While some babies try out solid foods as early as 6 months, a British mum - Denise Sumpter- continued way past that... right until her daughter was six years old.
"I'll feed Belle as long as she asks," she said . "I don't know how long that will be."
Denise explained that the choice to stop was Belle's to make, as and when she was ready to do so. The little girl didn't rely on breastmilk for nutrition — latching on offered comfort when she felt tired or ill.
Nursing was also a special way for the mum and daughter to have some bonding time. At times, Belle asked to nurse as much as twice a day; at others she only needed to feed about once per week.
Inevitably, her relatives made comments, but Denise never wavered from her unorthodox choice. She firmly believed that her two children — Belle and Beau (now 8 and 4, respectively) — are happier and healthier for it.
For the benefit of her kids
A PhD student of ancient science, Denise felt that her strong, healthy children have "mama's milk" to thank.
"My children have hardly been ill," she said. When her son Beau fell ill, Denise nursed him through it. "He was better in 24 hours."
"I've had similar with Belle. If they’re upset it calms them. It helps them sleep."
Denise also rejected conventional claims that delayed weaning will hamper her daughter's independence. In fact, the gutsy mum believes her daughter's confidence can be attributed to breast milk.
"Her teachers say she is mature for her age," Denise explained. And at six, little Belle was already a gifted violinist and dancer who frequently topped her class in school.
At the time this story made headlines around the world, some accused her of being selfish. But this mum refused to let her critics cow her. "There are things I get out of it - like calm, happy children. But I can say with certainty I’ve done this entirely for the benefit of my kids."
In a world where shame and secrecy continues to veil breastfeeding, Denise's determination to buck the norm is definitely inspiring, and is a reason why we wanted to bring her story to your attention, too. "There are so many myths about breastfeeding it’s unreal," she says.
The plucky mum first began research into baby-led weaning as Belle approached the age for weaning. "It became clear that the norms in this country aren't necessarily correct or what is best for children."
She points out that the World Health Organisation recommends breastfeeding, along with complementary solids, for up to two years and beyond. What mums need, Denise says, is "more openness and more truth so mums can make informed decisions."
Is breast best?
Breast milk's amazing health benefits for babies have long been known. The liquid goodness is packed with antibodies that fight off viruses, with breastfed babies typically having fewer illnesses and infections.
Past infancy, on the other hand, the benefits are less clear-cut. Breast milk is increasingly touted as a nutritious cure-all, but clinical experts state that breast milk cannot actually improve adults' health. Breast milk contains less protein than cow's milk, making the latter more beneficial after a certain age.
Similarly, the link between breast milk and social advantages is still fuzzy. There is some research in favour of 'breast is best' — a long-term study found that children who were breastfed had a higher IQ and income as adults.
Unfortunately, these results are far from conclusive. Other studies have found that breastfed 2-year-olds had a higher IQ — but this advantage disappeared by age 16.
But whether breastfeeding has real benefits for older children and adults or not, there's no doubt that little Belle and Beau are happy and thriving. As mums, we know that the decision to wean is best made by us and our children alone.
"When Belle finishes I’ll be sad," Denise admitted, "but it’s a natural progression." And that time may not be so far off. "Her milk teeth are going and I get the impression she won’t be feeding for much longer. But she can take her time."
We are unaware if Belle is still breastfeeding but we thought this story would provide a good topic of discussion. After reading this mum's story, what do you think about extended breastfeeding? Would you let your children nurse till age 6 and beyond? Let us know in the comments!