Breastfeeding a Toddler
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends all children are breastfed to two years and beyond. In our culture this is rare, with most children being weaned before the age of one. As a mother, it can be hard to go against the grain, but there are some very good reasons to continue to breastfeed your toddler.
Seven good reasons to breastfeed your toddler
1. Research indicates that breast milk still provides protection for your toddler and helps them fight off sickness. Weaned toddlers have a higher number of illnesses than toddlers who continue to breastfeed.
2. Even taking into account socioeconomic and other influences, cognitive development continues to be enhanced the longer a child is breastfed.
3. Children who are breastfed for one year or more have lower rates of obesity in later life. It is believed this is because children who are breastfed regulate their intake based on hunger and not external forces such as how much they are given. This self-regulation is the key to developing healthy eating habits.
4. In mammals, the natural weaning age is around the time they double in weight. In humans this occurs around the 26-30 month mark. Studies have shown that the average age of children who are left to wean when they are ready correlates to this age.
5. Breast milk continues to provide essential nutrients and fats in your child's diet. This is a great benefit when your toddler is going through a stage of being a fussy eater and you're worried they are not getting the nutrients they need.
6. Breastfeeding develops a strong bond between a mother and her child. This is an important part of your child's emotional development.
7. It will not inhibit your child's independence or make them clingy. Most breastfed toddlers are just as independent as their weaned playmates. Children become independent when they are emotionally ready and secure in their attachment to their primary caregivers. There is some research to suggest that breastfeeding promotes secure attachment and that many breastfed toddlers are more independent than other children.
The hardest part of breastfeeding a toddler is dealing with the negativity and lack of support for breastfeeding mothers. Our culture does not honor the mother-child bond and is quick to separate them. In more traditional societies, breastfeeding during toddlerhood is commonplace and mothers are supported to do this. If you choose to breastfeed through toddlerhood and beyond there is support available. An increasing number of mothers are rejecting the practice of early weaning and continuing to breastfeed their children to two years and beyond.
For breastfeeding information and support contact your local La Leche League or Breastfeeding Association.