If you’re a new mom, you might wonder, can I breastfeed past one year? The short answer is, absolutely yes. There are great benefits to breastfeeding a 1 year old.
Since we used to be told to only breastfeed up to the first year, I’m sure you have a lot of questions regarding breastfeeding at 12 months (and older).
Maybe you are want to learn if there’s benefits to breastfeeding past the first year (spoiler alert: there are lots!), a schedule for breastfeeding your 1 year old, or even when you should wean a baby. This article will cover all these questions and more.
When should you wean a baby?
Maybe you came to this article wondering, “When should I wean a baby?” While the answer is complex, it doesn’t have to be before the first year (and ideally, won’t be past the first year).
A lactation consultant friend of mine told me that she’ll often see moms who say they are sad that their baby is turning a year old. When she asks why, these moms reply that they know it means they have to wean.
But here was her response: Why does that mean you have to wean? And the answer is, it doesn’t!
There’s no reason that you have to wean just because your child turns a year old. In fact, did you know that the AAP recommends breastfeeding for 1 year OR LONGER? And that the WHO recommends breastfeeding for 2 years? So despite the fact that it is commonly thought that the recommended time to breastfeed is only one year, it is truly twice that!
But even if you’re basing your presumed weaning date off of one year, when you think about it, there’s no difference between your baby at 11 months and 29 days and your baby at 12 months old.
RELATED: 10 Gentle Tips for Toddler Weaning
Breastfeeding past 1 according to La Leche League
My favorite parenting book is called The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. This book (with an admittedly old-school name) is published by La Leche League. It describes breastfeeding in terms of ages and stages. They have an entire chapter on the first couple days of breastfeeding, a whole chapter on the first few weeks, and a whole chapter on around two to six weeks.
But what’s really interesting is when they get near the age that people often think they need to wean, this book continues to discuss breastfeeding. There is an entire chapter devoted to breastfeeding specifically from 9-18 months.
I think it’s worth noting that this book doesn’t have separate chapters before and after the 12 month mark. LLL’s instructions are beneficial because they recognize that nursing at nine months or at 17 and a half months looks basically the same.
Weaning at one year is just an arbitrary marker that we have made for ourselves, and isn’t even the most up-to-date recommendation.
Just because your baby turns one year old doesn’t mean that you need to stop breastfeeding-
in fact, there are many benefits to breastfeeding beyond one year that we will cover as well.
Breastfeeding Benefits After One Year Old
You might be wondering if it’s even beneficial to breastfeed past 12 months. The answer is absolutely yes.
Some of the benefits just for your baby are:
- it reduces the risk of heart disease
- it reduces the risk of certain cancers
- extended breastfeeding reduces the risk of high blood pressure
- risk reduction of type two diabetes
These are all chronic illnesses that plague our modern-day society. These long-term health problems and risks can all be dramatically reduced by breastfeeding for longer than one year.
These types of benefits extend to mothers too. Moms who breastfeed past the first year have:
- lower risk of heart disease
- reduced risk of type two diabetes
- less chance of getting breast cancer
- lower risk of experiencing ovarian cancer
That’s really significant to know because though it’s not the most well-known fact, the number one killer of women in the United States is heart disease.
It’s amazing to think that if we had a whole generation raising their level of breastfeeding for a longer period of time how different our healthcare could be, both on the individual level and for our overall population.
RELATED: Benefits of Toddler Breastfeeding
Calcium for breastfeeding moms
When you think of pregnancy or breastfeeding you may also think of the huge nutritional requirement to do these things. This might make you question whether or not breastfeeding for an extended period of time can deplete the mother of nutrition, specifically in calcium.
Osteoporosis is very prevalent in older women and causes brittle bones that break more easily than they should due to the bones themselves not containing enough calcium. If you’ve ever had family that has suffered from a broken hip you know how horrific that is.
While you are pregnant and breastfeeding your baby takes nutrients from your diet and if necessary, directly from your body. Your body desires to feed and fuel your baby to the best of its ability and if you are not getting enough nutrition during pregnancy or breastfeeding to accommodate that, your body will pull the nutrients directly from sources like your own bones. Calcium is one of the nutrients this will happen with.
What’s really interesting is some studies have found that in women who breastfeed for at least 36 months, their bones will actually re-calcify and they become even stronger than they were before. This can be from breastfeeding a single baby for 3 years or over the course of your life with multiple children as well. You may lower your risk of osteoporosis from breastfeeding.
With that said, it’s important that you take in enough calcium (I recommend this brand that also supplements magnesium).
So not only does breastfeeding after one year benefit the lifelong health of your baby, but it supports you as well.
Breastfeeding and Introducing Solid Foods
If you haven’t breastfed past a year before you might be thinking, “well what about solids?”
Honestly, it’s a bit of a continuum.
So when you very first start feeding your baby solid foods at around six months most of it doesn’t even go through. A lot of it ends up squishing in their hands, smushed all over their face, or plopping on the floor. Much of the food they will gum and spit it out, which is totally fine.
