In North America, it is not typical to breastfeed a toddler.
However, a good part of the world's population is still breastfed after one year. Furthermore, we know that previous generations continued to breastfeed until their children were three or four years old.
The first answer to this question is: why stop? Very few mothers, upon learning they are pregnant, will set a goal of prolonged breastfeeding. It's as the days go by, one feeding at a time, that we realize time passed by.
Here are some practical arguments, based on scientific research:
Health benefits for the child
- Breast milk continues to be a top-choice food for the child throughout the breastfeeding period
- Human milk undergoes changes according to the baby's age, stage and frequency of feeding, time of day, etc.
- Breast milk is a particularly important source of energy, protein and valuable nutrients for children over one year old.
- Immunological factors also continue to be present and to protect the child. Their concentration increases in the milk as the child grows and the frequency of breastfeeding decreases.
Health benefits for the mother
- A delayed return of menstruation, helping to preserve iron stores and space out births.
- Reduced risk of breast, uterine and ovarian cancer and osteoporosis.
- Depending on the mother's physical activity, age, nutritional intake and previous health status, a loss of weight and body fat is possible.
Things to remember
The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for up to two years and beyond, as long as both mother and child desire it.
The mother's role is to tailor the breastfeeding relationship based on the child's age. The infant needs to be fed without delay. In an older child, the request to breastfeed is multifaceted and may be more context-specific. The mother is in the best position to judge her child's needs.
The role of those around the mother is to support her during this process by encouraging her positively and respecting her choices for herself and her child. Without this support, she will feel even more marginalized and may tend to isolate herself to stay away from negative comments.
Society's role is to learn to evolve by accepting the mother's choice with respect. By working to change towards a breastfeeding culture, this mode of feeding the child will become normal. As more children are breastfed, this choice will appear less and less as out of the ordinary.
DIDIERJEAN-JOUVEAU, Claude. Téter et grandir [Breastfeeding and growing], Feuillet 14 de La Ligue La Leche, France [Online] French Only (page consulted on February 12, 2012)
ORDRE PROFESSIONNEL DES DIÉTÉTISTES DU QUÉBEC. Position de l’Ordre professionnel des diététistes du Québec pour la création d’un environnement favorable à l’allaitement maternel [Position of the Ordre professionnel des diététistes du Québec for the creation of a breastfeeding-friendly environment], Bibliothèque nationale du Québec, septembre 2012, 12 pages.