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Should you breastfeed your child after infancy?

By Dr Anagha Karkhanis
November 22, 2019 10:30 IST
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Throughout the 1,000-day window from a mother's pregnancy phase to her baby’s 2nd birthday, breastfeeding is vital in lending kids the right start to life, building the foundation for a healthy future, says Dr Anagha Karkhanis.

Should you breast feed your child after infancy?

Image published for representational purposes only. Photograph: Kind courtesy Babychakra

There is no doubt that when it comes to nurturing the new-born and infant nutritional requirements, breast milk is considered to be the best.

It has been researched that when a mother chooses to exclusively breastfeed her baby, she offers herself and her child with an assortment of short-term and long-term wellness and health advantages.

It also brings the mother a step closer to curtailing the perils of the infant falling prey to various health ailments like diarrhoea and pneumonia.

Typically some mothers breast feed their child up to 1 or 2 years, but there are also some who claim to feed their children up to 5 years.

Most mothers would try and start weaning at 6 months and will try to complete it by 8 months.

Once you introduce him to solid food, gradually you should reduce breast feeding. Prolonged breastfeeding journey will definitely help recover the quality of life for not just the child but also for the mother.

Advantages (pros) of extended breastfeeding

One of the paybacks of engaging in lengthy breastfeeding is the nutritive boost it can lend a toddler, particularly a fussy one.

In fact, it is closely believed that the breast milk composition alters to familiarise to the nutritional demands of your tiny tot.

Even if your little monster eats like a little bird, by nursing he or she may make up for any deficits that may be generated by his or her pickiness.

Apart from the above-mentioned advantages, some other benefits of prolonged breastfeeding for children are as follows:

1. Guard's kids from ailments

Your breast milk will continue to recover the immune system of your tiny munchkin so that he’s less susceptible to falling trap to the unwanted illnesses like allergies, colds, ear infections, and other common diseases. And even if he does fall ill, nursing will aid him in recuperating faster and will ease him.

In fact, feeding breast milk may be the only thing that can keep him down from getting stomach ailments.

2. A restored future 

It has been proven that breastfed babies and toddlers enjoy all sorts of health bonuses when they grow up, encompassing low blood pressure and low levels of cholesterol.

They are also less probable of being overweight or obese, and less likely to develop type-2 juvenile diabetes.

3. Boosts development of brain 

It has been researched the longer and more recurrently a toddler breastfeeds, the smarter he’s likely to be, courtesy the presence of omega-3 fatty acids, or DHA, that are exceptional to only breast milk.

It definitely improves brain development in kids.

When mothers consider bottle-feeding the babies, the character is to make use of the dominant hand and place the baby in a similar posture at every feeding session.

Putting the baby in the same position to feed will do no good to aid in exercising the baby's reach and mind.

Contrary to this, babies who are habituated to nursing off of both breasts are put into diverse positions, and hence have the chance to look and reach in different directions.

4. It's soothing to the baby 

Feeding sessions place a very good chance to promote mother and baby bonding and connection.

Alongside it is also a great way of reassuring and calming a baby in a stressful situation.

For example, when children fall down or get injured, breastfeeding them will lend ways to divert and soothe the child, while simultaneously checking him or her out for any wounds.

5. Me-time for the toddler 

Just like adults, toddlers too have important work to do like they are constantly busy exploring, building novel skills and figuring out all sorts of things about the world surrounding them.

Like us, they too need a break.

Nursing a toddler can help offering them the perfect respite during a busy day.

6. Very beneficial for mothers too

Breastfeeding will offer a great chance to sit down and calm down for mothers who are constantly juggling between home chores and mother duties.

Additionally, breastfeeding your toddler can lessen the peril of mothers falling prey to certain cancers like breast and ovarian.

It can aid in upholding a healthy weight since breastfeeding toddlers consumes a lot of energy and in turn burns a lot of calories.

Breastfeeding mothers may have higher bone density and condensed rates of osteoporosis in the later stages of life.

Some other benefits for the toddlers include a condensed risk of ailments due to polluted and contaminated water, which sometimes can occur with formula milk feeding.

