AAP now: Breastfeeding for 2 years is beneficial

By Alanna Iacovetti

For the first time in a decade, The American Academy of Pediatrics has updated their guidance on breastfeeding in a policy statement made on Monday. Their recommendation now states that breastfeeding for up to two years or longer is beneficial for both mom and baby, and they urge pediatricians to support those who choose to do so.

The AAP has always recommended that parents exclusively breastfeed for 6 months before introducing solid foods. The previous recommendation was that people should continue to breastfeed their babies for up to a year or longer, but this new guidance makes it clear that moms can and should continue to breastfeed past that point if it is mutually desired. These recommendations are similar to World Health Organization guidance, which also advises parents to breastfeed exclusively for six months and continue to provide breastmilk for up to two years and beyond if it works for them.

We all know that breastmilk has powerful disease-fighting properties that help reduce the risk of respiratory illnesses, ear infections, viruses, vision problems and more. It promotes gastrointestinal and immune function and contributes to disease prevention throughout your little one's lifetime. 

While it was once believed that breastfeeding past one year didn’t provide babies with worthwhile health benefits, growing evidence suggests that in the second year of a baby’s life, breastmilk is still an incredible source of nutrients that aid a toddlers’ immune development. The benefits go beyond just the time that they are actively breastfeeding — they last years, with fewer instances of allergies, eczema, heart disease, and more. In the policy update, Joan Younger Meek, MD, MS, RD, FAAP, FABM, IBCLC, lead author of the reports, states:

"The health benefits are vast and can be viewed as a long-term investment not only in a child's development, but to public health as a whole."

For mothers, long-term breastfeeding is associated with a decreased risk of hypertension, type 2 diabetes, breast cancer and ovarian cancer. The longer a mom breastfeeds, the greater protection she has. For example, for every 12 months of cumulative breastfeeding, the risk of breast cancer is reduced by 4.3%. There are numerous physical and mental health benefits for breastfeeding parents!

While the AAP encourages parents to breastfeed for as long as they can or want to, they also acknowledge the barriers that are built into our society that make it hard to do so. Lack of support, challenges in the workplace and the stigma around extended breastfeeding are just some of those obstacles. They state:

Mothers who choose to breastfeed beyond the first year need support from their medical care providers, as well as protections against workplace barriers. 

Policies that protect breastfeeding, including universal paid maternity leave; the right of a woman to breastfeed in public; insurance coverage for lactation support and breast pumps; on-site child care; universal workplace break time with a clean, private location for expressing milk; the right to feed expressed milk; and the right to breastfeed in child care centers and lactation rooms in schools are all essential to supporting families in sustaining breastfeeding.

It’s important to note that some parents can't breastfeed or prefer not to, and the AAP encourages health professionals to support each family’s individual needs and situation. Dr. Meek explains, “Not everyone can breastfeed or continue breastfeeding for as long as desired for various reasons, including workplace barriers. Families deserve nonjudgmental support, information and help to guide them in feeding their infant,” while stating that pediatricians should provide care that helps mothers reach their intended goals in a way that is equitable and culturally sensitive. They advise professionals to also ask what terms families use when working with gender-diverse parents to be more inclusive of chestfeeding parents.

The AAP continues to stress that breastfeeding should only continue if it is mutually desired by both parties. If at any time it starts to take a mental or physical toll on you, know that it is okay to end your journey. Any amount of breastmilk that you provide to your child is beneficial. You should always be proud of what you’ve done and how far you’ve come!


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