Recently, a family member sent me an email curiously asking why I was still breastfeeding my toddler. She told me that she had thought I was bottle feeding Bug, but when she found out that I was still nursing she was so curious that she emailed me. She wanted to know exactly why I was still nursing, from my own point of view, not some web site's information. She wanted to know how it could be beneficial to Bug or to me. So, I told her. I pulled from my memory all the things I had learned about breastfeeding. I've done a lot of research concerning all kinds of parenting topics, including breastfeeding, and I used that knowledge to fill my response. My email got longer and longer as I explained as straightforwardly as I could the physical and emotional benefits, for both Bug and me. Here is some of what I told her:
A lot of people question mothers who nurse longer than a year. In our society it has kind of become taboo, for unknown reasons. Bug is 17 months right now, and yes, he is definitely still nursing. The World Health Organization has recommended that children be breastfed for at least 2 years, and as long after that as mutually desired by mom and child. Breast milk has a lot of stuff in it that is really healthy for children, and the benefits of breast milk don't go away at a certain age. They are always there. Human specific healthy fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals and antibodies are all found in breast milk, but aren't found in formula and cow's milk. Because we don't give Bug any vaccines, it is especially good for him to continue breastfeeding. It helps him keep from getting sick. It prevents earaches, cold/flu, childhood obesity, asthma, allergies and other health issues. Also, breast milk helps build up the myelin fat in the brain, so children that are breastfed longer are generally more intelligent. Breastfeeding can also help oral development (especially keeping teeth healthy and straight).I hope that I was able to properly convey the benefits, and even the importance of breastfeeding. This isn't only about extended breastfeeding, either. Many people forget how important breastfeeding is, even for a newborn infant. I came across this wonderful article that reminded me a lot of my response to my curious family member. It is my hope that mothers learn about and come to realize how wonderful it is to breastfeed. I believe that if women knew...really knew...how great breastfeeding is, we would have less curiosity, disgust, ambivalence, etc. toward breastfeeding. It truly will be a happy day when every mother can put her baby to her breast without judgment or ignorance interfering.
I also believe that nursing Bug still will help him become a more emotionally healthy person. Babies and toddlers have a need to suck and be comforted. Most children Bug's age still use a bottle or a pacifier, which both of those are actually a substitute for the breast. Weaning could teach a child to lose trust, because they expect their parents to give them what they need, physically as well as emotionally. When Bug gets hurt or upset, I can nurse him to help him feel better...even if I only nurse him for a couple of seconds at a time, it usually stops a tantrum and helps us both deal with the issues at hand much better! I genuinely feel that Bug still has a need to nurse. I'm ok with that, so we still nurse. He gets so excited about nursing and he smiles and laughs. It makes me feel good to know that I can make him so happy that way.
As for how nursing benefits me, there are also lots of ways. In the beginning, nursing helped me to get back to my pre-pregnancy weight, and also helped my uterus recover from pregnancy and birth faster (as nursing causes mild contractions that help the uterus return to the normal size). That contracting also helps prevent excessive bleeding after birth too. But, benefits also come with extended nursing. The longer a mother breastfeeds, the less likely she is to have breast cancer, uterine cancer and cervical cancer. Breastfeeding also releases "feel good" hormones that can help prevent depression. Also, it helps with natural child spacing. Because I have been nursing Bug, I didn't start my period until just recently!
I guess I just see that the benefits of extended nursing are enough to keep nursing. Since around one year, Bug has been eating regular meals during the day, and nursing more for snacks and comfort. It makes it much easier for me to get him to sleep, for naps, for bedtime and if he wakes up in the middle of the night. It also makes it easy if we are out of the house and I forgot his sippy cup or snacks. I can let him nurse a little bit and it satisfies both hunger and thirst. I don't see any reason why I should wean him.