The Many Benefits of Extended Breastfeeding

by Dagmar Bleasdale on October 24, 2010

Or: Stuck in an Airport for 16 Hours With a Sick Child — How Extended Breastfeeding Saved the Day

many benefits of extended breastfeeding,

Well, I created quite a stir when I participated in the discussion “Breastfeeding in Public” in McKMama’s BlogFrog community when  I mentioned that I’m still breastfeeding an almost 4-year-old.

My being so open about being an extended breastfeeder actually started a very interesting dialogue between many women on that forum.

Most were supportive, and some moms just thought breastfeeding a child that can ask for breast milk is disgusting. By now over 40 entries have been recorded.

I love this kind of dialogue between women because I think that as long everyone respects each other’s opinion, we hopefully all learn from each other.

Ultimately, I hope that discussing extended breastfeeding will lead to more education in the U.S. about the many advantages of it.

Don’t believe me that there are many benefits to extended breastfeeding?, one of the best resources for breastfeeding, offers this very educational article, citing countless studies: Breastfeeding Past Infancy: Fact Sheet.

benefits of extended breastfeeding,, Dagmar's Home

Besides being the best for your child’s health and yours, it’s also the best for your wallet and the environment if you don’t have to buy formula or less of it because of your breastfeeding. Sounds like a win-win to me.

I wanted to keep the discussion going, so I asked McKMama’s community (almost 8,300 members) my own question: Breastfeeding: How long is too long?

By now almost 100 entries have been posted, amazing! Interestingly enough, many moms wrote in that they are still breastfeeding children that are 3 or 4 years old, one mom even a child that is 6 years old. Wow.

And then there are the moms who vehemently oppose children nursing past one or two years, for one reason or another, and hopefully through this those moms will learn that the World Health Organization now recommends to nurse children for two years.

So you are really only practicing extended breastfeeding if you nurse your child past two years. Unfortunately, this fact is not yet known enough in our society.

I left three comments on this discussion, two as a response to what another moms had written. One mentioned something about not having to worry about her child’s nutrition as much because she is still breastfeeding, and I wrote:

“Yes, I love that added benefit as well — I don’t have to freak out when L isn’t eating his green bean, because I know he is pretty well covered vitamin-wise with the amount of breast milk he still gets. So lovely to have one less worry.

He is so seldom sick, but the couple of times he did have a fever, all he wanted to do is nurse, and after a few hours the fever would break by itself. Breast milk is just amazing.”

While writing that, I was reminded of the day I was stuck in a German airport with Landon — while he had a fever.  I haven’t yet blogged about that day, and now seems like a good time to tell you how breastfeeding saved the day back then:

I got stuck in the Hamburg airport with Landon when he was about 2 1/2 years old — for 16 freaking hours. Yeah, insert scream here.

I had been visiting my parents and friends with him in the summer and we were on our way back to New York. My mom and Landon and I had stayed at an airport hotel the night before because the flight leaves at 9 a.m. and my parents live over an hour away from there.

She had helped to check in my luggage, we had said out tearful good-byes, and L and I were just getting ready to board the airplane when we were all informed that someone from the cleaning crew had touched the button to release one of the emergency slides, which now had to be newly installed. They would have to fly in that part from England. Time to insert another scream.

To make a looong story short, we had to get our luggage back and then re-check it, which meant standing in line for two hours alone, and then the waiting began. The worst part of it all: Landon had a fever since the night before and I had been up worrying and wondering if I should even fly or postpone my flight.

In the end I had called a hospital and the pediatrician on call felt he was okay to travel since I could get the temperature down with fever medication — and because I was still nursing him, L wouldn’t get dehydrated.

I think that was the sickest L has ever been, and I don’t know what it was. The fever was under control but only with medication, which I had never had to use the other two times he had had a fever. On those occasions, he’d nurse a ton, would fall asleep on me, and after an hour or two of rocking him, the fever would break by itself.

I had decided to still fly because I knew he’d sleep most of the time and I could nourish him with breast milk, which meant he’d stay hydrated and wouldn’t have problems with his ears when descending.

The airline personnel kept telling us it would be just another hour — for 16 hours! Otherwise I would have gone to a hotel or had my mom pick us up. They offered us to fly to London, but then they couldn’t guarantee we’d get a connecting flight that day, so I decided to stick it out.

I would have absolutely LOST it if I wouldn’t have had breastfeeding to take care of L and comfort him and get him fed all those hours — and the 10 hours of flight and travel time that followed after that. Scream.

Ever flown with a toddler on your lap on an international flight? Yeah, fun times. I couldn’t feel my butt or arms anymore after an hour of holding him and being afraid to move one inch and wake him up. Only nine more hours to go, piece of cake.

In the end it was kind of a blessing in disguise that L was so lethargic and only wanted to nurse or sleep, because that made taking care of him easier.

