What age should you stop breastfeeding your baby?

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Hundreds of Instagram users were delighted by a photo from a Gap advertisement. In an ad for sleepwear, Gap showed model Adaora Akubilo breastfeeding her toddler. Akubilo called him her 20-month-old son, Arinze, her "little star." Instagram users said they loved the normalization of breastfeeding.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

It's motherhood 101: Breast is best for your new bundle of joy. However, there are few hard and fast rules on when to wean your little one from breastfeeding.

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August is National Breastfeeding Awareness Month, so it's the opportune time to take a look at some of the benefits for nursing mothers and their babies.  Breastfeeding comes with advantages for both moms and infants, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Breastfeeding helps safeguard newborns against many conditions and diseases, including:

  • Childhood obesity
  • Respiratory tract infections
  • Type 1 and 2 diabetes
  • Ear infections
  • Leukemia, lymphoma and Hodgkins disease.

It also decreases the mother's risk of breast and ovarian cancers and encourages an earlier return to pre-pregnancy weight, experts say. But when exactly should moms and babies put an end to this natural, nutritious act? The honest answer: Whenever they want to. It's their post-pregnancy prerogative, but some  international and national health organization have offered advisement on the optimum time to breastfeed:

The World Health Organization (WHO), advises mothers to engage in exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months in order for newborns to grow and develop. WHO recommends continued breastfeeding - known as extended breastfeeding - until about the age of 2.

Likewise, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists suggests only breastfeeding for the first six months of life and encourages continued breastfeeding with the introduction of complementary foods up to age 1 or longer.

Despite the medical advantages of breastfeeding for mother and child, U.S. breastfeeding rates are only 49 percent at six months and 27 percent at 12 months, which is well below the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Healthy People 2020 target rates.

And while sometimes seen as unnatural (and uncomfortable to witness in public), extended breastfeeding can be beneficial up to age 4, according to doctor-led parenting site Bundoo. However, most American moms wean their child from breastfeeding by age 1.

Benefits include:

  • Breastfeeding toddlers don't get as sick as their peers
  • Moms reduce the likelihood of high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and heart disease
  • Both mom and toddler form a deep-rooted bond that can helps the toddler become more socially well-adjusted.

Challenges are:

  • The older toddlers get, the harder it can become to wean them.
  • Nipple pain
  • Infertility for the mother
  • Over attachment and long-term malnutrition for the child.