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Breastfeeding: Not Only for Young Babies

by Mizin Kawasaki, M.D.

For many years, breastfeeding - if it was done at all - was thought to have been useful only until a baby reaches the age of six months, at which time most babies experience the eruption of their first milk teeth. As a rule, the presence of milk teeth should not interfere with breastfeeding. If a baby does bite down on the breast, it is likely that the baby learned to bite down because he was given either a bottle or pacifier.

An exclusively breastfed baby has no need to bite down on the breast. If he does bite, the mother's response is usually startling enough to discourage him from biting down again in the near future. Exclusively breastfed babies who have new milk teeth should continue to breastfeed, as should older toddlers who have all twenty milk teeth. The benefits of breastfeeding beyond six months have been acknowledged by scientists, anthropologists, and many mothers who know better.

Even so, there are many individuals, including physicians, who opine that breastfeeding is only for young babies. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advocates a minimum of one year of breastfeeding, but some pediatricians still do not comprehend why a baby should be breastfed beyond early infancy, if at all. As most parents may have learned already, pediatricians often possess their own opinions about breastfeeding.

A respected and popular pediatrician in Los Angeles told my friend that her six-month-old son did not need to breastfeed. He told her confidentially, "After six months, breastfeeding's just for the mother." In New York, my sister had a similar experience with her baby's pediatrician. At her baby's well-child checkups, the pediatrician expressed surprise every time my sister reported that she was breastfeeding her infant son, even when he was only a few months old.

Pediatricians offer infant feeding advice according to whether or not they understand or appreciate the benefits of breastfeeding. For some pediatricians, dispensing accurate and positive information about breastfeeding to the parents of their young patients may be a new and unfamiliar practice. Fortunately, a small but growing number of pediatricians have become more vocal in their advocacy of breastfeeding.

In truth, one should question how it is possible to think that a growing, developing infant would thrive better on processed baby food and artificial milk substitutes than he would on breastfeeding. Breast milk is a living fluid that contains custom made antibodies and a perfect assortment of nutrients, live cells, immunologically active substances, growth factors, and much more. Breast milk is dynamic and manufactured in response to the needs of a growing and developing baby and toddler.

Irrefutable evidence demonstrates the benefits of breast milk, so it should be simple to defy the preconceived notion that breast milk becomes a useless fluid once the baby turns six months, one year, or even five years old. Breast milk transmits directly to nurslings the beneficial substances that support their healthy growth and development. Simply stated, there is no food that could possibly be more nourishing for babies and young children than mother's milk.

Any food, be it processed cereal, mashed fresh organic fruit, strained vegetables, or artificial milk, cannot compare in any way to the benefits offered by breast milk. Breast milk contains a rich balance of over 100,000 components - proteins, lipids, carbohydrates, vitamins and trace minerals.1 These substances support perfectly the rapid human brain growth that occurs in early childhood: brain volume more than doubles in the first year of life and nearly triples by the time a child is three years old.2  In light of the tremendous brain growth and development that occur within the first three years of life, it is mistaken to assume that older infants and toddlers do not need to breastfeed.
 

1 Jensen RG (ed): Handbook of Milk Composition. San Diego, Academic Press, 1995.
2 Montagu, Ashley. Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin. 3rd ed. New York: Harper & Row. P. 55.

Excerpted with permission of the author from Mothering with Breastfeeding and Maternal Care.

 
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