‘Why I breastfeed my seven-year-old’
ADELAIDE mum Lisa Bridger describes feeding her seven-year-old son on the autism spectrum as an invaluable tool.
"Breastfeeding has prevented him having to go on to medication because it calms him down. It calms and grounds him and is a fantastic way to reconnect too," the 46-year-old mum of five said.
"We tried melatonin but it didn't work as I couldn't get him to swallow it. He gets melatonin from my breastmilk. I can shorten the meltdowns by feeding him. It is a great tool to help with autism," she said.
Breastfeeding for 20 years
Lisa could be called a breastfeeding veteran having done it for more than 20 years and during that time always tandem fed too.
"When I had my first it was just natural. He latched on and that was it. No one ever told me there was a cut off age and I didn't know about the WHO guidelines. They requested and I gave; it just worked," she explained.
She is currently feeding seven-year-old Chase and his four-year-old brother, Phoenix, also on the spectrum.
People aren't always kind
Lisa said she is happy to feed her children in public, and apart from a few weird looks no one has ever said anything. It is online that people regularly abuse her.
"Anyone feeding a child beyond a year gets accused of child abuse, pornography, damaging their health and told that if they walk and talk they don't need it. How is respecting their needs abuse? You can't breastfeed a piranha," she said, explaining that Chase and Phoenix are happy to choose to breastfeed.
Lisa said she hasn't worn a high neck top or a one-piece dress for seven years and looks forward to the day when she gets her body back.
"It has been a long, long time feeding the seven-year-old. Some kids have blankets and dummies and mine just feed," she said.
Chase has cut his feeds down from 15-20 a day to generally only one to two depending on what is happening, but he always feeds to sleep at night, Lisa said.
"We don't really discuss it (her and Chase). I have mentioned stopping a couple of times and he gets upset about it," she said.
Lisa said Chase's autism and Asperger's is so bad and the lack of resources at the local school means she must home school him.
In her spare time, she runs the breastfeeding website Occupy Breastfeeding, which aims to support and educate women breastfeeding.
"I try to educate people who say negative things to me. Bottle feeding has become so normal that the whole idea of breastfeeding grosses people out. It is normal and okay, and I am not harming my kids. Natural term weaning is four to seven years," she said.
Lisa said she only knows of one other mum in the United States who fed her child as long as she has fed Chase and she continued until they were nine.
Natural weaning advocates
Maha Al Musa made headlines a few years ago when she revealed she was feeding her seven-year-old. She said she naturally weaned last year at eight-and-a-half years-old and Maha was 54.
The international childbirth educator said breastmilk is nutritionally rich and dense and doesn't suddenly lose its nutritional value when a child reaches a certain age.
"This is a great myth. When I was 50 and my daughter four-and-a-half I had my breastmilk tested and it contained all the same antibodies, stem cells, proteins et cetera as a mother half my age with a much younger baby," she said.
Maha said the breastfeeding relationship can be especially important as children start to enter the preschool and school years.
"Coming home to mother's breast gives security and a loving safe haven. Attachment is not conferred through keeping our children at arm's length. Security essentially grows from loving bonds and breastfeeding is one way to cultivate this.
Just because we may not be familiar with breastfeeding older children, or we don't understand it does not make it strange, weird or odd," she said.
Maha stressed that children are able to make informed decisions about stopping and that babies and children cannot be forced to breastfeed.
"Most children will wean between four and eight years old. As they lose their milk teeth their jaw changes and the sucking too," she said.
Lactation consultant and baby care author, Pinky McKay said if a child has difficulty communicating breastfeeding is a lovely way to help them connect and meet their emotional needs that they may not be able to express in other ways.
"The hormonal response will also help them regulate emotionally and have a calming effect and nutritionally breastmilk has elements that are beneficial at any age," she explained.
This story was originally published on kidspot and is republished with permission.