Friday, July 30, 2010

"No Nutritional Benefit?" A Breastfeeding Myth Debunked

Welcome to The Breastfeeding Cafe Carnival!

This post was written as part of The Breastfeeding Cafe's Carnival. For more info on the Breastfeeding Cafe, go to For more info on the Carnival or if you want to participate, contact Claire at clindstrom2 {at} gmail {dot} com. Today's post is about child-led weaning. Please read the other blogs in today's carnival listed below and check back for more posts July 18th through the 31st! 
 Lately I've been hearing women at my playgroup or in the church mother's lounge passing around the idea that that breastfeeding has "no nutritional benefit" after the first year. Women say this with the implication that the only reason to breastfeed your baby is because it feeds them. I have been responding that even though children at age one and beyond are able to eat table food and therefore do not "need" breastmilk, their immune systems benefit from breastfeeding and they get comfort from the nursing relationship.

But then I decided to do some research. And I found multiple sources of evidence that breastfeeding after the first year does, in fact, have nutritional benefits. And why wouldn't it? Breastmilk is nature's tailor-made food. It is not as if the milk that keeps babies healthy for their first year suddenly becomes diet coke after a year. The fat energy content of breastmilk actually increases with prolonged lactation. It probably changes in composition to meet the needs of the nursing child as she grows and begins to eat complimentary foods.

And even though one year olds can eat a balanced variety of table food, it doesn't mean that they will. Toddlers are notoriously picky eaters. That is why companies design drinks for them to "fill in the gaps" in their diet from the things they refuse to eat. Obviously, continued breastfeeding works the same way. One study of children in Kenya found that the more deficient the food diet of the child, the more nutrition the child got from breastfeeding. Nursing does not provide complete nutrition for toddlers, but it does complement the diet they eat.

When my daugher started solids (we did both finger foods and homemade purees) at 6 months, I followed the recommendations at kellymom. I offered solids about an hour after nursing, so she was never very hungry when she ate and never ate a lot. When she started eating table food around 12 months, she was still nursing a lot and not eating large amounts of food. I was glad that even if she didn't eat much food, I knew she was at least getting nutrition from breastmilk. I knew she was just not ready to wean. No one really seemed to be bothered by the fact that she was still nursing, but we didn't get out much at the time, so not a lot of people even knew. A few months later, after she and I both got sick and my milk supply suffered, she was nursing only to fall asleep. That decrease in nursing increased my fertility, and since we were "not preventing" pregnancy anymore at that point, I got pregnant with my son the following cycle.

At that point, either continuing or stopping wouldn't have affected either of our lives verey much. I knew that nursing throughout pregnancy and tandem nursing are options, but I chose to wean her a few weeks after I found out I was pregnant. We weaned slowly, over the course of about 3 weeks so that my milk would decrease slowly and avoid the risk of mastitis. She learned to fall asleep with snuggles instead of nursing, and it was so gradual, that I didn't even realize when it was the "last time" for her to nurse. I can't imagine mother-guided weaning going more smoothly.

I am grateful that I chose to not to automatically wean at an arbitrary age, like one year. I feel that the choice to wean when we did was the best choice for us, and everyone has to make the best choice for them. People aren't making informed choices if they are basing them on inaccurate information, like the myth that breastfeeding after a year has "no nutiritonal benefit. 
 Here are more posts by the Breastfeeding Cafe Carnival participants! Check back because more will be added throughout the day.


  1. Great post! As I evolved as a mama I knew an arbitrary cut-off was never going to work for us. I mean what changes the day they turn one? Or two even?

    We weaned almost exactly as you did. She was only nursing to sleep & it worked well for both of us.

  2. On breastfeeding as a birth our case, it has worked for almost 3 years! We still nurse on demand and co sleep...but wow, I've been trying for 6 months to get pregnant, lol.

    Great story, thank you for sharing your weaning experience.

  3. Each baby so far has been different. I was much happier when my 5th baby continued to nurse until 20 months, and I was three months pg. That was gentle mother-led weaning due to painful nipples, but I was grateful for the long time of nursing him. It was good.