Mom Breastfeeds Her 6 year Old and Social Media Goes Crazy.

“The foundation for healthy growth and development in later years is established to a large degree in the first six years of life.”
– Toward a Healthy Future: Second report of the Health of Canadians {Federal, Provincial and territorial Advisory Committee on Population Health, 1999}

Denise Sumpter, nursing her 2 children, ages 6 and 21 months.

The recommendations of the World Health Organization and Health Canada are to breastfeed exclusively for a minimum 6 months and then continue on with complimentary foods for 2 years and then continue on for however long the family decides, with no upper limit.

I am, in no way, saying that everyone must breastfeed for two years and beyond or that everyone must breastfeed at all, what I would like to suggest is that breastfeeding is normal and looks different for every family. You do what is right for your family and another mother will do what is right for hers.

We are in a culture that likes to spew the mantra that “Breast is Best” but then does everything possible to sabotage a woman’s ability to fully breastfeed her child.

There are those who refuse to believe that feeding a child corn syrup and modified milk ingredients could be less advantageous to a child’s health than human milk and there are people who claim to support breastfeeding then place arbitrary caveats to their support.

“I support breastfeeding… but only until age X.”

“I support breastfeeding… but not in public.”

Frankly, you don’t really support breastfeeding if you only support it half way. Either you support a woman’s ability, and reproductive right, to breastfeed her child, or you don’t.

Part of the problem we have supporting breastfeeding is that we don’t have much experience with breastfeeding at all. We have had whole generations where breastfeeding was all but lost, and now that it is making a resurgence, it is typically still hidden behind closed doors. You may actually know lots of people have had nursed past infancy but because of the way our culture shames women, they have kept it quiet.

I am a very vocal breastfeeding advocate and I noticed the societal pressure once my children started getting older. Just this holiday season, I was at a party with friends I haven’t seen in year and who don’t have children. My 3 year old (my youngest nursling) asked to nurse and I suddenly became VERY conscious of my company and surroundings, questioning if I should allow him to, or not. I have never not allowed him to nurse based on being in public before, but I was in close quarters with people I know, not just in the mall with random strangers. I suddenly became aware that this might look unusual to them. They, themselves, have never breastfed and have likely never seen anyone breastfeed except me. Once I started nursing, the next question was, “How old is he?” He’s just 3, at the time just 2 months beyond age 2.

In November of last year, I was facilitating a panel discussion after the film “The Milky Way” at the CHOICE! A Birth and Baby Film Festival. Even in this forum where people were coming to learn and support breastfeeding, and I was surrounded by full term breastfeeding supportive comrades, I was hesitant to publicly disclose that my 3, 5, and 8 year old all still nurse. I actually felt the need to assess whether or not it was safe to actually speak that out loud. It’s not because I have any shame in it and I don’t hide it. All the mothers who know me in real life or online, know my kids all still nurse and I think it’s a great thing, but I actually felt fear of being attacked if I said it in a public forum. The next question was invariably, “How long, is too long, to breastfeed?” My response, “When either the child or mother decides they want to stop.”

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When I sat down to write this post, I questioned whether or not I would disclose my nurslings ages. It won’t be the first time I have shared my full term nursing experience and won’t be the first time I am attacked for it. Three years ago, I shared this picture on a Facebook page that was asking for breastfeeding photos. It is an image of me nursing my 5 and 2 year old while 8 months pregnant with my third. You can see my responses to the backlash on my blog post: What’s Wrong With This Picture? Why Do We Only Give Lip Service to Breastfeeding?

Densie Sumpter is a U.K. mom who was interviewed about her full term nursing who has since gotten many messages of support and also many attacks and judgement about her parenting choice.

“The nutritional benefits at six are virtually negligible”

The media has given space for a self proclaimed “breastfeeding expert” to propagate misinformation about breastfeeding. The supposed breastfeeding “expert” stated there is virtually negligible nutritional benefit for a six year old to drink milk. Let’s examine that statement for a moment.

