I’ve written this blog post because this was something we were chatting about recently at a Mum & Bub Morning session. Is it worth breastfeeding after your baby turns 1 year old?
Some of the babies at Mum & Bub Morning are coming up to their first birthday and mums said they were getting asked when they were going to wean their babies from breastfeeding. One mum had been told that babies “don’t need breast milk after the age of 1 year” and another that breast milk “doesn’t give much nutrition” once baby is over 12 months.
Is this information correct and true?
For some of you who are reading this, getting to 12 months of breastfeeding might seem like a long way away. The early weeks of breastfeeding can be challenging and sometimes getting through even one more day can seem impossible. Yet, with the right support and information, many of us DO keep going.
You get through the first few months, maybe breastfeeding does actually start to feel more “natural”, you keep breastfeeding through some of the developmental milestones (4-month sleep progression/regression, anyone?), then your baby starts solids and you’re still breastfeeding, and then suddenly you find yourself planning their first birthday party and….yip, still breastfeeding!
Where to from here?
As you probably know, the recommendation (from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and from our own Australian NHMRC) is for babies to be exclusively breast fed (i.e. receive only breast milk) until around 6 months of age, and then for breastfeeding to continue while we also introduce solid foods.
It is up to each of us to decide when it is the right time for us to wean our baby, and it’s important for us to know what our options are and what weaning might look like. (See my blog post on Weaning.)
But what about those of us who choose to keep breastfeeding after 12 months? Is it worth continuing?
Breast milk does NOT suddenly “lose” its nutritional value when a baby turns 1 year. (Yes, some mums are told this!) It still contains all the nutrients that have been in it since your baby was born, with the actual levels of some nutrients and other components adjusting over time, based on the age of your baby and how much milk they are taking. That’s pretty clever. Our breast milk is a dynamic fluid that also changes each day in response to the environment we live in and the germs/bacteria/viruses we’re exposed to.
Also, breastfeeding is about more than food - it also gives closeness, cuddles, connection and comfort. Breastfeeding is a pretty useful parenting tool! (Yes, there are lots of other ways to give closeness, cuddles, connection and comfort - but we can still choose to breastfeed if that’s right for us.)
It is true that after the age of 1 year babies can get all the nutrition they need from other foods and drinks, so technically they don’t “need” breastmilk (or formula) for nutrition…BUT, if we choose to continue breastfeeding, what does breast milk actually give them?
Figures from WHO say that breast milk contributes to half or more of a baby’s energy intake between 6-12mths and a third of their energy intake between 13-24mths of age.
A study (Kathleen Dewey et al 1984) looking at babies 11-16mths of age found that they consumed an average 550ml of breast milk, which gave them about 50% of their energy intake.
Further work by Kathleen Dewey et al plus studies by other researchers, found that 448ml of breast milk provides a baby of 12-23 months of age with:
29% of their energy intake
43% of their daily protein requirement
36% of their calcium
75% of their Vit A.
76% of their folate
94% of their Vit B12
60% of their Vit C
Also, breast milk continues to supply a baby/toddler/child with immune factors, antibodies, growth factors, hormones, living cells, cytokines, oligosaccharides and more, for the whole time of lactation. No other food provides all of that.