Breastfeeding for a year or longer offers the most benefits:
Here are just some of the benefits:
- Your baby continues to get the immunological advantages of human milk, during a time when he or she is increasingly exposed to infection. Breastfed toddlers are healthier overall.
- When your baby is upset, hurt, frightened, or sick, you have a built in way to comfort him or her. Often a sick child will accept breast milk when he or she refuses other foods.
- Many of the medical benefits of breastfeeding (lower cancer risk in mother and baby, for example) are dose related – in other words, the longer you breastfeed, the greater the protective effects.
- Human milk offers protection for the child who is allergic
- Mothering a toddler is challenging enough – nursing makes the job of caring for and comforting easier. There is no better way to ease a temper tantrum, or put a cranky child to sleep than by nursing.
- Nursing provides closeness, security, and stability during a period of rapid growth and development.
- Letting your baby set the pace for weaning spares you the unpleasant task of weaning your baby before they ready.
Most pediatricians recommend that babies not drink cow’s milk until they are a year old, so if you wean your baby at six months, what next?
Once you have made it to the six-month mark, you have gotten past the early, often problematic stage of nursing. Problems like sore nipples, engorgement, and marathon forty-five minute nursing sessions are (for the most part) a thing of the past. Once you reach the six -month mark, there is absolutely no reason to stop nursing.
Breast milk is a very complete food for at least the first six months of life. From 6-12 months, an “educational diet” is recommended. This means that other foods gradually begin to provide for nutritional needs that milk alone can no longer provide, and your baby gets used to different tastes and textures as well.
There is no point at which the benefits of breastfeeding suddenly “run out”. Breast milk does not turn into water overnight on your baby’s first birthday. As long as you nurse, your baby gets valuable immunities, as well as the security and emotional advantages of nursing.
Breast milk also changes in composition to meet the needs of your growing baby. The milk of premature infants is different from the milk of full-term babies, and the milk made for toddlers changes as your baby grows. For example, levels of certain antibodies in human milk actually increase as your baby grows older and nurses less. The theory is that this is a protective mechanism to reduce the toddler’s risk of illness during the weaning stage, when he is gradually being introduced to more solids and less mother’s milk. Breast milk is the perfect food for your child, no matter how old he is.
When you wean your baby off breast milk depends on how long you want to nurse. It’s a decision that only you can make, although everyone you meet will give you authoritative advice on the topic. Interestingly enough, you will find that the people who give you the most advice are often the very ones who know the least about breastfeeding. The same thing applies to pregnancy and parenting.
There are many, many benefits to extended breastfeeding, and very few (if any) benefits to weaning early.
You should nurse your baby as long as you both want to continue, without worrying about what anyone else thinks, including your in-laws, your friends, or your well meaning but misinformed neighbor.
Go ahead and nurse your baby for as long as it feels right to you.