The World Health Organisation (WHO), UNICEF and the IAP (Indian Academy of Pediatrics) recommends that babies should be exclusively breastfed for first six months. Breastfeeding can then continue alongside suitable solid foods up to two years old or beyond.
It’s completely normal for a young child to continue to be breastfed for several years – in fact this is nature’s design!
‘Natural-term’ or ‘Full-term’ breastfeeding is nothing but, continuing to breastfeed until little ones naturally stop by themselves.
So, your baby’s getting older, and you’re wondering whether to stop breastfeeding or to continue a bit longer. It may help to remember that:
Breastfeeding has nutritional, emotional and health benefits for your toddler.
Sustaining breastfeeding is good for mum’s health.
The make-up of breastmilk changes during a feed and over the day. It also changes over weeks and months. Breastmilk is still a great source of nutrients and immunity even when your child is eating a full and varied diet. When your toddler’s ill, or teething, they might refuse other foods and drinks, so it’s good to know that by breastfeeding, you’re providing comfort as well as fluids and nutrition.
Immune system benefits:
Breastfed toddlers get ill less often. When they do get ill, they tend to cope better and recover more quickly. The immunity that breastfeeding provides is especially important in the first few weeks of life but continues to benefit your child for as long as you continue to breastfeed, and for many years afterwards.
A child’s immune system develops very slowly and isn’t completely mature until around the age of six, so extended breastfeeding will offer vital protection through this stage. Breastfeeding also helps to prevent allergies.
Breastfeeding is a precious source of comfort and security. It can be a haven for toddlers experiencing the frustrations of life at this age. You won’t spoil your baby, or produce a clingy child, by breastfeeding whenever he asks. In fact, we now know that the opposite is true. By giving toddlers this unrestricted and loving source of security, you are providing them with the ideal base from which to explore the world and build their own independence.
Benefits for mum:
Extended feeding offers many physical benefits to a mother. For example, studies have found that the longer you breastfeed for, the lower your risk of certain types of cancer.
Breastfeeding also helps to protect mums against osteoporosis and fractures later in life. While breastfeeding, you might have a small reduction of bone mineral. However, when you eventually stop, your body can actually build your bones back stronger than you were to start with. This means that many mums will actually have a higher bone mineral density than before they started.
Continuing to breastfeed sometimes delays the return of fertility and menstruation, as ovulation can be suppressed.
The time to wean is different for every family; the choice is yours.