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Breastfeeding: How Old is Too Old?

What if one of the children were 6 years old?

Ever since I started writing at Babble, people often ask me if it’s hard to come up with parenting stories on such a regular basis. It’s really not, I tell them. It’s amazing how much content you can quickly find thanks to Google Reader. Sometimes, in fact, I wish I had fewer topics from which to choose. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve posted something, only to stumble upon something else a bit later that I wish I had covered instead.

But every now and then, I’ll run across a topic that instantaneously pops off the monitor. When I do, I know that I’ve found a subject matter that will lead to no such second guessing. And when I saw the following article description: Amanda Breastfeeds her six-year-old in tandem with her newborn—horrifying or a loving bond? I knew I had found just such a topic.

When I clicked on the link and browsed the story over at the Daily Mail, I had a hard time believing what I was looking at. Or what was looking at me. It was the image of a smiling mom, Amanda Hurst, who was happily breastfeeding her newborn alongside her scraggly haired, blue-jean-wearing six-year-old son, Jonathan.

Honestly? I barely made it through the article, so compelled was I to obsessively reexamine the pictures—pictures which instinctively struck me as, well, wrong.

Amanda had breastfed Jonathan until he turned three, at which point she told him he was too old, though she admitted that telling him such was difficult for her. Enter William, her newborn, and suddenly, Jonathan’s interest in breastfeeding was rekindled. “I know some people think it’s strange,” says the 29-year-old mom. “But I think it’s perfectly natural.”

Unsure of what to make of the story, I immediately bounced it off of my Strollerderby peers. And boy, am I glad I did. Our editor, Margaret, dug up this link from the BBC. It’s to a story they had done on Hurst back in April. Then Paula Bernstein emailed me a link to a piece that Mayim Bialik (of “Blossom” fame) had written earlier today over at Raising Kvell. The post, I Breastfeed My Toddler. Got a Problem With It?, was a very well written, unapologetic account of why she thinks it’s okay to continue to nurse her 2-1/2 year old. (What was it Joey used to say? Whoa!)

The truth is, I do have a problem with Mayim’s breastfeeding a 2-1/2 year old. Though, I must confess, it’s not a very big one, and it’s certainly nowhere near as big as the problem I have with Amanda Hurst, presumably because Bialik’s toddler isn’t a full-blown little boy yet. And while I’m confessing, I may as well own up to something else.

Other than the manner in which the image of Jonathan latched onto his mother’s nipple assaulted my retinas, I’m not exactly sure why I have a problem with a mom breastfeeding her six-year-old. And I grew even more unsure, when, many of the super-smart Strollerderby ladies began to chime in on the topic. I came to realize that, though certainly not mainstream, there are, indeed, many moms who choose to breastfeed their children long past the age I consider “normal.”

I’m usually not one to hold back my opinion. (Shocking. I know.) And, truth be told, the arguments I read which were critical of allowing a child to breastfeed past a certain age made more sense to me than the ones that countered by citing the nutritional benefit of breast milk and the natural bond between mother and child.

But it’s really not my place to argue on one side or the other. Especially since I’m a man. I know what I’m comfortable with. And I know what my wife’s comfortable with, too. And, oddly, I now know what Blossom’s comfortable with. But I don’t know what you’re comfortable with.

What do you think? How old is too old when it comes to breastfeeding? More specifically, is it unnatural, unhealthy even, for Amanda Hurst to breastfeed her six-year-old? What about Mayim Bialik and her 2-1/2-year-old?

picture: flickr.eti

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John Cave Osborne’s personal blog.
John Cave Osborne’s book website.

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