Tag Archives: extended breastfeeding

What’s So Green About Extended Breastfeeding?

I got a question from a reader about a month ago asking what’s green about breastfeeding, especially past age 2. While it’s easy to say it’s better for the environment to breastfeed an infant than to formula feed, it’s harder to say what’s so great about it as your child gets older.

I have to admit, I don’t really think of extended breastfeeding as a specifically environmental issue. It’s certainly popular among eco friendly moms, but others do it as well. A lot of research shows that it’s good for the child and the mother.

The early benefits of breastfeeding are simple. Breastfeeding means you don’t have to buy formula and all the supplies to go along with formula feeding. The only thing you must have is you. That’s less waste right there. The breast pump and other supplies are nice if you want to let others feed baby sometimes, but not an absolute must. The fewer supplies you buy, the more eco friendly it’s going to be in those early days.

The greatest benefits of breastfeeding, both for the normal duration and extended, may be emotional. There’s no bond quite the same. The bond between a formula fed baby and mother is still utterly amazing, but it’s a different sort of intimacy from breastfeeding. Breastfeeding has an emotional impact on mother and child, especially when it’s enjoyed by both. If it’s not still being enjoyed by both parties, I’m a firm believer in saying that it’s just fine to call it quits. You still love your baby and will still be loved by your baby.

Health Benefits of Extended Breastfeeding

Extended breastfeeding has proven health benefits. It cuts down on the odds of ear infections, diabetes, heart disease, and other health disorders. It also has health benefits for the mother.

This may not seem like a “green” issue at first glance, but one’s use of modern medicine can most certainly have an ecological effect. Too many medications make it into the water supply either through improper disposal or by its presence in urine or feces after you’ve taken the medicine.

Fewer medications making their way into the water supply may not be specifically about breastfeeding, but it’s something to think about.

Having just dealt with a still breastfeeding nearly two year old with a really bad cold, I can also state that extended breastfeeding is wonderful when a child gets sick. There’s no greater comfort food.

Eco Benefits to Extended Breastfeeding?

Beyond simply cutting down on the odds of needing medications to treat a sick child, there’s one very basic ecological benefit to continuing to breastfeed an older toddler: You’re using less cow’s milk.

Most cows are not kept in an ecologically sensitive way. You can improve matters by buying organic milk from grass fed cows, but your own milk is still the best. It doesn’t have to be transported from a distance. It doesn’t have to be stored in any containers. You don’t have to give it in a cup or wash the cup after. It’s there when your child needs it.

Overall, I have to say that extended breastfeeding really isn’t about being green. It has some benefits that can be described as being eco friendly, but that’s not the main benefit at all. It has much more to do with the health of the mother and child, with potential long term health benefits. That’s what makes it so popular with “green” moms. Extended breastfeeding is one more way to try to do the best things for our families. That it’s not bad for the environment is just a little plus.

The Delights of Extended Breastfeeding

Most of us know that breast is best for baby, and if it works for you, to breastfeed that baby for at least one year. It doesn’t work for everyone, for a variety of reasons, but when you can manage it, breastfeeding is wonderful.

I have to say, extended breastfeeding in some ways is even more fun. More challenging at times, but so much fun!

Toddlers Can Be Playful Breastfeeders

My 15 month old is an absolute wild child when it comes to breastfeeding. She’s all over the place, standing up, sitting down, getting back into that old cradle hold, trying to flip upside down while still latched. It’s practically a comedy routine some days.

She knows what she wants and when she wants it, and can come up to get it.

Sometimes it’s clearly a game to her. She’s not always serious about getting any actual milk out. It’s the attention and the bond, plus making sure her siblings know that Mommy is hers!

Benefits of Extended Breastfeeding

There is a great list of benefits of extended breastfeeding posted on KellyMom that she appears to keep updated. But here are a few of my favorites:

1. Nursing toddlers benefit nutritionally.

I love seeing this one after being warned by my pediatrician to be sure to start giving whole milk in case I didn’t realize that my daughter was weaning. I think I would notice! The whole lack of nursing thing.

I assume the pediatrician’s point would be that a gradual weaning might not be noticed as quickly as it should be. I think I’m pretty aware, overall, of how much my daughter nurses. Having had two older children self wean, I’m also pretty familiar with the routine.

But nutritionally you just can’t beat breastmilk for babies and toddlers. It’s a significant source of fat and protein, as well as other nutrients that toddlers need.

2. Nursing toddlers are sick less often.

How could any mother not love that? Sick toddlers are a lot of work. Anything that helps them get sick less often has to be a good thing!

3. Nursing a toddler is normal.

Yes, normal! Despite the many who want to know when you’re going to get around to weaning that baby, nursing a toddler is a very normal thing to do.

4. Extended nursing makes for smarter children.

Aw geez, this might be a disadvantage! She’s smart enough already!

Kidding, kidding! Although she is doing things already that her older brother and sister weren’t doing so young.

All the fats in breastmilk, particularly the omega-3, help with brain development, which is vital during the first 2 years.

5. It’s good for the mother’s health.

Extended breatfeeding continues the general benefits to the mother of breastfeeding. Easier weight loss, less chance of osteoporosis, less chance of various cancers, it’s pretty good stuff.

Disadvantages of Extended Breastfeeding

None of the disadvantages of extended breastfeeding really bother me. They are pretty minor to me and how I want to live my life. Nonetheless….

1. Social disapproval.

The longer you breastfeed, the more you’re going to be getting the question of when you’re going to wean. Some people get pretty disgusted by extended breastfeeding, as though it’s any of their business. Some even compare it to child abuse, which says more about their frame of mind than it does about breastfeeding.

The disapproval that some breastfeeding mothers feel in public increases if you breastfeed a toddler in public. More people will feel you shouldn’t be doing that in public. Your toddler may well be making it harder to be “discreet” about the whole matter.

2. Not all pediatricians are aware of the benefits of extended breastfeeding.

Actually, this is a disadvantage to having a pediatrician who is unaware of the benefits, not really a disadvantage to extended breastfeeding. No fault of breastfeeding that not all doctors keep up on current research.

But it can be annoying to hear from your child’s doctor that you’re doing it wrong, or that you don’t need to breastfeed anymore.

3. Weaning may be a challenge.

I’ve never found it to be so, but your mileage may vary. My older two self weaned, so there never was a challenge.

But if the time comes when you do decide to wean your child on your schedule rather than his or hers, there may be more of a battle. Toddlers know what they want and they can try to get it. You may have to be a bit stubborner.

4. Your toddler can delete your blog posts while you’re breastfeeding.

Yes, I’ve been nursing my toddler while typing this up. She swung up when I was a bit more than halfway through, hit a few random keys and poof! My post vanished as my browser window went back a few pages.

Thank you WordPress autosave!

As for Me…

Our current plans include breastfeeding until my daughter self weans or until around age 2, at which point I’ll probably be working on encouraging weaning. If she’s like my older two, she’ll choose self weaning in a few more months, and that’s fine.

I’m not especially looking forward to weaning. My last baby, and I love the closeness. I have days where I’m ready to be done with it all, but more days where breastfeeding is such a treat that I dread when I have to give it up.