Breast-feeding beyond infancy: What you need to know

Curious about breast-feeding beyond infancy? Know the benefits, the role breast milk plays in an older baby's diet and how to handle others' opinions on the topic.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

You've breast-fed your baby for a year. Congratulations!

If you plan to continue breast-feeding your child, you might have questions about the process. Get the facts about breast-feeding beyond infancy.

Is breast-feeding beyond infancy recommended?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breast-feeding for the first six months after birth — and breast-feeding in combination with solid foods until at least age 1. After that, breast-feeding is recommended as long as you and your child wish to continue.

What are the benefits of breast-feeding beyond infancy?

The benefits of breast-feeding beyond infancy for a child include:

  • Balanced nutrition. Breast milk is considered the gold standard for infant nutrition. There's no known age at which breast milk is considered to become nutritionally insignificant for a child.
  • Boosted immunity. As long as you breast-feed, the cells, hormones and antibodies in your breast milk will continue to bolster your child's immune system.

The benefits of breast-feeding beyond infancy for a mother include:

  • Reduced risk of certain illnesses. Breast-feeding for 12 months or more cumulatively in life has been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.

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

It depends on how much breast milk your child is drinking.

After age 1, a child might continue regularly drinking a moderate amount of breast milk. As a result, breast milk will continue to be a source of nutrients for him or her. Other children, however, might use solid foods to meet their nutritional needs and want only small amounts of breast milk.

If you have questions about your child's diet or the role breast milk might play in it as he or she grows, talk to your child's doctor.

Will breast-feeding beyond infancy make the weaning process more difficult?

Not necessarily.

It's often easiest to begin weaning when your child initiates the process — which might be sooner or later than you expect.

Weaning often begins naturally at about age 6 months, when solid foods are typically introduced. Some babies begin to gradually transition from breast milk and seek other forms of nutrition and comfort closer to age 1. Others might not initiate weaning until their toddler years, when they become less willing to sit still during breast-feeding.

How can I handle negative reactions to breast-feeding beyond infancy?

How long you breast-feed is up to you and your child. If loved ones — and even strangers — share their opinions about when to wean, remind them that the decision is yours. Try not to worry about what other people think. Instead, trust your instincts.

Breast-feeding beyond infancy can be an intimate way to continue nurturing your child. If you're considering breast-feeding beyond infancy, think about what's best for both you and your child — and enjoy this special time together.

April 15, 2020 See more In-depth