Few issues inspire as many passions among parents of young children as that of breastfeeding. Nearly everyone agrees that breast is best, although not everyone can do it for one reason or another, but almost no one agrees on how long one ought to breastfeed.
Whereas a breastfeeding mother of a newborn baby gets widespread approval for her choice to nurse, mothers who breastfeed toddlers often meet with public scorn and questioning looks. Just how long should you breastfeed a child? Is there any age that’s too long?
The answer is somewhat murky. One thing is clear: most health professionals agree that children should be breastfed at least a year, if not longer. The American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that babies be breastfed exclusively for the first six months, and then continue to be nursed at least for the first year and thereafter as long as the mother and child wish to continue.
Less than 10% of mothers currently meet both these goals. The World Health Organization recommends that children be breastfed at least until age two, and a former surgeon general of the US has commented that it is a lucky child who continues to be breastfed until age two.
Even in this day and age of knowing that breast is best, as the mantra goes, there is still a lot of misinformation out there about breastfeeding toddlers. Some say that breastmilk loses its nutritional value after the first year and becomes inferior to cow’s milk; this is not true.
Breastmilk remains nutritionally sound for the entire duration of the breastfeeding relationship. It continues to provide antibodies to the nursing child, as well. Some research suggests these antibodies may even be present in greater, more highly concentrated quantities after the first year.
But what about independence and cultural expectations? Sadly, it is true that some people frown on nursing older children. In our over-sexualized culture, it makes some people uncomfortable to see a walking, talking child suckling at his or her mother’s breast. However, for the mother and child with a mutually acceptable nursing relationship, other people’s opinions should not be a factor. Often, pushing a child to be independent before the individual child is ready can be counterproductive.
It is best to go by your own instincts and the signals given by your child. Moms should continue nursing as long as they feel it is right for themselves and their children. Nursing the toddler brings a slew of benefits outside nutrition. It is a wonderful tool to calm a temper tantrum or to get a busy toddler to sit still and rest for a few minutes out of the day.
It can be a scary and confusing world when you are just a year or two old and you are constantly encountering new things, and nursing provides a comfortable way to connect with Mom. Children will give it up when they are ready.
For mothers who eventually wish to give up breastfeeding, your own feelings obviously count too! Any amount of breastfeeding is beneficial for your child, and you have done a wonderful job — particularly if you have gone long enough to even be reading an article about toddler breastfeeding in the first place!For mothers