A mom has revealed how she will miss breastfeeding her daughter after the youngster finally weaned at age 9.
Mom-of-four Sharon Spink insisted feeding daughter Charlotte until earlier this year was completely normal and has cemented a lifelong bond between them.
She said despite doing it for almost a decade she is happy the schoolgirl made her own decision to stop two months ago.
Spink, who supports natural term weaning, claims the Charlotte is healthy and rarely gets ill thanks to the beneficial properties of "mummy milk."
And despite facing a backlash from critics who have accused her of child abuse, Spink, 50, wants to break down the stigma around breastfeeding older children – believing there are many moms out there doing it.
Spink, from Sherburn-in-Elmet, North Yorkshire, said:
“When I came to have Charlotte, I had decided on natural term weaning. It’s nice for the child to be in control of when they want to wean, rather than forcing the issue," Spink, of Sherburn-in-Elmet, North Yorksire, said.
“She naturally self-weaned earlier this year. It was a gradual process and her choice," she said. “She was feeding about once a month if she wasn’t feeling great or was feeling a bit run down and was going longer and longer without feeding."
“Now she hasn’t done it for about two months," Spink said. “She told me she would stop when she was 10 which will be in April next year but it seems to have come to a natural end earlier, although I would have allowed her to continue for as long as she wants to."
Spink said Charlotte's decision to wean off breastfeeding slowly has made it easier.
“As she’s been reducing anyway I don’t feel sad about it. If she would have stopped suddenly I think I would have missed it, but it’s just nice that it’s come to a natural end," she said. “It’s how I envisioned it would end. It was her choice and was done in a very gradual way."
“We haven’t had a discussion about her not doing it anymore. I just hope when she’s older she’ll remember that feeling of comfort and security it gave her rather than it being about feeding," she said. “We have such a close bond and I’m convinced it’s because of breastfeeding her for so long."
“It cemented our bond and I don’t think that will change now it’s stopped," she said. "I think we’re closer because of doing it. I haven’t had any pangs since she stopped and she still comes for a cuddle."
“With Charlotte it about was the security. Children find a lot of comfort in the breast, and the older they get the more it becomes about comfort rather than nutrition," she said.
Spink claims Charlotte is very healthy and rarely gets ill due to breast milk’s boost to the immune system.
She said she was determined to breastfeed Charlotte after struggling to do it with her other three children Kim, 30, Sarah, 28, and Isabel, 12.
Spink, who last year qualified as a breastfeeding counselor, said: “I breastfed my first two children for a couple of weeks and my daughter Isabel for about six months but I ran into problems and felt like there was a lack of support."
“When Isabel was four months old she lost weight and I had to supplement that with formula," she said. “I was determined to make it work for Charlotte. My initial goal was to get past the six months mark then it became 12 months, then two years which is the WHO minimum recommendation. After that, it was seeing how far she wanted to go."
“There were times when I wanted to give up especially in the early days of feeding but you think 'I’m doing this for my child. This is what she wants and I’ll carry on because I know it’s helping her,'" she said.
Charlotte started sleeping through the night but would still come into her mom's bed for a feed.
“Sometimes I wouldn’t even realize and I’d ask her the next day whether she came in in the night to feed," Spink said.
By the time she was 5, Charlotte was breastfeeding three times a day but over the last four years, this has reduced to just once a month.
Spink used to feed Charlotte in public places including the hairdressers, supermarket and church but now just does it at home.
“She stopped feeding in public when she was about 4 or 5," Spink said. “Charlotte doesn’t talk about it at school. It’s not something that would come up in conversation with schoolmates. The reaction I get from within the breastfeeding community is one of support. There were a lot of positive comments."
“Obviously there have been the negatives – usually from typical keyboard warriors who post their opinion," Spink said.
“I have been called every name under the sun. I’ve been told it’s child abuse, I’ve been called a pedophile and told it’s wrong and that I’m a freak," she said. “The first time it upset me because I wasn’t used to it but now it’s water off a duck’s back."
“Charlotte knows it’s not true and people I care about know it’s not true," she said. “I explain to her that they are people who do not know her or us or our situation."
And Spink's friends and family have been supportive of her decision.
She now wants to raise awareness of breastfeeding older children as she believes other moms are too "scared" to admit they do it.
“I’m sure it’s more common that people think but mums are too scared to talk about it and are scared of the backlash from people that don’t understand that it’s normal," she said.
“I just want to let other moms out there who are wondering ‘should I or should I not?’ that this is normal and this is what children do," she said. “If they feed for as long as they want to they will naturally wean."
“In a lot of countries it’s perfectly normal to breastfeed older children and they will do it for a lot longer than we do in the West," she said.