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Breastfeeding Older Children Driven By Health, Enjoyment

Update Date: Oct 10, 2014 04:31 PM EDT

Mothers who breastfeed older babies believe their children will benefit both physically and socially, according to a new study.

Breastfeeding has many benefits. Previous studies reveal that breast milk strengthens immune systems and lowers the risk of stomach viruses, lower respiratory illnesses, ear infections, and meningitis.

Mothers are generally advised to breastfeed their children three months to a year. However, some mothers choose to breastfeed their children longer.

Researchers who conducted the latest study wanted to understand why some mothers continue nursing after a child's first birthday. After surveying more than 50,000 U.S. moms between the ages of 18 and 50, researchers found that mothers who breastfeed for longer do it to improve the health and nutrition of children.

"The three most important reasons that mothers gave for extended nursing were the nutritional benefits of breast milk, the other health benefits of breast milk and the opportunity to build a stronger social bond with their baby," principal investigator Alexis Tchaconas, research assistant, developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York, said in a news release.

Mothers included in the study were asked to rank 15 factors related to extended breastfeeding as "very important," "Important," "somewhat important," or "Not important". The study revealed the top factors that triggered extended feeding were health benefits and bonding with their child, personal enjoyment, support from a spouse or partner and not needing to pay for formula.

"Although most women felt comfortable discussing their decision to nurse their baby beyond 1 year of age with their child's pediatrician and with their own health care providers, the recommendations of these health care professionals were not identified as being important in terms of the mother's decision to extend nursing," senior investigator Dr. Andrew Adesman, MD, FAAP, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York, said in a statement.

The findings will be presented Monday, Oct. 13 at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) National Conference & Exhibition in San Diego.

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