Toddlers breastfeed for many of the same reasons infants breastfeed: for nutrition, comfort, security, for a way to calm down and for reassurance. Mothers breastfeed their toddlers for many of the same reasons they breastfeed their infants: they recognize their children's needs, they enjoy the closeness, they want to offer comfort, and they understand the health benefits. (See the FAQ, "What are the Benefits of Breastfeeding My Baby?" for more information.) The American Academy of Pediatrics currently 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.." * The World Health Organization and UNICEF recommend that babies be breastfed for at least two years.
Breastfeeding a toddler helps with the child's ability to mature. Although some experts say a toddler who is not weaned will have difficulty becoming independent, it's usually the fearful, clingy children 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.
Breastfeeding can help a toddler understand discipline as well. Discipline is teaching a child about what is right and good, not punishment for normal toddler behavior. To help a toddler with discipline, he needs to feel good about himself and his world. Breastfeeding helps a toddler feel good about himself, because his needs are being met.
Just as babies do, toddlers receive health benefits from breastfeeding. Your milk continues to provide immunities and vitamins, and can help protect your toddler from illness and allergies. If your toddler does get sick, nursing will help comfort him. In fact, a toddler with an upset stomach may be able to tolerate nothing but human milk.
Toddlers have a huge world to explore, and breastfeeding provides them (and their mothers!) with some quiet time in their busy, waking hours.
*See "Breastfeeding and Use of Human Milk" in PEDIATRICS Vol. 115 No. 2 February 2005, pp. 496-506
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