The image of a young mother breastfeeding her toddler may have sparked controversy, but the benefits of breastfeeding beyond infancy are actually quite clear. Nursing an older baby can be tremendously beneficial for both mother, child, and our society as a whole.

Curious why some mothers choose to breastfeed an older child? It's because...

Because the Experts Recommend It

1. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) explicitly states that "mothers should be encouraged to breastfeed through the first year and beyond."

2. The AAP also says that "there is no upper limit on the duration of breastfeeding and no evidence of psychological or developmental harm from breastfeeding into the 3rd year of life or longer."

2. The World Health Organization recommends "continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complimentary foods up to two years of age or beyond."

3. According to the president of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, the "average age at weaning ranges anywhere from six months to five years."

4. The American Academy of Family Physicians says that "breastfeeding beyond the first year offers considerable benefits to mother and child, and should continue as long as mutually desired."

5. Former Surgeon General Dr. Antonia Novella is quoted as saying: "It's the lucky baby, I feel, who continues to nurse until he's two."

6. UNICEF recommends that "Optimal infant and young child feeding means that mothers are empowered to ... continue to breastfeed for two years or more."

7. In The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, La Leche League International states that "if given the opportunity, most babies will breastfeed until they naturally outgrow the need."

Because It Benefits Baby

8. A toddler's immune system isn't fully developed, and the antibodies in human milk provide extra protection from illnesses such as cold, flu, and ear infection.

9. Breastfeeding protects against dehydration — many toddlers who won't eat or drink when ill stay hydrated through nursing.

10. Continued breastfeeding results in fewer symptoms for toddlers who suffer from asthma and allergies.

11. Studies have shown that a longer duration of breastfeeding may lead to increased IQ scores and cognitive development.

12. Breastfeeding provides comfort before and after surgery and other medical procedures.

13. Human milk does not lose nutritional value after children reach a certain age. Picky toddler eaters continue to receive essential vitamins and nutrients from breastfeeding.

14. Children who are breastfed longer have a lower risk of obesity.

15. Breastfeeding protects against death — one study found that children in developing countries who were not breastfeeding between 12 and 36 months of age were 3.5 times more likely to die.

16. Breastfeeding promotes proper oral and speech development.

17. Breastfeeding provides protection during natural disasters — a mother who is still lactating can feed her child safely during emergency situations when food, water, and formula are unavailable.

Because It Benefits Mom

18. Breastfeeding significantly reduces reduces a woman's risk of breast cancer. According to Kellymom.com, "studies have found a significant inverse association between duration of lactation and breast cancer."

19. Breastfeeding lowers a mother's risk of uterine, ovarian, and endometrial cancer.

20. Women who breastfeed longer have a reduced incidence of type 2 diabetes.

21. Breastfeeding longer reduces a mother's risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

22. Mothers who breastfeed longer often lose more weight.

23. In some cases, breastfeeding leads to a delayed return of fertility, and acts as a form of natural birth control for mothers.

Because It Makes Life Easier

24. Breastfeeding tames toddler tantrums. It's a great discipline tool for parents because it calms and soothes small children who have become overly emotional.

25. You don't have to worry if you forget to pack a snack or a sippy cup — a snack is always ready to go at a moment's notice.

26. Breastfeeding a toddler promotes independence. A child who nurses until he is ready to stop is often more secure and independent than one who does not.

27. Breastfeeding a toddler ensures quality bonding and snuggling time for mother and child.

28. Nursing can make bedtime and naptime easier, as many mothers find that breastfeeding puts toddlers to sleep in mere minutes.

29. Continued breastfeeding makes toddlers easier travel companions — nursing on an airplane keeps them quiet and happy.

30. Breastfeeding provides instant comfort for the scrapes and boo-boos of early childhood.

Because It's NORMAL

31. According to the research of anthropologist Kathryn Dettwyler, the natural age of weaning for humans from a biological perspective would be between 2.5 and 7 years.

32. Breastfeeding a toddler is normal throughout most of the world. Dettwyler's research indicates that the worldwide average age of weaning is between 3 and 4 years of age.

33. Negative social attitudes force many U.S. women to nurse their toddlers privately and often secretly, so there are many more breastfeeding toddlers than we probably realize.

The Benefits Are Clear

Breastfeeding a toddler — or even breastfeeding at all — isn't the right choice for every mother. But as a society, we need to support the women who choose to nurse past infancy, because the nutritional, immunological, and emotional benefits of doing so are abundantly clear.

Have you breastfed a toddler (or preschooler)? Why or why not?