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Breastfeed a Toddler?

Karen Smith
St. Charles IL USA
Report on a session from the 2005 LLLI Conference
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 22 No. 5, September-October 2005, p. 207

Dr. Jack Newman's session, "Breastfeed a Toddler? Why on Earth? Is There Any Reason to Do It?" opened with a discussion about "normal" breastfeeding. Until recently, the cultural norm was to breastfeed into the second and third year of life and beyond. This wasn't considered "extended breastfeeding" by any means. It was the norm in most societies. Breastfeeding was key to survival, and the more difficult life was, the longer mothers nursed their children. While Newman recognized that Western society doesn't support toddler nursing, he pointed out that was not a good reason to stop.

Newman went on to talk about formula being used in therapeutic instances, likening it to the use of a drug. He elaborated by saying that there are times when pharmaceuticals have great benefit to patients -- times when they save lives. However, they shouldn't be overused. Newman believes that formula should not be considered a choice or an equal alternative to human milk.

In a discussion of starting solids before six months of age, Newman commented that eating food isn't just about nutrition. It's about achieving a milestone and starting to join in as a regular member of the family. Milestones are achieved, not forced.

Common concerns associated with nursing a toddler were also addressed. Some health care professionals comment, "There is no nutritional value of human milk beyond a certain age." Newman called this an unbelievable statement. He wondered aloud how human milk suddenly became white water after a certain age when, before that age, breastfeeding had all sorts of benefits to mother and baby. The concern that extended breastfeeding will prevent a child from developing his own immunity was discussed. In reality, breastfeeding provides passive protection via mother's immunities that come in human milk, but also stimulation to a child's immune system. A breastfed child has a more mature immune system.

Another concern Newman often hears is that breastfeeding a toddler will cause dependency. He pointed out that all three-year-olds tend to be pretty dependent on their mothers. Breastfeeding provides a sense of security and love that will help foster independence rather than create dependence. Newman stated that loving human contact does not cause harm to a child.

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