Yes, it's true. I still breastfeed my 5-year-old.
Not too many people would be shocked that I'm still breastfeeding my 14-month-old daughter, but what most people don't know is that I also still nurse my 5-year-old son on occasion (when he requests it). I know that he obviously doesn't need breast milk as a main source of nutrition at this age (although breast milk never stops being nutritious, much like any other healthy food.) He does, however, use nursing as a tool to reconnect emotionally, much like a hug.
And, no, my second child doesn't suffer any loss to her milk quota due to my son still breastfeeding, Breast milk works on a supply and demand basis, so my breasts will continue producing what the children demand.
For the critics who claim extended breastfeeders are selfish, although it's enjoyable on a bonding level, breastfeeding is incredibly taxing on exhausted moms and I can reassure you that it's certainly not something a mom continues to do purely for her own desires. It's a mutual agreement between mother and child and relates closely to the philosophy of baby-led weaning.
Some believe breastfeeding an older child is psychologically harmful once they're old enough to retain memories about it, but if you talk to any child who has grown up breastfeeding past babyhood, I can guarantee you they'll only recall it as a fond memory.
Clearly, public opinion is strong on this topic but I wonder why this is when even the experts can't agree?
Others think that breastfeeding should only continue until the child has teeth, but what about babies who are born with teeth? Should they be denied breast milk altogether? It makes sense to me that the time a child starts to lose their baby teeth is a closer indicator of when a child might naturally begin to self-wean. When the adult teeth come in, the shape of the jaw slightly changes to accommodate this, making it harder for the child to suckle.
And in case you were wondering—and I'm sure that you are—we homeschool at the moment, so he doesn't have to deal with any potential bullying he might receive at a traditional school, although I'm confident in his abilities to stand up to any criticisms about his personal choices in life.
Clearly, public opinion is strong on this topic but I wonder why this is, when even the experts can't agree. According to research conducted by Dr. Katherine Dettwyler out of Texas A&M University, the natural weaning age of humans ranges from 2.5 years all the way up to 7 years of age. That's a huge span!
Even the World Health Organization states that, "Review of evidence has shown that, on a population basis, exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months is the optimal way of feeding infants. Thereafter infants should receive complementary foods with continued breastfeeding up to 2 years of age or beyond."
Note the "or beyond."
So, whatever your own experience of breastfeeding has been, let's stop demonizing those moms who practice the biological norm over the societal norm.
Image via Adele Allen