Recommendations from Health Canada for feeding children over 12 months: “Breastfeed as long as you and your child want to continue.” “If you are no longer breastfeeding, offer 500 milliliters (mL) of homogenized milk (3.25% M.F.) each day.”
They want you to keep getting the nutritional benefit of milk even after a mother chooses to stop breastfeeding. It’s just that our culture has normalized getting breastmilk from a cow and called human milk given to someone older than a toddler “disgusting.”

In a culture that so highly reveres cows milk (the breastmilk expressed from the breast of another species) as a staple for children’s (and even adult) diets, why would human milk, made for humans by humans, not be nutritionally beneficial for human children. It isn’t as if one day (at some arbitrary, assigned-by-society timeline) your breasts stop making nutritious milk and start spewing junk food.

It’s true that Breastmilk at age 6 isn’t likely to account for the bulk of the child’s caloric intake so, it isn’t the main source of nutritional intake, but neither is the one carrot a day, a vegetable hating child may eat. The little they get from the carrot is still contributing to their overall nutrition. Just because a 6 year old nurses infrequently and therefore consumes only a little bit of milk, doesn’t mean that human milk isn’t still the most highly nutritious food on the planet (for humans).

“Does she go to school at lunch to nurse her child?”

Since many people only have reference to an infant or maybe a toddler nursing, some are under the assumption that the child is nursing every 2-4 hours like a newborn. Typically, when older children nurse they do it a few times a day, once day, every few days, once a week, once a month, it depends on the child. Actually, this is what self weaning looks like. Eventually, the time between feeds becomes so long that there just isn’t another one. In many cases of full term nursing, neither the mother or child even remember the last feed, it was such a gradual weaning process and no one formally decided to draw a line in the sand.

“Why not put it in a cup?”

This comment makes no sense to me. Either you are OK with them drinking human milk or you aren’t. Saying to put it in a cup, suggests you are not opposed to the child consuming milk from her own species. Why would anyone go through the extra effort of expressing milk and storing it for when the child need/wants it and then potentially wasting what isn’t drank in time? Seems horribly ineffi

So if you are not opposed to choosing to drink human milk at age 6, then what difference does it make what container she drinks it from?

It’s “Wrong” To breastfeed a child that age.

The only reasoning I can come up with behind this statement is that somehow after toddlerhood (infancy for some) having your child see, touch, or suckle your breasts is believe to be sexual.

a) Breasts are for feeding our young. The reason why they are seen as sexual is, This one deserves a 4 part discussion:

because our primitive brain sees them as a way of nourishing our future offspring. A man’s brain says, “Hooray breasts! My genetic material will be nourished and survive to be passed on for generations to come.” So are breast sexual, yes! BECAUSE THEY FEED CHILDREN!!

b) Hugging and kissing are also sexual but they can be used in different contexts. Those actions are not inherently sexual, it depends on the person you are doing them with. You can hug and kiss your child or your aunt and no one declares it as sexual. It’s the same with breasts.

The vagina also has different contexts, birthing a baby is not sexual in the way that making a baby is. Same part, different use.

Society needs to get over the duality of female bodies. We are sexual by nature. That sexuality leads to making babies. Babies use those same parts of our body to be born, be fed and nourished and also to bond and feel love. Love comes in many forms. Sexual love, parental love, family love, friend love.

c) Breastfeeding an older child is in no way sexual for the mother. Having personally breastfed for a total of 16 years of children’s lives (8+5+3), I cannot stand anything touching my chest from the neck down, let alone my breasts. It is known in my house at “the no touching zone.” The gentle and loving caresses and hand held to breast that children do as the feed feels like nails on a chalkboard to me, except the chalkboard is my skin. I am so averse to the sensation of anything touching my chest that

 I will likely end my baby making days mostly because I don’t think I could handle breastfeeding another person. I now sleep on my stomach at night (not recommended by me as a chiropractor) because I want to hide them away so no one accidently touches them. (I know your next question is then why don’t you stop, I’ll answer that soon).

d) The child will not be mentally disturbed by knowing they breastfed into childhood. I don’t believe there has ever been a case of someone who went on a psychotic killing spree because they had too much nurturing at their mother’s breast. I have asked a variety of children who have nursed long enough to remember what their memories of breastfeeding are. The responses I got were: “Warm” “Love” “It tastes like ice cream” “It’s better than ice cream” “It’s the best thing in the world” but most commonly the response is “Love.”

