Breastfeeding provides numerous benefits and nutrients to babies in their first months of life and in their subsequent growth1; However, on many occasions mothers wonder how long they should prolong breastfeeding or if breastfeeding is still important beyond the first six months of life .
Medela, a Swiss company with more than 50 years of experience focusing its efforts on understanding the needs of mothers and the behavior of babies, explains the additional benefits offered by the maintenance of breastfeeding for current and future health, both of the babies like mothers.
Although the components of breast milk adapt to the needs and stages of development and growth of each child, from six months the baby will need to eat solid foods to obtain proteins and nutrients – such as iron or vitamins B and D – that it cannot obtain through breast milk or its own reserves2. However, you will continue to receive 93% of your calories from breast milk.
Despite the fact that the feedings will gradually decrease with the progressive intake of solid food and the increase in the baby’s age, between 9 and 12 months of age the infant can continue taking about 500 ml daily, an amount that provides, about half of your daily caloric intake. In addition, at 18 months, milk will continue to account for 29% of the necessary calories and nutrients.
In this sense, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends breastfeeding for two years , since the prolongation of lactation, together with other factors, has a positive impact on the current and future health of babies and mothers.
Benefits of prolonging lactation
The proteins and nutrients it contains at different stages provide the pillars of a person’s health throughout his life and will help to reduce the chances of suffering diseases during childhood and adulthood, helping him to recover more quickly. . However, the benefits of prolonging breastfeeding are many more for the baby:
Protection against childhood cancers, infections and other diseases
Long-term breastfeeding for more than six months protects your baby against various types of childhood cancer, such as acute lymphocytic leukemia and Hodgkin lymphoma. In addition, in the long term the chances of developing type 1 and 2 diabetes, obesity, eye and dental problems are reduced (favoring a straighter denture).
Strengthening the immune system
Among its many components, breast milk contains molecules that stimulate the development and strengthening of the baby’s immune system; One shot will help you in different aspects, such as the appearance of your first teeth and the blows and scratches you may suffer.
However, as the baby grows and begins to interact with other children and experience hundreds of new things every day, breastfeeding will be especially beneficial because it contributes to less baby diarrhea and nausea, gastroenteritis, colds and flu, yeast infections. and ear, throat, and lung infections.
Positive impact on mental health
In the short term, breastfeeding will have a relaxing and calming effect , as breast milk acts as a natural pain reliever if the baby is sick, upset or tired, so this effect should not be underestimated. In fact, there are studies showing that breastfeeding reduces crying and provides relief from vaccines.
In the long term, breastfeeding is associated with fewer behavioral problems in school-age children20 and also with an improvement in the mental health of children and adolescents21. In addition, breastfeeding has a positive impact on IQ , as different studies and research showed a three-point advantage in the IQ of children fed breast milk compared to those who did not take it.
Beyond the benefits for the baby
However, breastfeeding after six months also brings numerous benefits to mothers.
Reduces the risk of developing diseases
Prolonging breastfeeding helps to reduce the mother’s risk of developing various diseases in the future, including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, or ovarian, uterine, and breast cancer.
In this sense, it should be noted that the risk of breast cancer is reduced by 4.3% for each year that the mother produces milk. Although the exact reason is still unknown, this may be because milk production reduces the frequency of ovulation or also because the lactation process modifies and restores breast cells, helping them to return to the natural state.
On the other hand, and although it is not known why, breastfeeding also contributes to reducing the risk of ovarian cancer by more than a third. In addition, breastfeeding reduces by 32% the risk of the baby developing this disease in later stages of his life.
Reduces stress and has an antidepressant effect
Oxytocin – also known as the “love hormone” or the “stroking hormone” – is released every time the baby sucks on the nipple during a feeding and has an antidepressant effect for mothers.
In this sense, as long as the baby continues to breastfeed, mothers will feel calmer and have lower levels of cortisol, the “stress hormone . ” In addition, breastfeeding also influences mothers having lower blood pressure and increasing their pain threshold.
Facilitates a return to routine
After the first six months of the baby’s life, in which both the mother and the infant have taken breastfeeding practice, the feedings allow babies to be fed at times that are more in line with the mothers’ routine, such as before from work or before bed.
Maintaining breastfeeding is not only a way to preserve the important bond created between mother and baby; It will also make it easier for mothers to return to the routine and help them reconnect after spending time apart. In addition, there are breast pumps that allow the baby to continue enjoying all the advantages and benefits that it offers.
Finally, it should be noted that the impact of good nutrition in the baby’s first months of life can not only have effects on their health, they can also transcend future generations .