Breastfeeding 6-Year-Old Reignites Debate on How Old Is Too Old

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Mom Maha Al Musa has no plans to stop nursing her school-age daughter, Aminah. (Photo: Facebook/Maha Al Musa)

Moms who breastfeed in public court major controversy these days. Even more contentious, however, are mothers who openly nurse kids who are old enough to attend elementary school—and make no apologies about it.

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That’s why recent photos of one mom proudly breastfeeding her 6-year-old have triggered shock and outrage. Australian mother Maha Al Musa tells the weekly Australian magazine Woman’s Day that her daughter, Aminah, still nurses morning and night. And whenever her little girl asks, Al Musa happily whips out her breast for a feeding session.

“She says to me, ‘Mommy milkie.’ I could be in the middle of doing something or talking and it’s so natural to us, we don’t make a big deal of it,” Al Musa tells Women’s Day. Al Musa calls breastfeeding older children “continual breastfeeding” and says that as long as her daughter wants to do it, she’s happy to oblige.

Aminah, for her part, seems to be a perfectly willing participant. “Sometimes it tastes like candy canes,” the little girl told Woman’s Day. “It tastes like a lot of different things.”

Al Musa defends continual breastfeeding as normal and healthy, a way to promote a strong connection between mother and child. “For me, it’s that beautiful bond we have,” Al Musa said in an interview with Australia’s Mornings show last year.

In that interview, she also cited the health benefits of breast milk, telling the hosts that it can boost a child’s immune system, which is important now that Aminah goes to school with other children.

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Pediatricians and other experts don’t quibble with the fact that breast milk is extremely healthy. Not breastfeeding and instead relying on formula leads to higher rates of obesity, respiratory infections, and allergies, Diana A. West, lactation consultant and director of media relations for La Leche League International, tells Yahoo Parenting.

With these health benefits in mind, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants be fed breast milk for at least six months, “with continuation of breastfeeding for one year or longer as mutually desired by mother and infant.”

“it’s shocking to people in Western countries, but worldwide, children are weaned when they’re between 2 and 6 years old on average, so nursing a 6-year-old is not out of the ordinary,” says West.

“After 18 months to two years of age, nursing isn’t about food so much as it is about connection,” she says. “This is how this mom and daughter choose to express their connection, and it’s a personal decision they’ve made. We’re shocked by it because we see it as sexual, but it absolutely isn’t.”

Many doctors agree. “Medically speaking, nursing doesn’t harm an older child, and breast milk is excellent nutrition, along with regular food a child eats,” Dr. Deborah Gilboa, parenting expert and family physician, tells Yahoo Parenting.

“Breastfeeding only crosses the line when it’s done to make the child dependent on the mother, or if the child is breastfed to make a point. That can be damaging, because the child can’t give consent,” says Gilboa.

“But ultimately, if it works for the mom and the child, there’s nothing wrong with it,” she says.

Al Musa believes that as long as a woman is producing milk and wants to breastfeed, and assuming her child is on board, it’s no one else’s business.

“My thing is about choice: whatever you choose, that’s up to you.”

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