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The medical community agrees that breast is best when it comes to feeding your newborn. Breastfeeding provides essential nutrients in the early months of life and is a benefit because it boosts the immune system to help fight off disease.

In fact, because the benefits of breastfeeding far outweigh formula feeding, just a few years ago the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) came out with a recommendation that mothers breastfeed for at least the first twelve months of life and as long after as is mutually desired, rather than six months of life as previously suggested.

And if that were not enough, the World Health Organization and UNICEF-sponsored international conferences have included breastfeeding for two years and longer in their recommendation.

Why Breastfeed A Toddler?

· Nutrition: There is nothing like mother’s milk. Research shows that babies can benefit from nursing beyond the age of one. One benefit is nutrition. Even in the second year of life and beyond, human milk continues to be a valuable source of protein, fat, calcium and vitamins. Of course in the toddler years, nursing is incorporated with a diet of solids.

· Boosts The Immune System: Immunities in breast milk have been shown to increase in concentration, as the baby gets older. Breastfed babies have a lower risk of developing ear infections, urinary tract infections, asthma, childhood cancers, diabetes and allergies.

· Conquering Obesity: A new study following more than 9,000 children from birth to the age of six has concluded that breastfed babies have less of a chance of becoming obese as children and as adults. In their study, bottle-fed children had higher concentrations of insulin in their blood, which would be expected to aid in fat deposition. While human milk contains fats and protein, they are significantly different from those available in artificial milk. Human milk contains the correct amount of protein a baby needs. The proteins in human milk are also easier to metabolize than the large amount found in formula, meaning that it is not later stored as fat, therefore decreases the risk of obesity.

· Psychological Considerations: While nursing an infant no doubt provides a sense of closeness and comfort, breastfeeding a toddler encourages that bond between mother and child to continue. According to La Leche League International (LLL), “breastfeeding a toddler helps with the child’s ability to grow up. Although some experts say a toddler who is not weaned will have difficulty becoming independent, it’s usually the fearful, clingy kids that have been pushed into situations requiring too much independence too soon. A breastfeeding toddler is having his dependency needs met. The closeness and availability of the mother through breastfeeding is one of the best ways to help toddlers grow emotionally.”

Paula, of the Rhode Island chapter of LLL is one mother who believes that breast is best. She said that she nursed her son Jacob until the age of three. “For my son nursing was a source of comfort. When he was hurt or needed a moment to cuddle, he would just sit on my lap.”

However, strangers, friends and even relatives may not be supportive of a mother’s decision to nurse during the toddler years. At least that’s what happened to Pat McMullan of Connecticut. “My mother sometimes has made remarks like: ‘ If they are old enough to ask for the other side, they’re old enough to stop nursing.’” While Pat has acknowledged her mother’s opinions, Pat says it’s still her sole decision to breastfeed.

When Is The Right Time To Wean? Many mothers choose to wean naturally, allowing the child to outgrow the need gradually or in the child’s own time. But if you would like to encourage weaning, LLL has some suggestions.

1) Breastfeed your child only when asked, and don’t offer when he or she doesn’t. This technique may help accelerate the weaning process when used with other methods.

2) Change daily routines. Instead of heading home after picking your child up from daycare, go to the grocery store or elsewhere instead. Try to avoid the “nursing chair” or “nursing station” in your home as much as possible at the times when your child would usually ask to nurse.

3) If possible, get help from other family and household members. If your child nurses upon waking up, try getting up before your son or daughter and have the child’s father or someone else do the morning routine.

4) Anticipate nursings and offer substitutions and distractions. Try offering a snack or drink at that time. Go to your child’s favorite place at the usual nursing time. Other distractions including reading, bike rides, walking, and visiting friends.

5) Shorten the length of nursings.

These techniques will not work if your child is resistant to weaning, but many mothers have used them with success.