Extended breastfeeding, also called long-term breastfeeding, is usually defined as continuing to breastfeed a child for longer than one year. In some societies it is much more common than others, and the practice is actually recommended by many experts on children's health and development. There are several pros and cons of extended breastfeeding. The practice is known to enhance the bond between mother and child as well as having positive effects on physical and emotional health for both. Negatives can include third-party criticism for the mother's decision to continue breastfeeding and the potential difficulty of the weaning process.
The practice of extended breastfeeding enjoys varying degrees of acceptance depending on location. In the U.S., it is still considered unusual; in many other countries, however, it is the norm. The recommendations from experts such as the World Health Organization (WHO) are generally to breastfeed until at least age two and then to continue for as long as mother and child wish.
Some of the positive aspects, or pros, of extended breastfeeding include the enhancement of the bond between mother and baby as well as the beneficial effects on their emotional and physical health. Breastfeeding has been found to enhance a secure, close, loving relationship between mother and child. Children who have an extended breastfeeding relationship with their mothers are likely to be well adjusted and independent. Breastfeeding can also serve as a valuable source of reassurance and comfort for young children. It also serves as a opportunity for closeness and bonding that many mothers cherish.
Extended breastfeeding also serves as an important source of health benefits for the child. Breast milk is known as a better source of nutrition than alternatives such as cow's milk or formula; mother's milk is easier to digest, so children are unlikely to have gastrointestinal problems while still breastfeeding. It also provides additional immune system support because it contains valuable maternal antibodies which may help children avoid getting sick. Health benefits for the mother include less chance of developing certain cancers, including breast and uterine cancer, as well as lowering the risk of developing osteoporosis. It may also help to promote weight loss for some women and allow them to delay the return of menstruation.
There are also some negative aspects, or cons, of extended breastfeeding. Some women may experience fatigue and could find that the increased appetite from breastfeeding makes it difficult to return to their pre-pregnancy weight. Breastfeeding may also prevent mothers from being able to take certain medications that might be beneficial. Another negative aspect of extended breastfeeding for women who live in cultures where it is uncommon is criticism or lack of support from society, even including friends and family in some cases. The weaning process may also be more difficult with an older child, particularly if the mother decides to stop breastfeeding but a child doesn't want to yet.