“You are just coddling them, stopping them from growing up”

Children who nurse into school age as just as grown up as any other child their age. You would never be able to pick the ones who nurse out of a classroom because they are totally normal, healthy children. They tend to be emotionally well adjusted because they have always had their emotional needs care for. This whole idea that we need to let our children 

deal with their emotions by sucking it up and “self soothing” may have something to do with the fact that antidepressant drug use has skyrocketed in the past generation. I’m not saying that breastfeeding is the only way to comfort a child emotionally, but it is a way, and every mother-child dyad will find the ways that works for them. No one is judging you for not breastfeeding your 6 year old so why judge those that do?

Nursing isn’t the only aspect of someone’s parenting. It’s not like the child has a boob in the mouth all day. There are plenty of opportunities for emotional bonding and dealing with emotions in different ways. Just why would you suddenly cut out one of the ways that works for you and your child?

“Why don’t you just say, ‘No’”

My question is, why would you say no? Hugs and kisses were also part of my parenting when my children were infants and hugs and kisses continue to be part of my parenting today. I have no reason to just cut them out at some arbitrary date.

Mothers don’t just wake up and start nursing an older child. It’s just the way it’s always been.

When a mother initiates breastfeeding she has no idea how long she will nurse. Some set a goal of 6 months, some a year, some want to reach the recommended 2years and don’t want to go the “beyond” part of the recommendation. Before having kids I had many conversations with mothers who shared their full-term nursing, self weaning experiences with me. From listening to their experiences, I was under the impression that self weaning happened between ages 3 and 4. As a result, that was my original expectation. Then I met mothers whose children self weaned at 20 months and I then made a friend who nursed until her children were 5 and she chose to end it because SHE felt done, they would have continued on. So I learned not to have any expectations and take it one day at a time. Maybe I would nurse for 20 months, maybe beyond, how could I predict the future? The only thing I knew was that I wanted it to be my child’s choice how long they nurse for.

I started nursing my 5 pound 9 ounce teeny first baby and she nursed through my next pregnancy. I did night wean for the sake of my sleep and sanity while pregnant, when she was 24 months.

I gave birth and became a tandem nursing mother. Each day went day, one day at a time, and they both nursed. Everyday similar to the one before, maybe more nursing, maybe less. When my daughter was 3 and I had a 6 month old nursling I started to limit how often I was willing to nurse her, for my own sanity. Telling a 3 year old they cannot have what they want isn’t always the easiest thing to do, but she eventually understood that was just the way it was going to be. So much for my intention of not influencing their weaning.

Then they both nursed through my third pregnancy and I became a triandem nursing mother. And they continued on. Again at age 3 for my son, I had to start limiting his feeding. He would have nursed all day but I couldn’t handle it. Not with a 6 month old who was also demanding frequent nursing.

Why don’t I just say no? I have no reason to. It’s just the way it has always been. For me there is nothing strange about nursing an 8 year old because I have nursed her almost every day of her life. She didn’t suddenly become 8, it happened day by day. Today isn’t different in how I nurture my child than it was yesterday. Yes, it is different than it was 8 years ago but that is a slow 8 year evolution. One day she or I will be done and declare it, or maybe we will forget when her last feed was. I don’t know. I can just say what is today.

“What are there friends going to say?”

My daughter knows her friends don’t nurse anymore and also doesn’t care that they know she nurses. She has no shame associated with it and has no reason to feel embarrassed by sharing tender loving moments with her mama. If we stop to think about what we are saying when people want to cut their children off from loving attachment with their parents for the sake of fitting in to a detached, peer oriented world.

