I received this today and am again amazed at the wisdom of our Sages. Here is the halacha on nursing. It is very child led.
Description: Is It Permissible For A Nursing Mother To Resume Nursing Her Baby After A Few Days Interruption
The Rabbis afforded great importance to nursing a newborn baby, which, as has been proven by modern medicine, yields numerous health benefits. For example, during the first several days after birth nursing provides the infant with colostrum, which has been shown to help protect children from various allergies and diseases. Mother's milk itself has likewise been determined to provide a child with important health benefits. Therefore, a woman who is able to nurse a child should not forego on this opportunity, even if bottle-feeding is more convenient.
The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Dei'a 81:7) presents the guidelines as to when it is no longer permissible to nurse a child. He writes that a healthy child may nurse until the end of his fourth year, and a sickly child is permitted to nurse from his mother until after he completes his fifth year of life. After this point, it becomes forbidden for him to nurse just as it is forbidden for older children and adults to nurse directly from a woman. The Shulchan Aruch adds that after twenty-four months have passed since birth, if the child stops nursing for a period of seventy-two hours, the mother may not resume nursing the child, unless some health risk is involved. Chacham Ovadia Yosef rules accordingly, in his work Halichot Olam (vol. 6, p. 229).
Therefore, a mother who still nurses her child after the first two years must bear in mind that if she leaves on a trip and will thus be unable to nurse the child for seventy-two hours, it will be forbidden for her to resume nursing upon her return.
Summary: Halacha encourages mothers to nurse their babies given the health benefits involved. A healthy child may nurse from the mother until after his fourth year, and a sick child, until after five years. After two years, however, a child who stops nursing for seventy-two hours may not resume nursing unless a health risk is involved.
It is so interesting to note that if the mother does not nurse for seventy two hours she may not start up again after the child is twenty four months. This is a relatively average weaning time and many babies do wean themselves at this age. Although my youngest weaned herself younger, I know many babies who hold on for the whole four years. The point is that if baby and mommy are willing there is no reason why they cannot continue nursing past two years. This is a most beautiful and encouraging halacha that I can share with many of the mommies I come in contact with. The longer the better; truth be told though I would be thrilled if all mommies nursed thier babies for even a few days. In this case something is better than nothing. Other than the obvious health benefits there are many, many more deep emotional benefits to both mother and child.
I have a question. Or three.
1 year ago