Before Juliana was born I thought I would nurse for one year and then be done. I hadn't really thought about it much; that just seemed to be 'what people do.' Since her birth though, I have changed a good number of my previous parenting ideas.
Right now I am happily nursing a 14 month old with no plans of stopping anytime soon. Even though Juliana has officially become a toddler, I don't see what any magical difference between 11 months and 30 days (nursing a baby) and 12 months 1 day or baby's first steps (Oh my gosh, you're nursing a toddler??!).
There are many reasons to continue nursing a toddler. Extended nursing is still very beneficial. I dislike the term “extended nursing” because it seems like something strange and unusual. While it is currently not the norm in America, I don't think it should be unusual at all. Did you know that the worldwide age for weaning is 4 years old? FOUR! That's quite a bit different from the 6 months – 1 year we consider normal in America.
Why should we change our cultural norms? Well here are a few great reasons:
[Information from http://www.kellymom.com/bf/bfextended/ebf-benefits.html. See page for more detailed info and references]
- Breastfeeding continues to be a valuable source of nutrition and disease protection for as long as breastfeeding continues.
- In the second year (12-23 months), 448 mL of breastmilk provides:
29% of energy requirements
43% of protein requirements
36% of calcium requirements
75% of vitamin A requirements
76% of folate requirements
94% of vitamin B12 requirements60% of vitamin C requirements
- Nursing toddlers between the ages of 16 and 30 months have been found to have fewer illnesses and illnesses of shorter duration than their non-nursing peers
- Extensive research on the relationship between cognitive achievement (IQ scores, grades in school) and breastfeeding has shown the greatest gains for those children breastfed the longest.
- Helps foster attachment and security which later leads to independence. "Meeting a child's dependency needs is the key to helping that child achieve independence. And children outgrow these needs according to their own unique timetable." [Elizabeth N. Baldwin, Esq. in "Extended Breastfeeding and the Law"] Children who achieve independence at their own pace are more secure in that independence then children forced into independence prematurely.
- The World Health Organization recommends nursing for at least 2 years.
- The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that "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 psychologic or developmental harm from breastfeeding into the third year of life or longer." (AAP 2005)
- For the mother, extended breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast, ovarian, uterine, and endometrial cancers and rheumatoid arthritis.
These are all phenomenal reasons, but I also have some of my own reasons for why I like nursing a toddler as well.
*Juliana loves it! She will nurse for a minute or two and then look up with a big grin. It's easy to see it means far more than just nutrition for her.
*I enjoy the feeling of closeness. She has already grown up so much and I know time will continue to go quickly. I appreciate these moments of holding her close.
*Sometimes it helps Juliana to fall asleep. The sleep-inducing factor seems to have mostly worn off months and months ago, but if she is really tired and wired, sometimes it will cause her fall asleep. And I still love nursing a baby (eh, toddler) to sleep.
*She only nurses for about 5 minutes each time, so it's not at all like the 8 hours a day you spend nursing a newborn.
*In the morning, I bring Juliana into bed to for a leisurely, sleepy nurse. This is the one time she'll nurse for a while, which means I get to stay in bed longer! Sometimes she even falls back asleep for a bit.
*I don't have to stress about getting her to drink enough cows milk. She is gradually getting to like it more.
*I feel reassured that if she is sick, she will still be able to get the hydration and nutrients she needs. Fortunately, she hasn't hardly ever been sick!
*Whenever she or I do decide to wean, I hope the process will be much more natural and easy since there is no deadline. I don't know how long I will continue to nurse Juliana, we'll just see. :)
I know that not everyone (or even, most people in America) are interested in extended breastfeeding, and it's certainly not something to force yourself into unwillingly. My hope, though, is that it will become much more normal in our culture. That mothers will consider nursing beyond a year, and that family, friends, and nosy strangers will support her decision!