The American Academy of Family Physicians notes that children weaned before two years of age are at increased risk of illness (AAFP 2008).
Breastfeeding toddlers between the ages of one and three have been found to have fewer illnesses, illnesses of shorter duration, and lower mortality rates (Mølbak 1994, van den Bogaard 1991, Gulick 1986).
“Antibodies are abundant in human milk throughout lactation” (Nutrition During Lactation 1991; p. 134). In fact, some of the immune factors in breastmilk increase in concentration during the second year and also during the weaning process. (Lawrence & Lawrence 2011, Goldman 1983, Goldman & Goldblum 1983, Institute of Medicine 1991).
Per the World Health Organization, “a modest increase in breastfeeding rates could prevent up to 10% of all deaths of children under five: Breastfeeding plays an essential and sometimes underestimated role in the treatment and prevention of childhood illness.” [emphasis added]
Extensive research on the relationship between cognitive achievement (IQ scores, grades in school) and breastfeeding has shown the greatest gains for those children breastfed the longest.
MOTHERS also benefit from breastfeeding for a longer duration
Extended nursing delays the return of fertility in some women by suppressing ovulation.
Breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast cancer. Studies have found a significant inverse association between duration of lactation and breast cancer risk.
Breastfeeding also reduces the risk of ovarian cancer, uterine cancer, and endometrial cancer.
Breastfeeding protects against osteoporosis. During lactation a mother may experience decreases of bone mineral. A nursing mom’s bone mineral density may be reduced in the whole body by 1 to 2 percent while she is still nursing. This is gained back, and bone mineral density may actually increase, when the baby is weaned from the breast. This is not dependent on additional calcium supplementation in the mother’s diet.
Breastfeeding reduces the risk of rheumatoid arthritis.
Breastfeeding reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Breastfeeding has been shown to decrease insulin requirements in diabetic women. There is also a decreased risk of Type 2 diabetes mellitus in mothers who do not have a history of gestational diabetes.
Breastfeeding moms may lose weight easier.