The importance of breast milk for infants and toddlers
Breast milk is species specific, so it's the best possible thing a human baby can consume. Health care workers prioritize babies being breastfed within one hour of birth to obtain the immune system benefits it offers.
Breastfeeding has everything a baby needs for nutrition and a strong immune system. With the help of IgA from the mother, it also helps them to form a relationship with their mother. There's no reason older infants and toddlers shouldn't continue to receive these benefits through extended breastfeeding.
Benefits of extended breastfeeding
All women are encouraged to breastfeed at the beginning as it’s been proven to give your baby one of the best starts in life. The advantages associated with breastfeeding keep going as you continue the process beyond infancy.
The nutritional components of breast milk really can’t be beaten. That’s why doctors recommend it exclusively for the first six months if this is an option for the mother. After this, breast milk can be alternated with age-appropriate meals and snacks. The composition of breast milk changes as time passes, so it will always have the right nutrients for your child, whatever their age.
Breast milk has hormones, proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. Your baby controls how much they want and stops when they're full and nourished. This habit is reflected in studies that have shown links between breastfeeding and lower rates of obesity and Type 2 diabetes in kids.
Breast milk also contains 200 fatty acid chains that are important for brain development. According to WHO, researchers found direct links between extended breastfeeding and higher IQ scores, emotional security, and better mental health.
It’s important for a mother to follow a healthy, well-balanced diet. The average woman should consume an additional 300 calories a day beyond baseline needs and an additional 500 calories a day when breastfeeding, including plenty of protein (70–75 grams a day), a low amount of simple carbohydrates and fats, and lots of fiber.
Boosted immunity and improved health
The antibodies in breast milk protect infants from common childhood illnesses like bacterial meningitis, diarrhea, respiratory tract infections, and late-onset sepsis. Lower infant mortality has also been noted for babies who breastfeed.
Continuing to breastfeed creates a healthy immune system beyond infancy. Breastfed toddlers are sick less often, and many attribute this to their extended intake of antibodies and adequate nourishment.
Breastfeeding also benefits your immunity. Breastfeeding for 12 months or more reduces a mother’s risk for breast cancer, ovarian cancer, high blood pressure, and diabetes. It's also associated with easier weight loss after pregnancy and reduced rates of depression.