The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding until at least 2 years of age — and beyond that if desired. However, mothers in the U.S. don't often breastfeed past the age of 1. Nursing, while becoming more of a cultural norm for mothers of infants, still suffers from social stigma, particularly the topic of nursing in public and breastfeeding beyond 12 months of age. The good news is that nursing your toddler is healthy, normal and recommended.
Your breast milk, which has been a valuable source of nutrition for your little one from the day she was born, continues to help provide nourishment for as long as you nurse her. As your baby grows older, the nutritional content of your milk changes to suit her needs.
Breastfeeding isn't solely about nutrition, either. Babies learn to love nursing for the warmth and closeness it provides. The breast becomes their home and a physical connection to their mother. As your baby grows, he may reach out to you to nurse after a tumble or a scare. Continuing to nurse beyond the age of 1 can also help alleviate stress in new situations or when your little one needs some extra comfort or reassurance.
Even better, you will continue to produce antibodies — valuable disease-fighting bonuses — the entire time you breastfeed your child. This can make the duration of your child's illness, if she were to get sick, shorter.
Jolene, mother of three, nursed her second child for 16 months and is currently breastfeeding a newborn. "She was never very sick," she explained. "I'd get a nasty cold and she would get a sniffle. I'm tempted to mix expressed breast milk into her milk to give her more antibodies."
Adverse health effects have been documented in developing countries when children are weaned before 3 years of age. In Guinea-Bissau, for example, children of this age group who no longer breastfed had a mortality rate three and a half times higher than their nursing peers. While the consequences are not as dire in the industrialized world, those statistics are startling enough to consider how breastfeeding beyond the age of 1 continues to have its merits.
If you get the stink eye for nursing your 1-, 2- or 3-year-old, you may feel flustered, defensive or embarrassed. You may choose to nurse "in the closet" because of how you picture your family, friends or the public reacting.
Bolster yourself in advance with a few things to say, such as:
You can also smile and say, "This is what works best for my family." Simply knowing the peace it instills in a child can be reason enough. Lisa, mother of a 23-month-old girl, said, "All I know is Madison still enjoys it and it makes her happy and comforts her."
Are you an extended breastfeeder? How has it benefited your child? Tell us in Comments below.
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