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Breastfeeding a Toddler
By Sherri Hedberg, IBCLC
How long should I continue to breastfeed? Every mother will ask herself this question at least once before her baby is a year old. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all babies be nursed at least the first year. The former Surgeon General, Antonia Novello, recommends at least two years. Every book you read will have different recommendations. What is a mother to do?
The benefits of breastfeeding do not disappear after 12 months. Any baby who is breastfeeding, even if it is just once a day, continues to receive the immunological, nutritional, and emotional benefits of breastfeeding. In fact, as a baby begins to decrease the amount of breastfeedings, the concentration of the antibodies increases - so that the dose is still the same. When dealing with a toddler who is picky when it comes to solids, continuing to breastfeed offers many benefits. Breast milk is still a complete food and will round out a toddler's diet who only wishes to consume crackers. <g> Mothers who have continued to nurse through the second year say that the 'terrible twos' aren't quite so terrible. Breastfeeding is an excellent comfort tool and will quickly end a tantrum before it even starts. Also, for a toddler who is always on the go, breastfeeding allows the opportunity for lots of snuggling with Mom (not sure who benefits the most from this - baby OR mom?).
Society has its own opinion on how long a baby should breastfeed. Worldwide, the average age of weaning is 4.5 years. In the United States, the majority of babies who started out breastfeeding are weaned by six months. Because of this, very few people have actually seen a toddler breastfeed or be aware that it is an "okay" thing to do.
How long to breastfeed? My answer would be as long as you are happy doing it. There is no magic age that a baby must be weaned. Every nursing couple is different. Some continue for a year, others for three years. . . And they all give their babies the very best start.
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