Your breast milk is a very good source of lactose and vital fatty acids that facilitate a baby’s brain grow and develop at a faster rate.

It also has an ability to regulate healthy microorganisms in the baby’s gut.

Breast milk works exceptionally well as an antibiotic against E. coli and staphylococci, among others.

Additionally, Colostrum which is the very first milk that is produced by the mother’s breast during child birth comprises of high amounts of protein, carbohydrates and antibodies which are very essential for the new-born and will not be present in a formula-based milk substitute.

Babies who are being breastfed will have abridged chances of falling prey to ear infections, urinary tract infections, gastrointestinal infections, bacterial meningitis, late-onset sepsis in pre-term babies, and many such ailments.

Above all, breastfeeding will encourage skin-to-skin contact and nurturing, working to relax and ease the infant.

Should you breast-feed beyond infancy?

Just because your baby is all set to embrace toddlerhood, does not necessarily mean that you must stop nursing.

In fact, it is strongly recommended that babies should be breastfed for two years or even further, as long as all their nutritive essentials are being met.

Mothers can continue prolonged breastfeeding for as long as the two of you wish to. But some mothers may be curious to know about the advantages of still continuing the feeding session post infancy.

It is common for mothers to comprehend on the role breast milk would play in nurturing an older baby's diet.

These are pros of long-standing breastfeeding:

1. A well-balanced nutrition

There is no doubt on the fact that a milk is considered the gold standard for the dietary needs of an infant. And as your little one tends to get older; the breast milk composition will continue to alter accordingly to meet his or her nutritive needs.

There is absolutely no known age at which breast milk is considered to become nutritionally unimportant or irrelevant for a child.

2. Enhanced immunity

As long as you are breast-feeding, the hormones, cells and antibodies present in your breast milk will linger to strengthen your baby's immune system.

3. Upgraded health 

It is a proven fact that the longer the journey of breast-feeding continues and the more amount of breast milk a baby drinks, the better his or her health might be.

4. Enhanced health for the mother

Feeding even after the baby has crossed infancy along with breast-feeding for 12 months or more cumulatively in life has been perceived to shrink the danger of mothers falling trap to rheumatoid arthritis, breast and ovarian cancer, problems of high blood pressure, heart ailments and also diabetes.

The more breast milk a baby drinks, the healthier a mother's overall well-being will be.

What role does breast milk play in fortifying an older baby's diet?

It all depends on how much amount of breast milk is being consumed by your baby.

Post age one, a baby might continue frequently drinking a moderate amount of breast milk. Hence, breast milk will remain a chief source of nutrients for him or her.

While on the other hand some babies might use solid foods to meet their dietary requirements and hence may only demand very small amounts of breast milk.

Parents who are still concerned about the role played by breast milk in enhancing the baby’s diet after they grow older can always consult your health provider for better understanding.

Will breast-feeding beyond infancy make the process of weaning all the more challenging?

Not necessarily. It's often easiest to start weaning when your little one initiates the procedure -- which might be earlier or later than you anticipate.

Weaning often starts naturally at about age of six months, with the introduction of solid foods.

Some children initiate to progressively switch over from sole breast milk and seek other forms of nutrition and comfort closer to reaching age group of one.

Other kids might not start weaning till their toddler years, when they become less agreeable to sit still during the breast-feeding session.

Breast-feeding ahead of infancy can surely be a friendly way to continue fostering your little god-sent miracle.

If you are keen on continuing with breast-feeding even beyond infancy, you must think about what's optimum for both you and your baby -- and totally revel in this special time bonding together.

Breastfeeding is much more than merely providing a baby food; in fact, it is a significant way that will help in ensuring a child grows to her/his full potential.

Throughout the 1,000-day window from a mother’s pregnancy phase to her baby’s 2nd birthday, breastfeeding is vital in lending kids the right start to life, building the foundation for a healthy future.

Through breastfeeding, the mother and the child equally benefit and when the same is encouraged and supported, it becomes a win-win situation.

Dr Anagha Karkhanis is senior gynaecologist and infertility specialist and director of Cocoon Fertility.

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Dr Anagha Karkhanis