It also puts the onus on the bullied to change their behaviour for the sake of avoiding the bully. Not exactly how to teach our children to be their own people.

It isn’t as if she goes around telling them, having conversations about it, or nursing when she is having a play date. It is something that happens at home, typically with morning cuddles in bed. I am sure most kids don’t tell their friends about their morning cuddles with their parents either, so really it isn’t a topic that ends up being discussed with friends.

She is also very confident in her desire to nurse. We have discussed on many occasions how adults don’t nurse and her understanding is that eventually when a person has an adult mouth (filled with adult teeth) that they will lose their latch and no longer be able to get milk out. She doesn’t feel she is at that point. She was actually sad when she lost her first tooth because she knew it meant that the end of nursing was approaching.

We also choose to associate with people who are respectful of other people’s lifestyles. Her friends are not the type of people who would judge or even comment about her nursing. They may ask questions out of interest and curiosity but would be very respectful of individual differences. We are, also, in a community where many of our friends have nursed to age 5, so she isn’t actually that different.

“You are teaching them to associate food with comfort?”

From day one breast milk is not only food and nutritional nourishment. It is designed to be emotional nourishment also. Saying that we shouldn’t nurse an older child because we are associating food with comfort would also apply from birth. Breastmilk is designed to be about binding. The hormone that releases mil is also the hormone that changes the structure of our brains to bond with the people we are with. Oxytocin is the chemical of love. They are drinking love and that association is not going to follow to other foods that do not contain oxytocin.  

I have to also add that I have a beef with the media allowing anyone to call themselves an expert. I would argue that the mom who has nursed for 6 years is likely more of an expert than someone who is misinformed enough to believe that human milk is only for infants and mysteriously loses nutritional value over time.

If you don’t understand something or someone, ask questions, maybe you will learn something.

I encourage you to go here to read responses to more of the ridiculous objections people have about full term nursing.

This entry was posted in Attachment Parenting, Breastfeeding, Family Life/ Relationships, General, Natural, Natural Living, Parenting, Uncategorised and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Mom Breastfeeds Her 6 year Old and Social Media Goes Crazy.

  1. jayne says:

    Hi Dr. Nancy,
    I just recently read the below article
    and saw your comment that you nursed your three children at the same time at one point..
    Can I ask how you did it? I’m giving birth to my second child in a few months and well-meaning people have been advising me to wean my 2 year old (I’d really like for her to self-wean).
    My daughter still nurses a lot, mostly for comfort and to help her sleep, so part of me would also wonder how to do this tandem nursing.
    Would really love to hear from you! Sorry to sound desperate. Sigh!

  2. Dr. Nancy says:

    Hi Jayne,

    There is a book I read before I had my second, called Adventures in Tandem Nursing. It is a good reference. I would also suggest seeing if there is a La Leche League Group in your area that focuses on nursing older children (here it is called the Little Nursing Persons meeting), often there are a lot of tandem nursing mothers there.

    Tandem nursing looks different for every family. Some will actually feed at the same time, one on each breast, and some only feed the older one once the baby is done. I would suggest talking about it a lot with the older one. “Baby is going to bring you milk.” “It’s the baby’s milk but they will share it with you.’ “Isn’t it nice of the baby to be sharing his/her milk with you.” “Baby needs to finish having milk first.” “You can eat food but baby can only have milk, so baby needs to get milk first.” Helps to curb the older sibling not being happy to share.

    You will have to find what works best for you. I would warn about having feelings of aversion. Also, sometimes the older one can ask for milk constantly once it comes in full force and it can be overwhelming to be asked constantly for milk, while also caring for a baby. You can also choose to limit the number of times a day the older one nurses. Night weaning is also an option if necessary.

    Tandem nursing is not a piece of cake but is very do-able. If you are committed to self weaning, you will be able to do it.

    Please feel free to ask more questions,

    Dr. Nancy

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