Considering the many benefits to nursing a child beyond the first year, it is surprising that so few mothers in the United States do it. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics:
Breastfeeding should be continued for at least the first year of life and beyond for as long as mutually desired by mother and child… Increased duration of breastfeeding confers significant health and developmental benefits for the child and the mother… There is no upper limit to the duration of breastfeeding and no evidence of psychological or developmental harm from breastfeeding into the third year of life or longer.” (AAP 2005)
Still abundant in nutrients and antibodies, breast milk is still the best food for your child, even when he is eating solids. When compared with toddlers who have been weaned, breastfed toddlers get sick less often, develop fewer allergies, and are less likely to develop asthma. If your toddler does get ill, breastfeeding is the best way to keep him hydrated, not to mention comforted.
Breastfeeding a toddler is also convenient. You have an instant way to comfort your child when he gets hurt or to calm him if he is throwing a tantrum. Children who are breastfed are less dependent on comfort objects like blankets and stuffed animals, which can be lost. In addition, breastfeeding a toddler is a great way to get him to sleep at night.
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Maintaining the breastfeeding relationship through the toddler years can help you stay bonded to your baby. The breastfeeding relationship between a mother and her child is unique and special. There is no reason to hurry to end it just because your child can walk and eat solid foods. Although people often claim that breastfed toddlers are more dependent, it turns out the opposite is true. Not forced into independence before they are ready, breastfed toddlers tend to be more independent, eager to explore the world because they are secure in their relationship with mom.
There are also many benefits for mom. Extended breastfeeding delays the onset of menstruation, which most women consider to be a plus, especially if you are not wanting to get pregnant again right away. Breastfeeding reduces the risk of several cancer and rheumatoid arthritis. It also helps in weight loss.
If you do decide to breastfeed your toddler, you can be sure that you are making a good choice for both you and your child.