Extended breastfeeding is the act of continuing to nurse a child beyond the age of one year, sometimes extending into the toddler stage and occasionally persisting until the child reaches preschool age. Even though the length of extended nursing varies a lot, it usually lasts longer than what is considered normal for breastfeeding.
The mother and, to some degree, the child make an individual choice on whether or not to engage in the practice of prolonged breastfeeding. Advocates of prolonged nursing often point to possible health advantages, including stronger immunity and deeper mother-child bonds.
On the other hand, there are also possible disadvantages of extended breastfeeding. These drawbacks include potential social stigma, nutritional difficulties, and emotional dependence issues. This article points out the dangers of breastfeeding beyond the toddler and preschool years.
8 Proven Disadvantages Of Extended Breastfeeding
Contrary to popular belief, there is in fact no evidence linking extended breastfeeding and speech delay. However, there are many scientifically supported negative effects of breastfeeding on the baby, especially if it is extended to preschool age.
The following are eight proven disadvantages of extended breastfeeding:
1. Psychological effects of breastfeeding too long
A child’s mental health can be improved in a variety of ways if the mother continues to breastfeed the child. However, parents should be aware of some of the psychological effects of prolonged breastfeeding. It is important to note that not all children will necessarily experience these side effects.
A variety of factors can influence how extended breastfeeding affects a child’s psychological health. These factors include the child’s personality, the specific situation, and the reasons behind the decision to breastfeed for a prolonged period of time.
The following is a list of some of the psychological effects of prolonged breastfeeding1:
- Extended breastfeeding may potentially hamper a child’s development toward maturity and independence. But there is no proof to back up that claim. However, it is common for some kids to show resistance to the weaning process or have trouble adjusting to life without breastfeeding
- Extended breastfeeding can occasionally result in the child becoming socially isolated. This is more often due to a breastfed baby being too attached to the mom. For fear of being unable to breastfeed, they might be less likely to partake in social events or sleepovers. This is a hindrance to the socialization that all children should go through
- Extended breastfeeding can sometimes create or increase attachment anxiety in children. This can, in turn, lead to separation anxiety, causing the child to become severely distressed when the mother is not near. It can also harm the child’s relationship with other caregivers, and they may have difficulties forming attachments with them
- The child might also grow to be too dependent on nursing. It increases their dependence on their mother. Breastfeeding can become what the child mainly relies on when distressed and needing comfort. This sets back their ability to soothe themselves and can cause them to not be able to learn ways to be emotionally independent
Related Reading: 15 Pregnancy Tips For First-Time Moms
2. Negative effects of breastfeeding on mom
While there are undoubtedly several benefits of breastfeeding, there can also be significant disadvantages of extended breastfeeding for the mother. Here are a few negative effects you may face.
- You may be more susceptible to contracting mastitis. It is when the breast tissue becomes inflamed. It often occurs during breastfeeding, and the longer you breastfeed, the more you are at risk2
- It can be a hindrance to the mother’s freedom. A breastfeeding mother may need to stay close to the child at all times. This means she may not be able to take much-needed breaks or partake in hobbies and activities as she wants to. This can be very taxing and can affect the mother’s mental health
- Not only does it affect the mother psychologically, but also physically. Breastfeeding is not always a comfortable experience, and it is not for everyone. It can bring with it a wide range of problems, like soreness and nipple tenderness. Due to less frequent feedings, extended feeding has even been linked to breast engorgement3
- If you are a working mother, it can also be incredibly vexing. As the child grows older, it may be harder for you to be able to pump and store breast milk, and your workplace may not accommodate you for so long if it is not necessary for your baby
- In a similar vein, it may also be difficult to breastfeed in public. If they were a baby, people probably would not look twice, but a toddler or young child demands more attention
Related Reading: 9 Biggest Challenges Of Breastfeeding No One Prepares You For
As breastfeeding later becomes more of a soothing and comforting activity rather than one done merely for nutrition, it will also become difficult to stick to a routine. Your child may wish to nurse haphazardly, and not always at a convenient time.
As the child grows older, they begin to express their needs verbally (and often loudly). This can lead to quite a few embarrassing moments.
4. Increased risk of dental caries
One of the more significant disadvantages of extended breastfeeding is the increased risk of developing dental caries, or tooth decay. As babies grow past the point where breastfeeding is a necessity, they begin feeding whenever they feel like it, which is often at night.
This can make it more difficult to make sure your little one is keeping up with their oral hygiene. In fact, a study has shown that those who are breastfed for two or more years are more likely to develop dental issues like tooth decay3.
5. Longer intervals between pregnancies
You may face lactational amenorrhea. It is when your menstruation is delayed due to breastfeeding. It can cause you to not go through menstruation and ovulation for as many as two years. Extended breastfeeding is definitely a factor in this.
This can affect your ability to get pregnant shortly after the birth of your first child. So, if you wish to have children with less of an age gap between them, extended breastfeeding may not be the way to go for you.
6. Musculoskeletal pain in mothers
Many mothers also face musculoskeletal pain when breastfeeding—that is, pain in the joints, muscles, and bones. Vitamin D is very crucial during breastfeeding4. Many women experience ankle pain while breastfeeding.
It often occurs due to a deficiency in vitamin D, and studies have shown that breastfeeding women are at a much higher risk for vitamin D deficiency. Prolonged breastfeeding only exacerbates this5.
Calcium deficiency is also something you have to look out for. As children grow, their need for calcium also grows, and since breast milk’s nutritional content changes to adapt to the growing child, it could lead to calcium being leached from your bones. This leads to musculoskeletal pain and calcium deficiency6.
In addition to soreness in the joints, bones, and muscles, it can also lead to weakness and even deformities.
Related Reading: 21 Breastfeeding Tips For First Time Mothers
7. Peer Pressure and Social Implications
Many cultures and communities may look down upon extended breastfeeding. If it is known that you are breastfeeding your child beyond the “normal” period, you may face a lot of judgment and peer pressure from those around you. It can also affect your child, and they may be teased or made fun of by their peers.
8. Nutritional adequacy
While breast milk does change to better suit the needs of a growing child, there are limits to the nutrition it is able to provide. A growing child needs a diverse and balanced diet. Breast milk can be a supplement, but it cannot provide all the nutrients that a toddler or child needs.
At What Age Is Breast Milk No Longer Beneficial?
There is no specific age when the baby has to be weaned. Breast milk continues to hold many benefits for the child beyond the age of one year. While it is not enough on its own, it can provide many nutrients and is helpful for boosting immunity. It is also an important source of emotional bonding and comfort. These benefits are important for the child.
When the child reaches a point where they have a well-balanced diet that provides all necessary nutrients and is no longer quite reliant on breastfeeding for comfort, it may imply that it is time to enter a transition period during which you can begin weaning your little one. Often, your child will indicate to you that they are ready to stop breastfeeding, so keep an eye out for signs.
No two mothers and no two children are completely alike. Your breastfeeding journey is entirely dependent on personal specific factors such as your and your child’s health, time, comfort, and needs. If both you and your little one are okay with it, nursing your baby at least until the age of two can provide a lot of benefits.
However, make sure you know of the potential repercussions and are prepared to face them. Many people in your life may not be well-educated on the matter, so make sure you do your own research. Do whatever is best for you and your little one.