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But the academy's latest update, published in March in the journal Pediatrics, lists the benefits of breast-feeding for at least several months and up to a year: Breast-fed infants have a lower risk of sudden infant death syndrome. They suffer fewer illnesses such as diarrhea, earaches and pneumonia, because breast milk contains antibodies that help fend off infections until their own immune systems become robust. They're also less likely to develop asthma, or even to become fat later in childhood.
Moms can benefit, too, decreasing their risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer.
How old is too old for the child? The pediatricians' guidelines say breast-feeding should continue along with solid foods to age 1 -- "or as long as mutually desired by mother and infant."
The World Health Organization recommends continuing "along with appropriate complementary foods up to 2 years of age or beyond."
Toddlers sometimes make clear that they prefer a cup, but Altmann says if both mom and child are comfortable, there's no harm in going longer than average.
Still, the clear nutritional benefit wanes as youngsters start getting most of their nutrition from solid food, and Altmann says parents need to teach their tots to soothe themselves.
"At some point it's less about nutrition and more about comfort," says Altmann, who breast-fed her own two sons until they were 1.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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