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Why you should breastfeed your toddler

Monica Beyer is a mom of four and has been writing professionally since 2000, when her first book, Baby Talk, was published. Her main area of interest is attachment parenting and all that goes with it, including breastfeeding, co-sleepin...

Breastfeeding benefits don't end at age 1

If you've made it a full year breastfeeding your baby, you are doing great. But the benefits to nursing — for both you and your little one — don't end when her first 12 months do, especially during the winter months when colds and the flu run rampant. Read on to learn why you should continue breastfeeding and a few tips on what to say to those who may raise their eyebrows.

toddler breastfeeding

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.

Learn about how Alanis Morissette feels about extended breastfeeding >>

Overwhelming benefits

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.

Keeping Mom close

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.

What to say

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:

  • The World Health Organization recommends a minimum of two years
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends at least 12 months
  • Both organizations encourage breastfeeding beyond these recommendations
  • Your toddler can fight off illness easier while still nursing
  • Breastmilk helps fill in any nutritional gaps left behind by a toddler's picky diet

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."

Tell us

Are you an extended breastfeeder? How has it benefited your child? Tell us in Comments below.

More about breastfeeding

Why I love breastfeeding my preschooler
How to breastfeed in public
6 Benefits of co-sleeping with your chldren

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