Confronting a cultural taboo
Though nursing a toddler may raise a lot of eyebrows in our culture, there are impressive benefits to breastfeeding beyond infancy -- and it is actually quite common all around the world. The World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatricians both recommend nursing beyond a year and for as long as is mutually desired by mother and child. Allowing a baby to self-wean is not a particularly familiar concept in Western culture where moms typically wean their babies at a certain age.
Extended breastfeeding is common worldwide
For this reason, it may come as a surprise to most Americans that the median age of weaning worldwide is beyond four years old. Still, in our society where even publicly breastfeeding a young infant can be perceived as weird and obscene, it can be hard for moms to continue amidst strong social pressure against it. If you are interested in extended breastfeeding, don’t be swayed by popular culture. "[There is no] documented time beyond which continued breastfeeding is harmful, useless or detrimental," states Linda Smith, an internationally known lactation consultant, childbirth educator and author of several breastfeeding textbooks. "There is no evidence that curtailing breastfeeding before the child self-weans is an advantage to the child."
Because mother’s milk actually changes composition over time, at every age it is perfectly designed with the right concentration of vitamins, minerals and protein to meet the health needs of your child. It is also chock full of antibodies which protect your little one from any illnesses you have been exposed to. According to research by Dr. Kathryn Dewey, Associate Director of International and Community Nutrition at the University of California, “Breast milk continues to provide substantial amounts of key nutrients well beyond the first year of life, especially protein, fat and most vitamins.”
Superior cognitive development
It has been widely documented that children who breastfeed longer have superior cognitive development (demonstrated by higher IQs, better grades in school, etc.). Children who had been breastfed the longest duration of time had the most significant increases in cognitive development.
Research shows that children who are allowed to self-wean on their own timetable benefit socially. They are more confident, well-adjusted and display less behavioral problems.
Strengthens family bonding
Nursing provides a safe space for your growing toddler to return to each day for warmth and nourishment. Just like snuggling, hugging, talking, playing together and many other forms of parent-child bonding, nursing is a sign of love and is a wonderful way to foster a nurturing connection. Children who are allowed to wean on their own timetable learn that their emotional needs are important and that mom is available for them in a special, loving and intimate way.
Although it is commonly believed in Western culture that breastfeeding toddlers will make them clingy and dependent, the opposite is actually true. Dr. Jack Newman, author of The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers, explains why extended breastfeeding actually promotes a child's independence and emotional well-being, "The breastfed toddler is more independent in the long run because his independence comes from a deep-seated security that comes from breastfeeding."