Breastfed preschoolers and kindergarten kids are more common than the general populace may think, says a UOW honorary fellow.
Dr Nina Berry, a long-time breastfeeding counsellor, said while there was scant public display of the practice, some mothers went the distance for a variety of reasons, including to provide a prolonged source of comfort to their child.
Dr Berry was responding to a storm of controversy sparked by UK mother Sharon Spink who was recently photographed breastfeeding her five-year-old daughter.
Dr Berry said the UK example was ‘‘not the first [such] case I’ve heard of’’.
‘‘It’s scandalous only because some people aren’t used to seeing it, but it happens more commonly than people realise,’’ she said.
‘‘Mothers don’t advertise it because they get judged. They come up against opposition and judgment ... and people raising eyebrows and making unsupportive comments.’’
Mrs Spink, of Yorkshire, has gone on to challenge some from her league of online detractors, and has defended her choice to UK paper The Sun.
“A mother should be free to do what she thinks is right for her child, whether that is formula feeding from birth or breastfeeding indefinitely,’’ she told the newspaper.
“A child’s immunity doesn’t mature until they are six or seven, so the antibodies in breast milk continue to provide protection.
“Children don’t start to lose their milk teeth until the same age, which is nature’s way of telling us that they are supposed to be breastfed for longer than we do in Western society.”
Asked if there were health benefits to breastfeeding for five years, as opposed to two or three years, Dr Berry replied: ‘‘That’s the wrong question. I don’t think anybody should be making rules about what mothers do with their bodies’’.
‘‘We know breast milk is full of calcium and essential fatty acids which are important in eye development and brain development.
‘‘There’s certainly no evidence that milk stops being nutritional at any time.’’
She added: ‘‘Breastfeeding’s not all about nutrition – it’s about comfort and security and all of those sorts of things – and those things aren’t to be underestimated’’.
‘‘Sure, there are other ways that they can be provided, but if a mother and child choose breastfeeding to be that source of comfort, that’s up to them and they’re certainly not hurting anyone.’’
The World Health Organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding until six months of age, and alongside other foods for ‘‘up to two years of age or beyond’’.
This differs from the National Health and Medical Research Council recommendation, which is for exclusive breastfeeding for around six months, and alongside other food until 12 months of age and beyond, for as long as the mother and child desire.
The 2010 Australian National Infant Feeding Survey showed 96 per cent of mothers began breastfeeding, but only 39 per cent of babies were still being breastfed to three months, and fewer than 15 per cent to five months.
Dr Berry suggested the national council’s differing recommendation – ‘‘kind of a misrepresentation’’ of the longer WHO recommendation – had contributed to low rates of prolonged breastfeeding in Australia and the UK.