[back] Full term
Channel Four, February 1st, 2006
Written by Veronika Robinson, Editor,
The Mother magazine ~ as seen on Richard and Judy, Channel Four,
February 1st, 2006
On February 1st, Channel Four aired Extraordinary
Breastfeeding. It was a sensitive portrayal of long term
breastfeeding and showed the stories of four families. Sophie
weaned her two year old twins. Dolores, who was breastfeeding
four year old Tristan, adopted a Chinese girl who she hoped to
breastfeed. Kirsty runs a breastfeeding support group called
Little Angels which has doubled the local breastfeeding rate.
Kirsty goes into the local hospital and teaches new mums to
My family's story is simple. We chose to let our daughters
wean themselves when they were ready. They both weaned at a
similar age. Bethany was seven (despite stating on the
documentary that she was five) and Eliza was a couple of months
shy of her eighth birthday. Bethany drew huge media attention by
the fact she requested to breastfeed for a 9th birthday present.
The media played on her statement that breastmilk is better than
a million melons. Better than mango, even.
In the media frenzy around the publicity, there were many
factual errors. The Daily Mail, to whom I gave an
interview, fabricated quotes left, right and centre and
in one particular quote, wrote the exact opposite of what I
said. They hounded me for a family photo on the day of my mother
in law's funeral. Not only was my story fabricated, but the
other two women involved also had their stories altered in
favour of how the Daily Mail thinks their stories should be! In
Sophie's case, they stated (wrongly) that breastfeeding caused
the break-up of her first marriage.
I also gave an exclusive interview to NOW magazine by email,
but they too, sadly, managed to misquote and change the tone of
what I said, despite it being written in black and white.
It was an honour to be a guest on the Richard and Judy
show a few hours before the documentary went to air. They
publicly stated that they could find no medical or
psychology expert to come out against full term breastfeeding.
Of course they couldn't! Studies show that it is psychologically
beneficial to breastfeed this way.
Extraordinary Breastfeeding had 3.9 million viewers! More
than the population of New Zealand.
So, for the record, here is what I really feel about extended
breastfeeding. The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the
Firstly, let's get rid of the term extended breastfeeding,
for it suggests that we are doing something beyond a normal or
natural timescale. The appropriate words for describing a
situation where a child is allowed to self-wean is called
full term breastfeeding. This is regardless of whether a
child weans at 2 years of age or later. From my perspective, the
age is irrelevant. What is important is that the child is
welcomed to the breast and that the relationship is mutually
enjoyable for mother and child. Not all children would
breastfeed beyond five or six years of age if allowed to self
So why would a woman choose to breastfeed her child for years
When I began breastfeeding I never gave it a thought as to
when I would wean my child. I had an infant in my arms who
needed my milk. I seriously didn't plan ahead to when she would
stop having this milk. When Bethany was a year old, I was dining
in a friend's café. The niece of this friend was heavily
pregnant. Upon seeing me breastfeeding, she snapped, "I will be
weaning my child when it is nine months old!"
It was the first time it occurred to me that I might be doing
something a little unusual. Sadly, this woman never did
breastfeed her child, but chose to raise it on goat's milk. She
was proud that her child would be raised on goat's milk just
like her mum had been.
When Bethany was fifteen months old, I became pregnant with
my second daughter Eliza. Again, it didn't occur to me that I
might be doing something odd because I was breastfeeding while
pregnant. I even had one elderly lady suggest my breastmilk
would be poisonous to my toddler! I can assure you, breastmilk
made during pregnancy is NOT poisonous.
When I gave birth to Eliza, Bethany was 22 months of age. She
breastfed during my labour and continued again after the birth
in a practice known as tandem nursing.
Now, I can tell you, breastfeeding an infant and a toddler is
rather a juggling act. In the early days I fed them both at the
same time. One on each breast. Bethany stopped eating food
altogether. She was in heaven with all this lush new breastmilk
gushing forth. As they grew older, I tended to feed them one at
It was about this time that a friend recommended I attend
La Leche League (the international support group for
breastfeeding families). When I went to the meetings I saw a
woman breastfeeding a five year old girl. My eyes nearly fell
out of my head! My goodness, I thought, look at that huge child
~ breastfeeding!! Despite my shock (NOT revulsion), something
changed inside me that day. A door opened for which I will
always be so grateful. My frame of reference widened. I began to
study about breastmilk and breastfeeding. I was stunned by what
I learnt, and trained to become a breastfeeding counsellor. It
is impossible not to be passionate about breastmilk and
breastfeeding when you truly know of its benefits. There is no
other product on this Earth capable of nourishing our body,
brain and immune system like mother's milk. But there was more!
So much more to learn. And this is what led me and my family to
the place we came to where we let our daughters self wean.
The human body biologically expects to breastfeed for up
to about seven years of age ~ the universal age for losing the
milk teeth. There is so much anthropological and scientific
evidence to show that this is what our body needs and expects,
regardless of the culture, climate, race or status we are born
People often wonder if full term breastfeeding is 'for the
mother' as if we're being selfish. My experience couldn't be
further from this way of thinking. If I was looking out for me,
I'd have no doubt weaned them years ago. I put their needs first
by allowing them to self wean. There is nothing selfish about
putting your own needs to one side for a few years in order to
give your child the best start in life.
However, there are huge benefits for women who
breastfeed for many months and years. Studies have shown a
significant decrease in ovarian and breast cancer in mothers who
breastfeed long term. Now that's a reason to be selfish! :-)
I can honestly say though, for me, this reason played no
part in my decision.