Your baby doesn’t nutritionally NEED solid foods at this time. It is more about gaining experience and confidence with solid foods than actually replacing breast milk nutrients with them.
Eventually, they will start swallowing their new foods and you’ll see proof in the diapers. Depending on the child, it could be anywhere between 7 months to around 13 or 14 months before they actually begin to enjoy the flavors and textures much.
At some point, they will really get into it and begin eating more and more solids. This time is different for each child but when you first begin feeding your baby solid food they will still mostly get their nutrition from breastmilk. Then their nutrition will be coming from 50:50 food and breastmilk, and eventually will be mostly from solid foods. Once you reach this point breast milk is important mostly for your child’s comfort.
Other Benefits of Breastfeeding After Introducing Solids
- You’ll fill nutritional gaps. Continuing to breastfeed when your child is eating solid foods is great because toddlers can be very picky. For instance, they’re programmed to avoid bitter vegetables. They’re also leery of new foods a lot of times. If you’re still continuing to nurse your one year old, they’re going to be getting extra protein, extra calories, extra calcium, and a lot of vitamins. Even things like folate, which may not be in their toddler diet, they can get through your breastmilk.
- Breastfeeding / chestfeeding encourages physical connection for mom and baby. My favorite thing is the cuddles, they’re so sweet. This connection and comfort coming from parent to child is great for their confidence and sense of security in the world.
- Nursing is helpful when your baby is sick. Breastfeeding is a great source of hydration and electrolytes for a sick baby. Plus, if they don’t want to eat, they can just nurse for a few days (don’t worry, they’ll pick up solids again soon). Finally, your little one will get an immunity boost from your breast milk’s antibodies and immunofactors.
Schedule for Breastfeeding After One Year
You may wonder how often a 1 year old will nurse. Do you need to have a breastfeeding schedule for a one year old?
As you breastfeed beyond one year, it’s really just the same as when they were 11 and a half months old. You might be down to one nap at this point or your baby might still be at two naps. Either way is fine.
- Typically at this age, they wake up in the morning and they want to cuddle and nurse, so that’s a great time to nurse especially if they are still on the two-nap schedule.
- They’ll probably want to nurse right before they nap.
- They might want to nurse upon waking up from their nap.
- Then they’ll have lunch and maybe play a bit. Then before another nap, they’ll want to nurse again.
- When they wake up they will typically nurse a little more.
- Then your one-year-old will still want to nurse before bedtime as well.
There isn’t a great way to describe the typical nursing schedule of a one-year-old. It is still typically done on demand because at this point it is mostly for comfort and connection. Their nursing schedule is best described as being centered around their sleeping and then sometimes their comfort. You can get a more detailed schedule for free here along with my One Year Old Breastfeeding Guide.
One-Year-Old Breastfeeding Schedule if You Work Outside the Home
If you are working outside of the home it can make breastfeeding during this time both harder and easier.
One thing that is really nice is that you will no longer need to pump if you continue to nurse past the first year when you work outside of the home. Your caregiver can supplement with food and water until your return, when you can pick them up and have that special reconnection nursing session.
If you are gone during the day your one year old might nurse a little more in the evening than the previous schedule described above to “catch up” and reconnect with mom, but they really are ok nutritionally to not nurse during the day in your absence.
Additionally, your supply will respond appropriately. It might be a little less, but there should be enough there for your baby.
How Breastfeeding a One Year Old is Easier Than a Baby
Let’s be honest: There can be a lot of hassle that comes along with breastfeeding, especially when your baby is brand new. You need to keep track of when they last ate and be sure to feed them every 3 or 4 hours. You also might have to worry about pumping, which can be extremely a big job.
You may be surprised that once you get to where your baby is a toddler that a lot of that challenging stuff about nursing just kind of goes away because it’s just not relevant anymore. One of the things that people don’t realize is that breastfeeding a toddler in a lot of ways is actually a lot easier than breastfeeding a baby.
At this point, you can even start putting down some gentle limits. So for example, if you’re at the grocery store and your baby starts pulling down your shirt and yelling that they want a nurse in front of everybody, you can set limits and teach them nursing manners.
Just take their little hand, put it down and tell them, “When we get to the car we’ll get na-na,” or, “Once we get back home, we’ll get disks.” Basically, you can teach them at this point to delay nursing, it doesn’t have to be so supply and demand.
Also, distraction begins to work very well after one year when trying to delay breastfeeding. For example, if you’re in a situation where you don’t want to nurse, you can simply say, “Hey, we can’t do that right now. Here are some crayons, will you draw me something?”
Or give them a toy or find some other way to distract them. This helps you begin to set general nursing limits, and teaches them to wait. Teaching them to process those feelings and that it’s going to be okay.
Wrapping Up One Year Old Breastfeeding: Everything You Want to Know
So now you know, you absolutely can breastfeed past the first year. In fact, I would highly recommend it. And if you have more questions about how about 1 year old breastfeeding or a one year old breastfeeding schedule, make sure you grab my guide, Breastfeeding past 1: Why and How.