their bottles, more so than they could ever become of their mother's breast, to the point where they take it everywhere and end up believing it is their own decision when they give it up! An emotional tug of war soon results, in which the mother feels powerless against a habit she herself set up.
So what is a good age for this final weaning? There is no short or perfect answer for this. It depends so much on personalities and circum-stances. There are all sorts of philosophical, cultural and practical perspectives on this matter. It is obvious that modern Western mothers wean far, far earlier than those in developing countries, and also that working mums do so far earlier than those who stay at home full time. But these observations do not necessarily give evidence for one system being better or worse than another. It is interesting to note that as our socialisation of children creeps earlier and earlier, the time for which they are breastfed also becomes shorter. In contrast to this, there is also a growing number of mothers who now believe that breastfeeding over 2 years and even up until school age is highly beneficial for the child.
As to what might be the recommended minimum and maximum ages for breastfeeding, since a full and varied diet of solids is not usually established until about 12 months, it makes commonsense that breastfeeding should definitely continue for at least this time. In addition, as a child's teeth are still emerging for another 12 months beyond that, and their bones are increasing in density for up to 5 years more, it makes sense that their rapidly growing bodies could well do with mother's milk during this time.
The World Health Organization recommends that all babies should be exclusively breastfed until 6 months of age, and that breastfeeding should continue after the introduction of other foods until 2 years old(34). This is not just a figure arrived at as relevant to the nutritional needs of developing nations, and one which can be considered irrelevant to ourselves in the developed societies, but one drawn from solid medical and anthropological studies addressing the needs of any growing child.
Considering that the worldwide average age of weaning is now somewhere close to the age of 4 years, and that in most Western countries the average is around 6 months, this indicates that there must be a lot of babies in the world still needing to suckle well beyond the age of 4. This of course is caused by rampant poverty, whereby it is the only way the mothers are able to sustain their babies. In these societies the contraceptive benefits of breastfeeding (sex during lactation is taboo in some societies) is also used to limit family size. So, on the other hand, we should be careful not to romanticise extended breastfeed-ing (long beyond 2 years) as traditionally correct, popularly chosen or philosophically desirable.
In the end, I consider the best indicators as to the most appropriate time for final weaning to be drawn from a combination of the following factors:
· the child's general health. Children with low immunity and allergies definitely benefit from extended breastfeeding. If you notice your child becoming ill soon after reducing breastfeeding this indicates that his own immune system is not yet strong enough and he still needs the added immunity of breast milk.
· their emotional security
· their appetite for, and tolerance of, varied solid foods.
Basically, there is nothing more to say here beyond reiterating that the understanding and habits which have been gained during their transition to solid foods have already patterned a child's senses of smell and taste, their digestive preferences, and their relationship with food for many years to come.
With a proper start, beyond the age of 2 any child should have the eating habits and food appreciation of a healthy adult. I can truly say that along these lines, none of my children have ever exhibited any food games of trips and since that age have simply been included in all the adult meals as equals. All the information about a balanced wholefoods diet suited to good family eating is included in Chapter 8.