Breastfeeding Past Infancy and into Toddlerhood

by on December 25th, 2010
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Despite the fact that the World Health Organization and UNICEF recommend breastfeeding up to age 2 and beyond, for many people this is considered either shocking or strange. But it really shouldn’t be, especially since anthropologists and biologists all agree that the human baby and child is designed to breastfeed for more than just 6 months to a year.

Dr. Katherine A. Dettwyler, a biocultural anthropologist who has studied infant/child feeding since 1981, has concluded that, “The normal and natural duration of breastfeeding for modern humans falls between 2.5 years and 7 years.” This is not to say that everybody must breastfeed for that long of course, but that it is considered normal throughout the world and has been in practice since the start of our species. Dr. Dettwyler has presented her findings in peer-reviewed scientific journals and has addressed other anthropologists, doctors, scientists, nurses and lactation consultants at conferences on this subject.

The American Academy of Pediatrics takes the stance that breastfeeding should continue, “for at least the first year of life and beyond for as long as mutually desired by mother and child.” The American Academy of Pediatrics also states that, ” As recommended by the WHO, breastfeeding should ideally continue beyond infancy, but this is not the cultural norm in the United States and requires ongoing support and encouragement. It has been estimated that a natural weaning age for humans is between two and seven years. Family physicians should be knowledgeable regarding the ongoing benefits to the child of extended breastfeeding, including continued immune protection, better social adjustment, and having a sustainable food source in times of emergency. The longer women breastfeed, the greater the decrease in their risk of breast cancer. “

Besides all of the recommendations from leading organizations, doctors and anthropologists who proclaim breastfeeding to be a wonderful thing to continue from babyhood into toddlerhood, there is also the fabulous fact that breastmilk continues to change in terms of providing your baby and toddler with just what he needs nutritionally at that moment. For instance, if you choose to breastfeed from 12 to 23 months you are providing your baby/toddler with the following:

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 requirements 60% of vitamin C requirements

According to studies, breastmilk continues to be a great way of giving your toddler Vitamin A up to age 3 and beyond as well as providing your child with disease protection thanks to antibodies, which continue the whole time you are lactating and even increase the older your child gets. Extended breastsfeeding also helps at decreasing the risk of asthma and allergies.

With all of the knowledge we now have regarding extending breastfeeding when it comes to the many physical benefits we can impart on our children, it should now be considered not just normal but also a joyful and happy experience for both mother and child.


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