Am I Crazy to Breastfeed My Toddler?
It's not unusual to breastfeed a toddler in most of the world
What are the physcial health risks? Mental health risks? Is it normal? Am I crazy if I want my baby in bed with me?
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Should I breastfeed a toddler?
How long you should breastfeed your child is certainly a complicated and highly personal decision. Whether you should continue to breastfeed a toddler can even be controversial. However, for those of you in America that are thinking about breastfeeding into the toddler years, don't feel like you are alone. In fact, the vast ,majority of the world breastfeeds their children well into the toddler years. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that the world average for breastfeeding is 4.2 years. Additionally, WHO recommends that children be breastfed for at least two years. Anthropologists have determined that the natural weaning age for humans is at least 2 1/2 years and possibly as late as 7 years old. According to UNICEF statistics, the number of mothers who are still breastfeeding after the first year are as high as 90% in other parts of the world. Given these facts, is it truly so unusual to want to continue breastfeeding your child after their first birthday?
The nutritional value of breastfeeding a baby is a well established fact. Doesn't it seem illogical that those benfits would arbitrarily stop because your child has reached her first birthday? Of course, by her first birthday she is eating solid foods as well so one might argue that a child doesn't require her mother's milk anymore. She may not require it, but it will continue to provide her unique benefits that only a mother's milk can give a child. Personally, I nursed all three of my children. Actually, I am still nursing my 16 month old. My two older children are now 19 and 16 (yes, you read that right - I started all over again!). My son was nursed until he was 1 1/2 and my daughter until she was 2 1/2. I cannot scientifically prove to you that nursing them for that length of time made a difference. I can, however, tell you that they have been extremely healthy and secure children. I can count on one hand the number of times they needed antibiotics. When all of my friends children were battling ear infections and colds, my children were healthy. Maybe I just got lucky, but I believe the breastfeeding helped. I know it didn't hurt.
Lastly, nursing an older child provides security and comfort that has no substitute. Children to not quite needing the comfort of their mother when they turn one year old. Children feel safe when they are nestled in mommy's lap. There is a bond that is formed through nursing that cannot be duplicated. When the child is secure in his attachment to his parent, he becomes independent very quickly. Therefore, a child who has the option to turn to her mother for comfort will actually become independent faster and with less trauma than other children.
The desire to breastfeed a toddler is quite normal. The bottom line is that if you WANT to breastfeed your child after that magical fist birthday - do it. You and your child will both be happier and healthier.