If he would have been his energetic self, he would have wanted to explore and run all over the place the whole time — this way I was able to push him around in his stroller in the airport and either sat holding him or nursing him.

I didn’t get a minute of sleep for over two days but my body made the milk my little one so desperately needed to make it through that experience. He was over the fever by the time we got back to New York — and I could have used a vacation after that.

I’m so glad I was still breastfeeding L at that point. And I’m surprised but happy that he is still nursing on his fourth birthday.

I don’t care what other people say or think — my motherly instinct is telling me to let L self-wean, it feels completely natural to me, and everything I have read about attachment parenting supports my decision. By now, L only nurses when we cuddle on the sofa and wants his milk to fall asleep. I don’t see any harm in that.

He won’t be this little for much longer, and he will nurse less and less until I will realize that we haven’t done it in a few days.

I will miss nursing him very much, it has become such a part of my life and I love doing it, but that’s just part of being a mom — not holding your children back when they are ready to move on to the next thing in their development.

Last night L woke up and said, “Mommy, I don’t feels so good.” Uh-oh. A few minutes later he threw up. After that he wanted to nurse and fell asleep again, and this morning he was totally fine.

Yay for extended breastfeeding.

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Amy August 5, 2014 at 11:01 PM

Fantastic post- I believe all mamas should breastfeed as long as they and their child are happy to do so :) Thanks for linking up for WBW2014


Steph August 25, 2012 at 2:53 AM

My oldest was five when I weaned him. It was all me, none him – we did a three month count down, “When you’re five, no more ninny”. He proclaimed himself to be four almost until his sixth birthday. Poor baby.

My baby was 3 – he pretty much weaned himself, he’d gotten to the point where he wanted to nurse every 3 days or so, and my body was not tolerating that well – so we were done.

I haven’t regretted it – I saved a fortune on formula, only go to the doctor once a year for check ups, and appear to have saved a fortune on braces, thanks to proper palate development. Yay for breastfeeding.


Alison January 3, 2012 at 10:24 PM

I’m an extended nurser myself. My Landon is 2 years and 3 months. Though he is weaning himself. Though I’m forcing night time because mama needs her sleep back and I rather just cuddle while co-sleeping… but the day time feedings he’s cutting back on. Other then naptime, when he takes one, and bedtime. I love the extra cuddle time I get with him and that I don’t have to worry about that he may not have eaten enough… when actually he eats a ton. You go mama!


Unknown Mami July 16, 2011 at 5:36 AM

I support whatever works for both the child and the mom.


carol anne July 16, 2011 at 6:03 AM

I have come across so many moms recently that have told me “I am weaning because she/he is about to turn one.”
I don’t understand it, mainly because I don’t know how you’d just stop.
I am STILL BF #4 and he is only 21 months. (your guy had a ton of hair at 2, mine is still a baldy!)
First baby (now 13 yo) nursed until she was 20 months. Baby #2 and #3 10 months. They stopped when they wanted to — I was 3 month pregnant with #2 when the 1st one gave it up, but I think the main difference between the first 3 and this one — is this one has always hated bottles (and pacifiers) and won’t take one. I have no idea when he is going to stop nursing and have no idea how I’d even do it.
Do I consider it Extended Breastfeeding? Not at all. He is a baby.
I love what you said
“And then there are the moms who vehemently oppose children nursing past one or two years, for one reason or another, and hopefully through this those moms will learn that the World Health Organization now recommends to nurse children for two years. So you are really only an extended breastfeeder if you nurse your child past two years. Unfortunately, this fact is not yet known enough in our society.”

I told everyone around me, even before he was born, that the new recommendation was for At Least Two Years.
Do I judge people who bottlefeed? No I don’t. Do a lot of those kids have bottles when they are 3 and 4 yo? Yes they do.
Why is it any different?


Brynna May 9, 2011 at 11:11 PM

Just another “good for you!” comment! :) I’m also an extended breastfeeding mom, my daughter just weaned at 4 years 8 months (well, I sort of initiated it…she was only nursing once every few days or so, and instead of missing the last time nursing my first baby, I wanted to plan for it). I’m also nursing my almost 3 year old and my 14 month old and it’s all sooooo worth it.


Hannah February 6, 2011 at 8:50 AM

Good for you! The longest I’ve nursed is two years and would probably have gone just a tad longer if I’ve gone longer between pregnancies. I don’t think I would nurse for as long as four years, but definitely not under a year. I average, about a year and half per child ( I have 7) I am currently nursing my 5 month old and am hoping to nurse her for at least two and a half years.


danielle November 28, 2010 at 9:03 AM

It is so nice to see that other moms out there are nursing naturally. All of the evidence points to the fact that children are intended to nurse for the first few years of life, generally until they lose all of their baby teeth. There is no better feeling for children than to know that they can still derive comfort, pleasure, and nourishment at mother’s breasts. I have a 3 year old and a 7 year old, and both of them still nurse (my 7 year old daughter generally asks to nurse in the morning, at night, and when she is not feeling well). They are well-adjusted, happy, and healthy, and I encourage you to nurse as long as possible.


