We are all aware of the health benefits that nursing our babies bring. We know that breastfed babies suffer less from common illnesses like colds, flu, and ‘tummy bugs’ that cause diarrhoea and vomiting. Breastfeeding your child can be seen as a similar tool for keeping them safe as using a car seat — although your child could still get injured in a crash if they are safely buckled in, it is far less likely than if they were travelling on someone’s lap.
As your child enters toddlerhood, they need those immune benefits even more. As they find themselves socialising with other children more often, they will be exposed to viruses and bacteria a lot more frequently than when they were babies. If they have to go into childcare due to you returning to work, or if they start pre-school at age 3, they will suddenly become exposed to far more germs than before. Also, toddlers are much more ‘into things’ than little babies in arms. They are far more likely to sneakily eat a handful of dirt from the garden, or try to reach the toilet water than a younger baby!
Of course, being exposed to bacteria is what helps build a healthy immune system. Breastfeeding offers protection from illness so that your child can continue to explore.
There is also evidence that suggests that the longer your child is breastfed for, the longer these benefits continue. They build up over time, setting your child up for a lifetime of good health. All children are different, and there will always be one or two formula fed babies in the bunch that are as strong as ox’s, but breastfed children are generally in better health. I knock on wood as I say this, but my son is very rarely afflicted by illness in comparison to his formula-fed peers. Whilst his little friends have had numerous trips to the emergency room for unexplained and frighteningly high fevers, he has enjoyed very good health in his short two and a half years; having suffered from just a handful of colds (all of which he barely seemed to notice having), one stomach bug that lasted for half a day and one mild chest infection. And yes, I fully attribute his good health to breastfeeding.
Watching your child suffer with an illness is heartbreaking, and often unavoidable at some point or other. Breastfeeding your toddler will not only prevent a majority of illnesses, but it will usually make the illnesses they do get pass quicker and with less of an impact. Now that really is amazing.