Some Australian women are breastfeeding their children until they are 7-years-old, a new study has found.
Children enjoy the taste of the milk, the comfort it brings and the closeness to their mother, according to research about to be published from the University of Western Sydney.
Academic Karlene Gribble studied 107 women who breastfed their babies from age 2 to 7. Some were feeding up to a dozen times a day and one of the women was feeding three children at a time.
"Most women don't set out to feed this long but they enjoy it, especially when their children get old enough to express how much they love it," Gribble said.
She reports several thousand children at any one time are breastfed past the age of 2.
"My daughter is very articulate. 'Mummy, I'd like a breastfeed please'," one mother of a 3-year-old said. Another mother of a 3-year-old said her son would "climb on my lap, when sitting, lift up my shirt, pull down my bra and attach himself."
One mother who fed a 5-year-old said he fed upon waking in the morning, if he was sick or hungry, and sometimes had a "quick suck" at bedtime. For many children, breastfeeding was connected with sleep and comfort.
Only 7 percent of the women studied intended to feed this long. Others said they kept going primarily because of the enjoyment of their toddler.
Not everyone believes breastfeeding this long is beneficial to the child or the mother.
Psychologist Michael Burge, a specialist in relationships and development, said there should be a cut-off line.
"The concern would be creating too much physical or emotional dependence. I would be very worried about that," Burge said.
Psychologist Evelyn Field said breastfeeding for a child older than 3 is "totally inappropriate."
"It's not normal, the umbilical cord needs to be broken," Field said. "You have to wonder if it's for the child or the mother — I bet it's for the mother."