Melodie November 1, 2010 at 5:12 AM

Thank goodness for breastfeeding in a situation like that. Toddlers and even pre-schoolers don’t have the self-control to be able to cope in situations like that – I mean adults barely do, so it is so nice to be able to give them some assistance in some way to deal with that stress. Great post Dagmar!


Desiree Fawn October 31, 2010 at 5:56 AM

Three cheers for breastfeeding — anytime, anywhere!


Gina October 27, 2010 at 6:40 PM

I do have to add a side note here; my kids recover from illnesses that quickly WITHOUT breastmilk. I know that you’re passionate, and that’s all well and good, but I do think you are seeing a halo over breastmilk; it’s simply not responsible for everything that you seem to think it is.

For example, my oldest son is 4 and a half. Last year, on Thanksgiving, he got sick out of the blue. Glassy eyes, crazy fever, lethargy, the works. Gatorade to keep him hydrated (per doctor recommendation) and 12 hours of sleep and he was absolutely perfect the following morning, and didn’t even remember being sick. His fever broke sometime during the night (I checked on him often, but a year later, I don’t remember exactly what time it was gone) all on its own.

The human body is the miracle; your child would likely have recovered that quickly anyway, regardless of his diet.


Kristi, Live and Love...Out Loud October 27, 2010 at 6:24 AM

Another awesome post about breastfeeding advocacy! You go Dagmar. :) I love the conversations you started over in Blog Frog. Though I’ve yet to jump in, I enjoyed reading everyone’s point of view and about their experiences as well. I’m still nursing Alana, though it’s only in the morning, at naptime and at bedtime in the evening. (It’s been 18 months now! I’m so proud of myself.) You’re not going to believe this, but I was nursing her in our family practitioner’s office because she was extremely upset. My doctor walked in and proceeded to preach the nurse-on-a-schedule agenda to me using obesity in America as the basis of that. She said that we’re teaching our babies to rely on food for comfort and that we’re starting them on the path to obesity. Needless to say, I’m looking for another family practitioner! Anyhow, just wanted to share. lol Thanks for listening to my rambling. :)

Kristi, Live and Love…Out Loud


Anna October 26, 2010 at 5:27 PM

I nursed my twins until they were 2.5 years old and their older sister weaned only because I was 29 weeks pregnant with them.

I was “touched out” having breastfed or been pregnant for right at 4 years, so I did use a convenient family beach vacation to gently wean Meg and Morgan.

I admire anyone that is selfless enough to nurse their children longer. It really is a gift. Kudos to you!


Nichole October 26, 2010 at 5:40 AM

Great post, thank you. My son is now 27 months old and I’m starting to get the weaning questions and, from a few family members, the rude and uneducated comments. Luckily, my mom and husband are very supportive, but it’s getting to the point where I don’t like NIP or in front of certain family members. I will continue to breastfeed my son as long as he needs it, but I wish people were more accepting.


Lori October 25, 2010 at 5:21 PM

GREAT post! I nursed all three of my children for a long time, tandem nursed too. The benefits and the bonding were wonderful!


Unplanned Cooking October 25, 2010 at 1:02 PM

That was the hardest thing about weaning: I lost my ability to easily calm our kids :).

Following from Blog Frog.


Casey October 25, 2010 at 12:04 AM

Yay for extended breastfeeding! :) I nursed my older son for just a few days shy of 4.5 years and my younger son until about 6 weeks before his 3rd birthday with 2.5+ years of tandem nursing. We had a few of those moments when I felt so grateful that we were still nursing. I didn’t set out to nurse to an extended age. I didn’t set out to tandem nurse, but it was definitely the right thing for our family, and I’m so glad that we did.


Cheri October 24, 2010 at 6:08 PM

What a wonderful post Dagmar. I think one of the greatest things about attachment parenting is that it helps create this amazing bond between mom and child. That bond between you and your son is so obvious and so very wonderful. You’re a great mom!


Carol October 24, 2010 at 5:50 PM

Yey to you! I wish my little toddler would nurse that long. We’re still nursing now that he’s on his 29th month. I’m just worried he’ll wean sooner since we’re not together half the week. We had almost the same dilemma before when our house got in the way of a flash flood. We just grabbed our stuff and left the house when help came. No food and no electricity. I just nursed him for 24 hours. He was 16 months then. I’ve never been so hungry in my entire life! But at least he was fine. I got him warm and comfortable so he’s pretty content. And just like you, thanks to breastfeeding!


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