Weaning Your Breastfed Baby (cont.)

How Long Should You Wait Before Weaning?

Although many new moms find it difficult to achieve the six full months of nursing recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, a growing number are on the opposite end of the spectrum -- ready, willing, and able to continue nursing their baby well into the toddler years, and long after the child is eating solid food.

In fact, prolonged nursing may have some important benefits beyond maintaining a strong emotional bond. In studies conducted in Western Kenya, Africa, researchers found that breastfeeding for at least two years had a positive association with growth, particularly in impoverished areas.

Other studies show that the longer a baby breastfeeds, the greater their brain development. In fact, some evidence shows the longer the baby breastfeeds, the sooner they accomplish "milestone" tasks, such as walking and talking.

"In my experience, babies who are breastfed until they are toddlers are more sociable, they are happier and better adjusted children. Most have a very high IQ and they seem to be overall very well-rounded children," says Hodge.

As a result, many lactation experts say prolonged nursing is OK -- as long as both baby and mom want it that way.

"This is a personal decision and it should be made by the mother," says Hodge. Aponte agrees to a point. Once a toddler reaches age 2, Aponte encourages mothers to stop breastfeeding -- and most comply.

"If you're done it for two years, then you have more than given your baby an excellent start in life," he says. "At that point weaning is probably a good idea."

Note in developing countries, as well as in some European nations, breastfeeding a child until age four or five is acceptable and considered normal. Some experts in the U.S. say that this could become the norm here as well if breastfeeding becomes more widely accepted.

Published Sept. 29, 2003.

Medically updated May 2005.

SOURCES: Myrtle Hodge, RN, lactation expert, Mainmonides Medical Center, Brooklyn, New York. Adam Aponte, MD, chairman of pediatrics and ambulatory care, North General Name Hospital, New York. A Woman's Guide to Breastfeeding, American Academy of Pediatrics. The Lancet, 1999; vol 354: pp 2041-2045. Acta Paediatrica, 1999; vol 88: pp 1327-1331.

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