Of course, breastfeeding can, in some situations, be used to foster an over-dependent relationship. But so can food or toilet training. The problem is not the breastfeeding. This is another issue.
Possibly the most important aspect of breastfeeding a toddler is not the nutritional or immunologic benefits, important as they are. I believe the most important aspect of breastfeeding a toddler is the special relationship between child and his mother.
Breastfeeding is a life-affirming act of love that repeats itself every time the child goes to the breast. This continues when the baby becomes a toddler. Anyone without prejudices, who has ever observed an older baby or toddler breastfeeding can testify that there is something special, something far beyond food, going on.
A toddler will sometimes spontaneously, for no obvious reason, break into laughter while he is breastfeeding. His delight in the breast goes far beyond a source of food. And if the mother allows herself, breastfeeding becomes a source of delight for her as well, far beyond the pleasure of providing food. Of course, it's not always great, but what is? And when it is, it makes it all so worthwhile.
And if the child does become ill or gets hurt (and they do as they meet other children and become more daring), what easier way to comfort the child than breastfeeding? I remember nights in the emergency department when mothers would walk their ill, non-breastfeeding babies or toddlers up and down the halls trying, often unsuccessfully, to console them, while the breastfeeding mothers were sitting quietly with their comforted, if not necessarily happy, babies at the breast. The mother comforts the sick child with breastfeeding and the child comforts the mother by breastfeeding.
Questions? Get Dr. Jack Newman's book The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers.
Jack Newman graduated from the University of Toronto medical school as a pediatrician in 1970. He started the first hospital-based breastfeeding clinic in Canada in 1984 at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children. He has been a consultant with UNICEF for the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative in Africa, and has published articles on the subject of breastfeeding in Scientific American and several medical journals. Dr. Newman has practiced as a physician in Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa.
Breastfeeding a Toddler, 2009©
Written and revised (under other names) by Jack Newman, MD, FRCPC, 1995-2005©
Revised by Jack Newman MD, FRCPC, IBCLC and Edith Kernerman IBCLC, 2008, 2009©