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Breastfeeding: when should you stop?

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Headline news: British mom Denise Sumpter made headlines when she shared about breastfeeding her school-age child, Belle. In this picture she is also nursing her 18-month-old son, Beau

Her boobs, her choice.

That’s Rebecca Carvalho’s take on the furor over a UK mom still breastfeeding her six-year-old daughter.

“I know some people are uncomfortable with seeing an older child breastfeed and it can creep others out, but it is really no one else’s business how long someone breastfeeds for, or even where they choose to breastfeed,” the mother-of-three said.

Denise Sumptor was recently criticised for her decision to continue breastfeeding her school-aged daughter, Belle. Her fellow Brits suggested her actions could have serious social consequences for her daughter.

A Time magazine cover showing a woman breastfeeding her three-year-old in 2012 sparked similar debate.

Said Mrs Carvalho: “While I personally didn’t choose to breastfeed an older child or breastfeed in public, I think any mother who chooses to do so has every right to and should not have to put up with any kind of judgment.”

She breastfed her eldest daughter until her first birthday; she pumped exclusively with her twins until they were seven months old.

She stopped because it became a challenge after returning to work.

Mrs Carvalho said it was important because of the huge benefits breast milk can have on a child.

Studies show it not only provides the specific nutrients that babies need to grow, it also has antibodies in it that protect them from illness.

There are also some benefits for the mom.

Breastfeeding can become a special bonding time; it also burns an average of 500 calories a day.

“Plus it’s free,” Mrs Carvalho said.

Kristin Haddrell, who operates the parent support page Sippy Cups and Swizzle, felt it was a “sensitive subject”.

“Anytime breastfeeding is involved, you are going to have strong opinions,” she said.

“I wouldn’t feel comfortable with breastfeeding my children for that long and I think it’s a bit weird to be honest, but ultimately it’s every mother’s choice.

“I breastfed my son with the intention of weaning at 12 months. However, he started to self-wean around ten-and-a-half months.

“I think you follow your child’s lead, but at some point you may need to step in and re-evaluate. Again, to each their own.”

Breastfeeding proved a challenge for Kara Gibbons. She pumped, exclusively, with both her children.

It proved the right fit for her family.

Her children not only got the health benefits of breast milk, her body got the benefit of the pumping, said to help with post-partem healing.

“My husband and I were also able to share feeding responsibilities and had an enormous amount of stored milk supply — with two fridges and two freezers almost full,” Mrs Gibbons said. “I was able to have my son on breast milk for four full months while I ran into difficulty with my daughter’s reflux and had to cut that time in half.

“I would have loved to do it until I went back to work at four months.”

Although she understands that every case is different, she said she couldn’t see herself carrying on much past the six month mark.

“I think over a year is a little excessive personally and six years is absurd, but I think the choice ultimately lies between the mother and father,” Mrs Gibbons said.

“I know too many mothers that made the call on their own without allowing their husband or partner to have a say also.

“It was important to me that my husband agree with my decision on timing either way. It’s his baby too and his wife he’s sharing, as controversial as that statement may sound.”

Time Magazine cover in May 2012 showing Jamie Lynne Grumet, a 26-year-old California mom, breastfeeding her three-year-old son

•Optimal infant and young child feeding is exclusive breastfeeding for six months, and continued breastfeeding for at least one and up to two years or longer, with age-appropriate complementary feeding: The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine.

•Breastfeeding should be continued, with appropriate complementary foods, for as long as the mother and infant mutually desire. In societies where children are allowed to nurse as long as they wish, they usually self-wean, without emotional trauma, between three and four years of age: Report: Breastfeeding in the Second Year and Beyond.

• The question of whether there is an upper limit to the duration of breastfeeding has been asked. Data on the scientific foundation for an age above which it is inappropriate or harmful to the child to continue breastfeeding do not exist. Nor are there reported risks to this method of social/nutritional interactions: Breastfeeding Handbook for Physicians, second edition.