How Long Is Too Long to Breastfeed?

breastfeedingWhile the American Academy of Pediatrics suggest that mothers breastfeed their infants for the first 12 months of life, some continue for far longer—and are sometimes met with criticism. When the Mirror in the U.K. reported in December 2014 that a mother, Denise Sumpter, still breastfeeds her 6-year-old daughter, a firestorm erupted. Experts offered opinions on both sides of the controversial topic, and mothers weighed in too. In the article, Luci Lishman, a lactation consultant who is also a registered nurse and midwife, said that Sumpter is an “inspiration” and that breastfeeding decreases a mother’s risk of breast cancer, as well as other cancers and illnesses. Additionally, she said, nursing provides “increased immunity indefinitely.” Though Lishman believes prolonged nursing is “perfectly natural,” not everyone finds it socially acceptable. “It isn’t necessary—or normal,” Clare Byam-Cook said in the article. Byam-Cook is a retired midwife and breastfeeding counselor. While she agrees that breast milk protects children from illnesses, she argues that 6-year-olds have their own immunity and that Sumpter could be subjecting her daughter to ridicule. NPR recently spoke to University of Delaware anthropologist, Katherine Dettwyler, who has conducted extensive research on breastfeeding and who breastfed her daughter and son until they were 4 and 5 1/2, respectively. Dettwyler explained that “nursing a 6-7+year-old is a perfectly normal and natural and healthy thing to be doing for the child” and that there’s no research showing that prolonged breastfeeding leads to harmful emotional dependency. On the contrary, she said there’s some evidence that long-term nursing results in more independent children.

Opinions abound! We hope you’ll share yours with us in the comments.