“It’s not normal”.

This is the sort of comment I would receive back in early 2012 when the media placed my story all over the news of how I, a 49-year-old woman, was still nursing my 3.5-year-old daughter. This happened just after I openly supported Jamie Grumet on Time Magazine for publicizing the fact that she practiced natural term breastfeeding for her 3.5-year-old son.

My daughter was still breastfeeding 3 years later in 2015 at the age of 6, and I received even more backlash from people who told me “She’s too old. You’re damaging your daughter”. 

But I continued to breastfeed her despite the negative comments and became an advocate for all mothers who choose to breastfeed their babies in infancy and beyond. I also received hundreds of supportive and positive comments that were heartwarming because of my advocacy.

Today, I still stand by my convictions that a mother and baby’s love pathways shine a light of truth on the natural gift of breastfeeding, and in a society that has many opinions on the subject, here is the wisdom I wish to pass down to young mothers who inherently know that breastfeeding their child to natural term* is normal and nothing to be ashamed of.

*Note: I use the phrase “natural term” in place of “extended” in relation to breastfeeding because it accurately describes the action as determined by mother and child cues. The use of “extended breastfeeding” is an unuseful label that can’t be used in comparison with a mother who breastfeeds her child for a shorter length of time.

~There are no rules that apply to all women and babies~

People probably meant well when they commented on those news articles several years back as they were thinking about the well-being of my daughter. However, while they tried to tell me “what is normal”, they forgot that each mother-child relationship is unique and can’t be placed under invariable constraints.

People set rules for natural term breastfeeding based on the opinion that beyond the age of 2 it will “ruin them” (e.g. the child will be emotionally impaired, they will grow up being teased, or they won’t be getting nutrition from solid foods as they should), but there is no scientific evidence to prove it’s in any way harmful. It’s actually quite the opposite. Children develop at different rates both physically and psychologically and no one other than a parent and child should declare when nourishment and comfort from breastfeeding have achieved their full effects.

Mothers should do their best not to be guided by opinions that don’t have any scientific validity. 

When a mother’s innate knowing dictates her choices for her child during breastfeeding, she is able to strongly come home to her wisdom where the opinions of others won’t bother her. 

~Breastfeeding is both instinctual to our female nature and a learned art~

When I would breastfeed in public, my daughter and I wouldn’t give it a second thought. She would come up to me and ask and I would feed her. It wouldn’t embarrass us because as a mother and as a child we were following each other’s cues. I knew I was giving her nourishment and I didn’t have to feel ashamed.

This natural exchange we shared as a mother and child can be shocking to many because one of the biggest stigmas that revolve around natural term breastfeeding is that women sexualize the practice and somehow damage their children. But that’s just a sick opinion society imparts and burdens mothers with. It signifies the ignorance of society rather than the mother-child relationship.

So our breasts are seen as sexual objects instead of a nurturing part of a woman’s anatomy. We see women’s breasts relentlessly displayed in movies, magazines, and media in a sexually explicit way but heaven forbid they be uncovered and used for their biological purpose – to feed our children!

When people feel uncomfortable seeing a woman breastfeeding an older child it most likely stems from an inability to detach their sexualized view of a woman’s breasts with the actual nurturing function they possess. I encourage all women to question these views and not automatically conform to these images society portrays. I invite women to come home to their heart home knowing and following their natural instincts.

~Mother and child know best~

With 24 years of experience as a birth educator and a mother of 3 children, I know that breastfeeding is a very individualized experience. For some, it can have its challenges and requires commitment but I encourage every mother who is unsure of taking the breastfeeding path to educate herself on its benefits, and then, she with her baby, decide what is best. Whether breastfeeding for 6 months, 6 years, or longer is up to them and they should not be silenced by shame or judgment. 

Mothers who choose to practice natural term breastfeeding should never feel they have to refuse their child because of societal pressures saying they’re too old. Children will always self-wean when they are ready and, until then, do not deny your child nourishment or comfort.

Mothers who are doing the very best they can for their children should be respected for their choices and they should be loved and cherished – just as they love and cherish their children.

As a strong advocate for those who breastfeed their children to natural term, I fully support mothers in whatever they choose as they follow the wisdom of their mothering heart and continue with unabashed freedom to comfort their child wherever and whenever they need. 

You and your child know what you are doing. Breastnurturing is real! It’s normal! Don’t let people tell you otherwise.

 

Mamaste!

Maha Al Musa

 

Do you have any questions about my experience with extended or natural term breastfeeding? Please, visit my contact page to get in touch! I would love to hear from you and offer my support.

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