Extended breastfeeding existed largely at the margins of motherhood until May 2012, when TIME magazine’s provocative cover pushed it into the spotlight.
The issue featured California mom Jamie Lynn Grumet nursing her then 4-year-old son, and the tagline, “Are you mom enough?” proved to be just as controversial as the image itself.
While the TIME cover managed to outrage just about every category of moms, it also succeeded in getting people talking. Now, two years later, UK mom Samantha Williams hopes to spark that conversation once again. In an interview with The Mirror, the 42-year-old gives a glimpse into her own experience with extended breastfeeding, revealing that she still nurses all three of her children, who are aged 7 months, 3 and 5.
“I never intended to breastfeed for so long. I simply felt it was a bit cruel and unfair to just cut the older ones off when it brings so many emotional and physical benefits,” Williams says, explaining that she tandem nurses, with one of her older children latching on at the same time as the baby. Though neither of them now feel comfortable nursing in public, her 5-year-old son, Trevor, “breastfeeds maybe once a week,” while his 3-year-old sister Claire “feeds about once a day.”
Keep reading to see what Samantha's husband thinks and the reaction she's received.
Not surprisingly, Williams says that she’s been on the receiving end of more than a few stares and glares.
“I’ve heard it all,” she admits. “People think we’re weird and we’re setting our kids up to be weird. They think the normal thing is for the mum to cut the kids off at around the age of one and be done with it. I’ve been told the kids will be too attached to me for their own good. And some people think I’m being selfish — that I can’t let go of my babies . . . You can’t really force a child to do anything after about 18 months, let alone latch on to a breast. It’s their choice and they love it.”
Williams’s husband Eddie is also completely on board with her decision to nurse far beyond “the norm.”
“It doesn’t bother me what anyone else thinks — this is right for our family and that’s what matters,” he says. “If you like a food and it’s not harmful — eat it. What’s the problem? Trevor will occasionally come into our bedroom, he’ll see the baby breastfeeding and think, ‘I fancy a bit.’ It’s not like he’s having it for breakfast, dinner, and tea.”
Critics aside, the mom of three hopes that by sharing her story she might encourage other moms to think more about extended breastfeeding: “I know some people may find us strange,” she admits. “But I’m really proud of my family and I’m not ashamed of what we do. I hope my story can help empower mothers. I’m thinking of them, not the few silly people who will find be offended by it.”
I’m all for families finding what works for them, naysayers be damned. That being said, I know that extended breastfeeding isn’t for me. There comes a time when I want my kids to start inching their way toward independence, and when I want to reclaim a tiny bit of that for myself. I don’t think that’s selfish, I think it’s healthy and essential. Like Samantha Williams, like every mom, I want to always be able to connect with and comfort my children, but for me, breastfeeding beyond a certain point just isn’t the best way to do that.
— Carolyn Robertson
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