There is also an assumption that mothers like me are
smothering - forcing the child onto our breast. YOU CAN NOT
FORCE A CHILD TO BREASTFEED.
Breastfeeding in children is initiated by the child. Because
breastfeeding involves the sucking 'reflex' you cannot force it.
And it is this same reflex that is responsible for self-weaning.
As a child gets older, they are so busy with life, playing,
running, and all the other adventurous things they get up to,
that they simple aren't breastfeeding that often. It varies from
child to child. Some will breastfeed once or twice a day, others
may go for days without breastfeeding. Some will go weeks and
then have a feeding frenzy. The reflex needs to be regularly
used in order to work efficiently in extracting milk from the
breast. ALL children will lose this reflex as some point, if
allowed to self wean.
The World Health Organisation recommends breastfeeding
well into and beyond the second year old life. This is a
conservative organisation which is saying two years is the
minimum we should breastfeed for, NOT the maximum!
The American Academy of Family Physicians (yet another
very conservative organisation) states that weaning a child
before two years of age leads to an increase in illness.
The worldwide average for weaning is 4 years and 2 months of
I'm no mathematician, but I can assure you that you don't get
an average like that if the majority of people are weaning at 6
months of age.
There are so many benefits to breastfeeding and the
consumption of breastmilk. I am all too aware that the average
person on the street knows next to nothing about breastmilk, and
that is why, in Britain, we have such appalling breastfeeding
rates. Many people assume formula is an appropriate alternative
to breastmilk, no different perhaps than if they were to choose
Pepsi over Coke.
Breast milk is a living food. It is constantly changing as
the mother's body scans the environment for dangerous pathogens.
Her body adapts and produces milk to build her child's body in
the way no other food can. No two mothers have the same
breastmilk. No mother produces the same milk twice. It is
constantly changing to suit the needs of the child.
Formula milk is static!! Formula is not a living food. It
cannot build the brain or the immune system. When babies are fed
from a bottle, they are denied their birthright to develop right
and left hand/eye coordination; the building up of oro-facial
muscles which can only happen when extracting milk from a
breast; the warmth of giving and receiving from mother to child.
A bottle, a dummy ~ these are no replacements for the love and
comfort of a warm, comforting breast. The human needs to suck.
But it needs to suck at the human breast to have this need met
fully. The consequences of not doing this are many. It may be as
simple as sucking a thumb, or could manifest later in the shape
of cigarette smoking, food addictions, etc.
Animal milks are made for animal babies. Cow's milk is
designed to build a calf's body very quickly. Goat's milk is
designed for a kid.
In the past few weeks I've been asked many questions that
people clearly want to know. I'll do my best to answer some of
No, my sex life has not suffered because of breastfeeding.
Nor has it for my husband. Many people suggest that it is
difficult for men to be at the back of the queue when kids come
along, and goodness me, how did my poor husband cope with not
being first in line? Well, I am blessed with an emotionally and
mentally mature husband. He has never felt jealous or needy. He
knows I love and adore him. That doesn't change because I'm
breastfeeding the two children who were created from our love!
It is hardly beneficial to parenting if the partner is acting
like a needy child.
NO, my nipples have never hurt. Sore nipples are the result
of the baby not latching on properly. If a woman has sore
nipples, she needs to get help immediately. Nature intended that
breastfeeding be enjoyable. If your health visitor or midwife
don't know how to help your baby latch on, then please, contact
LLL (La Leche League) or the ABM (Association of Breastfeeding
Mothers) or , better still, an experienced breastfeeding mother.
Many women give up breastfeeding because of sore nipples.
Latching on correctly is very easy to address.
I've been asked over and over if I'm concerned about my
breasts changing shape because of breastfeeding. Breastfeeding
does not change the shape of your breasts, PREGNANCY does! And
how could a mother not value her breasts, regardless of their
shape, when she has fully nourished her children through them?
So what if they aren't a certain size or a certain shape? My
kids and husband love them the way they are. Why should I care
what the average man on the street thinks of them? I don't!!
Do I care if people think I'm weird for breastfeeding so
Nope. To be completely honest, from my perspective, I find it
strange that people aren't breastfeeding their children as
I was surprised at how many people recognised me on the
streets after the documentary aired. Clearly the British public
haven't learnt how to be discreet when they recognise someone
from television. The pointing, staring, whispering,
laughing….are all indications to me of people who just have NO
IDEA what they're doing to their children by not breastfeeding.
I've been inundated by supportive emails and cards. I know
that for every person struggling with the concept of full term
breastfeeding, there are at least two people cheerleading the
Fake milks are relatively recent in human history. A blip in
time in the scheme of our evolution. If we continue raising
children on fake milk or milk from another species, we will see
not only a rapid decline in humanity's mental, emotional and
physical health, but I believe humanity would die out if we were
to all stop breastfeeding.
I appreciate this is a radical statement from which most
people will immediately define me as a 'crank'. But when the
scientists raise their heads above the horizon and start saying
the same thing, then, I'm afraid, it may be too late to undo the
damage we've done to our children. It may be two or three
generations from now when we'll see the shocking problems, but
they will happen. If we were meant to drink crap from a can,
milk from the udder of a cow, goat, camel or horse, then we'd
have been born to those animals rather than a mammalian human.
**A very special and heartfelt thank you to Katie
Buchanan, Producer of Extraordinary Breastfeeding and a mother
who breastfed, for staying true to your goal of a campaigning
documentary for the right to breastfeed in public while
skilfully grabbing the attention of mainstream Britain.