Breastfeeding is an incredibly personal experience. It can be anything from a relaxing way for mother and baby to bond to a source of extreme frustration. While the World Health Organization and pediatric doctors recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, many mother struggle to make it that long while others don’t want to stop.
Past six months there is less guidance on what to do. Formula and baby food companies push their products as better and easier sources of nutrition, but many mothers continue breastfeeding as good patterns have been established and it’s comforting for both the mother and the child. Starting to mix in solids as the baby is ready is important, but breastfeeding up until the child’s second birthday and even beyond is great if that works for you and your child.
Like many aspects of parenting, the trick is to listen to all the advice you receive and then compare that to what is working for you and your child to make a decision. While a two-year-old might be driving you crazy during feedings trying to drink and climb on your head at the same time, they also might be happy to calmly cuddle with you while taking advantage of important nutrients and antibodies your breastmilk still contains. Listen to your instincts, see what’s working for you and your child, and worry less about what some group says is the guideline. Breastfeed your baby until you need to quit for some reason or they wean themselves and be comfortable that you’re making the right decision for you both.
If you’re worried about having to explain to friends and family why you’re still breastfeeding, and feel like you need to say more than simply, “It’s good for both of us right now,” then consider the following information.
Women around the world breastfeed until their babies are two or older. The World Health Organization, the same one that said breastfeed exclusively until six months, also says to continue until at least two years old, combined with an increasing amount of solid foods. Breastfeeding toddlers is natural, normal, and healthy for you both. The milk your toddler gets from you is full of antibodies and nutrients that are good for your child’s development and can help strengthen their immune system. Giving your child the antibodies you’ve developed will help him stay healthier and get well faster. A healthy child means you’re less likely to catch something from him and giving your child an opportunity to feed provides some pain relief.
The composition of breast milk changes as a child develops, including having a higher fat content for a toddler. It also helps meet needs for energy, protein, calcium, vitamins A, B12, and C, and folate. You’ll still want to feed your baby healthy solid foods, but breastfeeding goes a long way towards ensuring they are getting all the essential nutrients your child needs.
Just as it’s good for your child’s immune system, it’s also good for the toddler’s growing and developing brain. Just think about how much your child is learning right now. Studies show that breastfeeding longer results in higher intelligence as well as reduced behavioral problems. You probably took a multi-vitamin and made sure you got plenty of Omega-3 during your pregnancy to help your baby’s brain develop, so don’t stop giving them all the benefits you possibly can.
Finally, breastfeeding is comforting for your child. The world is a fascinating and wonderful place, but it can also be surprising and scary and breastfeeding gives you a way to calm and comfort your toddler. Even a toddler that isn’t breastfeeding will cling to his mother and nuzzle her breasts for comfort.
If you want to keep breastfeeding, and you and your child are thriving, do it. Weaning will happen when you are ready. When you’re ready to wean, you can slowly reduce feedings to help your toddler naturally wean off breastfeeding. This also makes it more comfortable for you as cutting them off all at once results in engorged breasts and frustration from both of you.
If you want to continue breastfeeding till two or beyond, go for it. It’s your job as a parent to decide what is working best for you and your child.