Micaiah, 15.5 months, in a moment of nonchalant confidence.
After 15 months of reading about extended nursing from a variety of sources, I came across an article in Mothering Magazine (Sept/Oct. 2007) that beautifully summarized the current state of knowledge on this. Since I can't say it better myself, I'll just give you some word-for-word quotes from the article. My own thoughts are placed in brackets. I plan to let my youngest wean himself and have already kicked myself around the block for force-weaning my oldest at 12 months. Anyways, here are the quotes:
1. "The World Health Organization recommends that children be breastfed for up to two years and beyond, as do UNICEF and the Canadian Pediatric Society."
2. "In many parts of the world, it is normal to breastfeed for two or three years or even longer."
3. "Research shows that the fat and energy content of breastmilk actually increases after the first year. Breastmilk adapts to a toddler's developing system, providing exactly the right amount of nutrition at exactly the right time". (Ever wonder if your toddler is not getting enough nutrients at meal times? You don't have to if you're breastfeeding.)
4. "According to research, the immunological benefits of breastfeeding actually increases during the second and third years of nursing. The antibodies in breastmilk that protect a newborn against pathogens, viruses, and bacteria are still present in the milk of mothers nursing their toddlers. Literally thousands of antiviral, antibacterial, and antiparasitic factors are found in human milk, protecting against hundreds of infections and diseases, including E. coli, pneumonia, strep throat, Salmonella, influenza, rotavirus, rubella, West Nile virus, mumps, measles, diabetes, meningitis, and many childhood cancers such as leukemia. These immunological factors remain present whether the nursing child is three months or three years old. This doesn't mean that your child will never become ill, but nursed toddlers contract fewer diseases, and when they do get sick, they heal more quickly... In addition, breastfed toddlers are much less likely to suffer from asthma and allergies." (Makes it sound like breastfeeding is something like a natural vaccination.)
5. "Dr. Jack Newman, founder of the Newman Breastfeeding Clinic in Toronto, Canada, and author of The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers, believes that extended breastfeeding actually promotes a child's independence and emotional development. He says, "The breastfed toddler is more independent in the long run because his independence comes from a deep-seated security that comes from breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is a source not only of nutrition, but also of comfort, support, and security."
6. "Numerous studies show that breastfeeding promotes a higher IQ, including increased reading comprehension, math skills, and scholastic ability, even into adolescence. In one study, breastfeeding was associated with a 4.6 higher mean in three-year-old intelligence. The fine motor and language skills of breastfed toddlers also develop more quickly. According to Ginger Carney, a clinical nutrition manager and lactation consultant at Le Bonheur Children's Medical Center in Memphis, Tennessee, "The unique coordination of the tongue, lips, and jaw during breastfeeding exercises the muscles used for speech." In other words, the act of sucking promotes oral development, which enhances language skills."
7. Nursing soothes the aching of gums, skinned knees, bumped heads, and tantrums that come with toddlerhood. Toddlers experience a roller-coaster of big, messy emotions from moment to moment, and reconnecting with the close, physical touch of nursing reminds them of your love and support during those difficult times. While mothering a toddler is an amazing journey, it can also be intense and demanding. A few moments of calm, quiet nursing throughout the day can reenergize both of you."