis. It reduces the risk of:
- breast cancer
- ovarian cancer
- uterine cancer
- endometrial cancer
- rheumatoid arthritis
- cardiovascular disease
Breastfeeding is also useful for birth spacing (how soon after pregnancy you get pregnant again).
Extended breastfeeding is sometimes called 'natural term breastfeeding'. Benefits for mothers who breastfeed their babies beyond infancy:
- breastfeeding beyond infancy promotes a strong attachment with your toddler
- breastfeeding your toddler allows you both to take some quality time together
- breastfeeding your toddler makes it easier to go out and about or travel. You don’t have to carry feeding equipment or worry about keeping supplies fresh and germ-free
- there is also less cost and less disposal of packaging, which is better for the environment.
Challenges of extended breastfeeding
There are some issues that may arise when you breastfeed your toddler.
Because your toddler is now very active (walking, running, bouncing), you may need to become accustomed to ‘gymnastic nursing.’
With the introduction of solid foods, there will be a natural decline in your milk supply. This will adjust to your toddler’s stimulation.
Often with the return of your period, you can feel increased sensitivity of your breasts and nipples during ovulation.