Breastfeeding Beyond 12 Months: Is There Evidence for Health Impacts?

Annu Rev Nutr. 2021 Oct 11:41:283-308. doi: 10.1146/annurev-nutr-043020-011242. Epub 2021 Jun 11.


Because breastfeeding provides optimal nutrition and other benefits for infants (e.g., lower risk of infectious disease) and benefits for mothers (e.g., less postpartum bleeding), many organizations recommend that healthy infants be exclusively breastfed for 4 to 6 months in the United States and 6 months internationally. Recommendations related to how long breastfeeding should continue, however, are inconsistent. The objective of this article is to review the literature related to evidence for benefits of breastfeeding beyond 1 year for mothers and infants. In summary, human milk represents a good source of nutrients and immune components beyond 1 year. Some studies point toward lower infant mortality in undernourished children breastfed for >1 year, and prolonged breastfeeding increases interbirth intervals. Data on other outcomes (e.g., growth, diarrhea, obesity, and maternal weight loss) are inconsistent, often lacking sufficient control for confounding variables. There is a substantial need for rigorous, prospective, mixed-methods, cross-cultural research on this topic.

Keywords: breastfeeding; guidance; health; lactation; prolonged.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Breast Feeding*
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Nutritional Status*
  • Obesity
  • Prospective Studies
  • United States