Another common question is how long should a baby be breastfed. Even though the clinical recommendations are pretty clear about how long an infant should be breastfed, it always seems that people ignore the facts. This seems to be an area that people believe is open to personal preference or opinion, this even happens when dealing with health professionals.
So first off, any breastfeeding is better than none, any breastmilk is better than none. The more exclusive the breastfeeding the better.
What is exclusive breastfeeding , nothing by mouth other than breastmilk, preferable directly from the breast alone. We all know that this is not possible for all parents but then that's not the point. Sometimes babies arrive too soon and aren't yet able to take enough directly from the breast, or are too sick or premature to be at the breast at all. Still human milk is the preferred food . Some moms pump and provide breastmilk via tube or another feeding devise for a period of time, thus allowing time to give baby the ability to develop sufficiently to come to the breast for feedings.
In other situations mom may be separated from her baby for work or another reason and not able to fully breastfeed because of the separation. Then of course providing breastmilk via pumping is the logical and most healthy thing to do.
In the majority of cases baby should be put to the breast with in the first hour of life and receive nothing other than moms breast or breastmilk for the at least the first 6 months of life, then after 6 months or later for some babies, a gradual addition of some solid foods can be started to supplement the infants diet. The majority of the food that baby still takes in should be breastmilk until at the very least 12 months od age. and for many familes breastfeeding can continue as long as mom and baby are mutually happy with the experience.
So a 2-4 year old that is still breastfeeding is normal. One does not need to commit to two years to breastfeed, but its perfectly normal for babies to breastfeed well past a year.
Some families will use breastfeeding to space their pregnancies. I know there are skeptics out there, but research shows that a mother who is exclusively breastfeeding, not using supplements or pacifiers and is not separated from her child for extended periods of time, and whose baby sleeps with her or in the same room, will be able most of the time to use breastfeeding as a natural contraceptive. At least until her periods return on a regular bases.
To learn more about this method read Sheila Kipley's book: Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing