Mom who breastfed 9-year-old responds to critics: 'I went public to raise awareness'

Sharon Spink, 50, with her 9-year-old daughter Charlotte. (Photo: Mercury Press)
Sharon Spink, 50, with her 9-year-old daughter Charlotte. (Photo: Mercury Press)

A British mom who has attracted global intrigue and ire after going public with the fact that she breastfed her daughter until age 9 has responded to those who have criticized her media exposure (not to mention her parenting methods).

Sharon Spink, of North Yorkshire, England, tells Yahoo Lifestyle that the news companies came to her first, and that she agreed to keep giving interviews “purely to raise awareness.” This week, the 50-year-old mom’s story — of how she had trouble when it came to breastfeeding her three older children, but found her groove with her youngest, Charlotte, who continued to nurse until self-weaning just recently — ran in outlets from the Daily Mail and the Sun in the U.K. to the New York Post and Yahoo Lifestyle. She also appeared on This Morning in the U.K. this week.

The atypically long stretch of breastfeeding drew, predictably, a slew of critics on Facebook and elsewhere, with many going so far as to call Spink “nuts,” “perverted,” “selfish” or a “pedophile.”

But others focused on the publicity aspect, calling it “an attempt to gain attention,” and noting, “if she wants to do this then fine, keep it private, but to splash it all over Facebook then shame on her.” Another asked, “Why expose the child in this? Literally asking for her to be bullied.”

Spink tells Yahoo Lifestyle, “Mercury Press approached me. … I think it was via my Facebook profile.” The mom’s first round of coverage, about nursing her then 5-year-old, came in 2014, she recalls, noting that the initial media inquiry came through the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers in the U.K. (similar to La Leche League), which she is a part of.

“I went public now and then purely to raise awareness for other moms, and to help them realize they’re not alone, and that feeding older children is normal for us as a species,” says Spink, who has been “happily married” to her “very supportive” husband for 14 years.

While extended breastfeeding, a tenet of attachment parenting, is often controversial, it typically refers to children who nurse until ages 3 or 4 — something that’s considered long enough in this country, where fewer than 36 percent of babies are still being breastfed at just a year old. So the thought of a 9-year-old breastfeeding is particularly hard for many to fathom. (Research, though, has found the biological age of human weaning to be anywhere between 2.5 and 7 years old, with the average being 4.3 years.)

Regarding the endless stream of cruel comments directed at Spink, she says, “I mostly ignore them. I know they’re generally talking from a place of either not understanding how breastfeeding works, or from a judgmental attitude that breasts are sexual objects, which they’re not. We have breasts in order to breastfeed.”

There have been supportive comments, too, which she says have been “phenomenal.”

“The fact that a lot of that support has been from other breastfeeding moms, telling me I’ve inspired them to continue their breastfeeding journeys, is amazing,” she adds. “It makes me feel that I’ve made a difference, and that’s what it’s all about.”

Her daughter Charlotte, she says, is aware of the media coverage and “happy for it to go out,” and explains she wouldn’t have gone forward if her daughter felt differently. Charlotte is also aware that most children do not breastfeed nearly this long. “We have talked about it, but it doesn’t bother her,” Spink says. The mom also says that “there haven’t been any incidents of her being bullied. … It’s more of an excitement about her being in the media, like, ‘Ooh, I saw you on the TV’ type comments.”

Finally, Spink says she doesn’t mind the intense fascination with her breastfeeding practices. “I actually think it’s a great thing, because it’s getting that message out there as far as it can, to let as many moms as possible know they’re not alone,” she says. “Moms should have a choice of how to feed their child without judgment; it should be an informed, fact-based choice, rather than making a choice because of what society thinks or — even worse — tells them what they should be thinking. Let moms trust their and their child’s instincts.”

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