Breastfeeding a newborn baby is universally approved as the best way for a mother to nurture and care for the child. Breastfeeding a toddler is looked down upon as something questionable. So should a mother stop breastfeeding her child after a year? Which is the best age for a mother to wean a child? How long is too long?
The World Health Organization recommends that all children should be breastfed until they are six months old. After that, supplemental foods should be introduced slowly, while breastfeeding should be continued. According to WHO, the child should be breastfed until he/she is 24 months old.
Some children get weaned off automatically once they start ingesting, enjoying, and digesting solid food. This could happen when the baby is nine months or older. For the others, there arises a question as to when is the best time for weaning.
Here are the different schools of thought regarding the right age to breastfeed.
- Some feel that breastfeeding a child right into his first few years at school is perfectly all right as far as both the mother and child are okay with it; however, weaning an older child may be more difficult than weaning a toddler
- The child’s immune system is in the developmental stage until the age of six. As it is well known, breast milk strengthens it by providing antibodies.
- The natural age of weaning is mentioned as two and a half years, while seven years is the maximum age!
- After the child is a year old he will surely need solid food supplementing besides breast milk; breastfeeding will not provide all the nutrients for the toddler after this age
- The quality of breast milk is not believed to dwindle as the child grows older. It remains the same no matter how long the child is breastfed.
Today, most women either stop breastfeeding when the baby is 6 months old or after a year. Pressures of employment, inconvenience of breastfeeding (when not at home), and the embarrassment at continuing the practice even after the child has started walking and talking are the main reasons for this.
However, studies have shown that the longer a child is breastfed, the greater the tendency for the child to be healthier and to have a higher IQ. In one study, children were grouped according to the months they were breast-fed, like 0 to 6, 6 to 12, 12 to 18, and from 18 to 24 months. Children belonging to the last group were found to have the best IQ as compared to the rest and at the lowest risk for heart, lung, and digestive ailments.
Children of the group 0 to 6 months had the lowest IQ scores and were at risk for the ailments of heart, lung, and digestion, as compared to the other groups. However, they fared better than children who were bottle-fed!
It is evident that the best time to breast feed the child is from birth until the mother decides when to wean the baby, and the later the better – for his/her mental and physical health and fitness.
The right age to breastfeed the child has always been a topic of great debate. WHO recommends that the child be given only breast milk until he/she is six months old and then continued to be breastfed until two years of age with optimum supplementation. Every mother continues or stops breastfeeding as per the circumstances, requisites of employment, and so on. Studies have shown that breast milk remains immensely beneficial to the child no matter how long feeding continues.