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When to Stop Breast Feeding

Pediatrics Expert Advice from Henry Bernstein, M.D.

Q: At what age should you stop breast-feeding? Is it uncommon for a child of 16 months not to want to walk?

A: Breast milk is the best choice for infants with its perfect balance of nutrients. It is most easily digested, best tolerated, and is all most babies need to grow. Breast feeding has many benefits for both you and the baby. Babies may be protected from gastrointestinal and respiratory infections. They also have a lower incidence of allergic disease in comparison with formula-fed babies. Psychologically, the breast feeding experience enhances the bond between mother and baby. It gives a wonderful sense of security for the baby and can afford an emotional high for mothers.

Breast feeding is generally recommended for the first 12 months of life. The amount of breast milk taken each day may decrease once solids are introduced (usually around four to six months). Of course, you may stop breast feeding anytime you need and want to, as formulas are available that closely mimic the qualities of breast milk. But cow's milk from the carton just doesn't have the same benefits as breast milk or formula in the first year of life.

Now to answer your second question. Your toddler probably does want to walk, but is just getting up the courage. Toddlers start walking on their own at different times. Some do it before their first birthday, others are older (even a year and a half). If your 16-month-old has been reaching other developmental milestones within the usual range while progressing in the right direction, I would not be alarmed. I suspect it won't be too much longer before you are chasing your toddler all over the house. If not, please discuss this with your baby's doctor at the 18-month checkup.

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Henry Bernstein, M.D., is currently the associate chief of the Division of General Pediatrics and director of Primary Care at Children's Hospital, Boston. He also has an academic appointment at Harvard Medical School.


Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.

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