How Breast Milk Changes as Baby Grows Past 1 Year
The composition of your breast milk changes - and continues to change - to meet the unique needs of your baby, even as he or she grows into a toddler!
Changes in Breast Milk Composition Over Time are Tailored to Your Baby
Most national and global healthcare organizations agree that breastfeeding is one of the most powerful ways to protect your baby and ensure he or she is getting all the nutrition they need for optimal growth and development. While nearly all healthcare professionals agree that babies should be exclusively fed breast milk for at least the first six months of their lives, the World Health Organization recommends that breastfeeding is continued for up to two years and beyond - or until a mutual decision is made to wean. This can be challenging, as your body eventually produces less breast milk as your baby grows and becomes a toddler. This is because breast milk is made on a supply and demand basis - your little one naturally requires less of it as he or she is introduced to complementary foods, which then signals your body to produce smaller volumes.
When this happens, the composition of your breast milk will change - as it did when your baby was a newborn - to meet these different needs. In fact, it has been shown that breast milk develops more antibodies and a higher fat content once your little one enters his or her toddler years and is regularly eating complementary foods. Though you are likely producing smaller volumes of breast milk, its change in composition concentrates many immune-boosting nutrients for high quality content that continues to provide many of the same benefits to your growing toddler.
As you continue to nurse and/or pump, you may not realize just how significantly your breast milk changes as baby grows - particularly during growth spurts and minor illnesses affecting you or your little one. Your breast milk is incredibly responsive to environmental changes, such as the length and frequency of your baby's feedings or if there are germs like bacteria or viruses present. For example, babies often nurse more frequently during a growing spurt, which can cause an increase in your breast milk's fat content to account for this sudden growth. Similarly, infections present in either you or your baby cause an immune cell response in your breast milk - meaning, you will produce milk with specific antibodies to help your little one fight a cold or illness or proactively protect them against sickness if you are under the weather.
Benefits and Breast Milk Changes as Baby Grows
There are many proven benefits to extended breastfeeding, even as you may notice changes in breast milk composition over time while your body works to optimally accommodate your baby's changing needs into toddlerhood. Some of these noted benefits include:
- Immune support and protection. The components of your breast milk change as your baby grows and begins eating complementary foods. These changes are thought to help strengthen their immune system while reducing their likelihood of common minor illnesses like ear infections, colds, and upset stomachs.
- Continued nutrition. Whether your baby is six months old or nearing two years, he or she will continue to benefit from the high quality nutritional content of your breast milk. Extended breastfeeding is a great way to ensure your little one receives the proteins, vitamins, calcium, fat, and other necessary developmental nutrients they need, in one of the most natural ways possible.
- Enhanced longer-term health. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, breastfeeding for longer than six months helps to protect your little one against a variety of conditions like type 1 and type 2 diabetes and childhood, adolescent, and adult obesity. Additionally, babies who are breastfed for longer than six months are also less likely to develop childhood leukemia and lymphoma than those who receive formula.
- Reduced risks of osteoporosis and breast, ovarian, and endometrial cancer for moms. Research shows extensive breastfeeding health benefits for moms, such as:
- Proven benefits to long-term maternal bone strength
- A 2% reduced risk of endometrial cancer for every one month of breastfeeding
- A reduced risk of breast cancer for every year breastfeeding (combinted total for all children), with moms who breastfed for a lifetime total of longer than 2 years receiving the most benefit
- A reduced risk of ovarian cancer, particularly for those who breastfed for longer-term periods
- Faster return to your pre-pregnancy weight. Unless your healthcare provider has mentioned concerns about your weight, what's most important right now is continuing to bond with your little one. Though it can be tempting to compare your pre-pregnancy and postnatal weights, what matters most is that you and your baby are healthy and happy. That said, breastfeeding has been shown to help mothers return to their pre-pregnancy weight earlier, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. This is especially true when breastfeeding for longer than six months, as a Journal of Women's Health study discovered that this timeframe was significantly associated with a smaller waist circumference for up to 10 years after pregnancy when compared to those who breastfed for less than six months.
As you can see, there is incredible value in extended breastfeeding, Mama! These benefits are not just excellent for your baby; they extend to your own health and wellness too. Rest assured that your breast milk is a living, fluid substance and there are significant changes in breast milk composition over time, all to ensure that your little one is getting exactly the vitamins and nutrients they need, when they need them most.