The benefits of breast milk are many, and it’s encouraging to know that your body produces the best source of nutrition for your little one – especially in the first few months of her life. As a mom, you derive joy from being able to provide the best for your little one, and you wish to keep doing so for as long as possible. But, breastfeeding moms will tell you that, at some point, they’ve all been faced with the decision to stop breastfeeding or continue. This expert advice will shed some light on weaning your baby from the breast.
Pros of prolonged breastfeeding
Studies by WHO reveal that breastfeeding substantially lowers the risk of death from infectious diseases in the first two years of life. Our experts agree that breast milk continues to be a valuable source of nutrition and disease protection. “Studies show that the longer and more frequently a mom nurses, the smarter the child is likely to become. The brain grows more during the first two years of life than at any other time, and the fats that are unique to breast milk contribute to this,” says lactation specialist and childbirth educator Samantha Crompton .
The physical benefits include improved vision, low incidence of ear infections, and improved functioning of the immune system. Samantha adds that there are also benefits to you, which include the reduced risk of uterine, ovarian and breast cancers. There’s also a lower incidence of osteoporosis later in life. “In fact, breastfeeding for three years or more reduces the risk of breast cancer in the mother by 94% – what a great reward,” adds Johannesburg-based Lactation Consultant Laura Sayce .
Understanding the benefits of breast milk usually leads to prolonged breastfeeding. Although your baby’s need for milk will begin to decrease over time, your breast milk will continue to strengthen her immune system and breastfeeding will meet her need for emotional security. “Your baby still gets a large percentage of her nutrient requirements from breast milk, and continues to receive immunity from breast milk, protecting her and helping her recover faster from illness,” says Laura.
She notes that breastfeeding helps with bonding – even as your child gets bigger. “For working moms, breastfeeding helps her transition from a working woman to a mom. She kicks off her heels as she walks in the door, latches her baby and reconnects with her little one,” she adds.
Family Psychologist Christelle du Plessis agrees that not only does breast milk have nutritional benefits; it also creates comfort, closeness and promotes bonding between mom and baby.
Christelle notes that even though breastfeeding is fantastic for babies, a study has discovered that nursing a child past two years of age can lead to tooth decay.
The more frequently a mother breastfeeds her child during the day past 24 months old, the more the risk of severe early tooth decay increases, researchers say. According to William Bowen, Professor Emeritus in the Centre for Oral Biology at the University of Rochester Medical Centre in New York, “There are two aspects of breastfeeding – the actual human milk, which has some, but very little, ability to promote tooth decay, the second is the physical aspect of breastfeeding, or even bottle feeding, and that’s where the problem arises.”
He explains that saliva helps to break down bacteria, but when your little one sucks on your breast, her teeth are sealed off, which prevents saliva from reaching her teeth. Limiting the amount of time she spends on the nipple is one way around this, especially if she’s accustomed to breastfeeding throughout the night, and be sure to clean her teeth often. Scheduling a visit to the dentist before she turns one is also highly recommended. Some physicians fear that prolonged breastfeeding will interfere with your child’s appetite for solid food, but Samantha points out that there is little evidence to support this.
Thobeka Phanyeko is mom to Oratile, 4. She is a journalist with a BA in Media studies from the University of Cape Town and has extensive experience as a journalist and content producer which she gained from Reuters, eNCA and Caxton Magazines. She is also a life coach and NLP Practitioner and is passionate about motherhood and women empowerment.