There is no need to stop breastfeeding if both you and your baby are happy with it. The UK Department of Health recommends that babies should be breastfed for at least the first year and UNICEF - the United Nations' Children's Fund - recommends breastfeeding for at least the first two years.
Breastfeeding continues to be a good source of nourishment as well as providing an opportunity to sit down and relax with your baby. In fact, when your baby breastfeeds less often the concentration of antibodies and other protective factors in milk increases. Your baby's immune system develops rapidly in the first year but will not have reached adult levels. This means, for example, that toddlers who are not breastfed are more likely to have ear infections for the first three years.
Breastfed toddlers are likely to have fewer and shorter illnesses. However, when they are unwell they normally want to feed more often and may refuse food altogether. As breastmilk has the full range of nutrients, it is very easily digested. As well as supplying antibodies and a range of other anti-infective factors, mothers can relax in the knowledge that they are providing something invaluable.
Of course breastfeeding is also a source of emotional, as well as physical, closeness. In one study, with an 18-year follow up, children who were breastfed for longer were more likely to have higher levels of parental attachment and perceive their mothers as being more caring and less overprotective towards them, compared with bottle-fed children.
You may feel rather alone breastfeeding an older baby. It is true that we don't tend to see many women breastfeeding toddlers and pre-school children in the UK today. However, this is not the case in many other countries and there are more women breastfeeding toddlers than you may be aware of in the UK. Your local NCT group may be able to put you in touch with other women in your area for mutual support. The La Leche League group will also know women who are breastfeeding for as long as their child wants to, contact them on 0207 242 1278.