Women who breastfeed their toddlers say they are either branded “hippy earth mothers” or seen as “weird and disgusting”.
Many have applauded model Tamara Ecclestone for braving the backlash to post a photograph of herself breastfeeding her daughter, who is nearly three.
Here, five mothers who carried on breastfeeding share their stories.
‘People look uncomfortable’
Rebekah Ellis, 32, from Cambridge, breastfeeds both her six-month-old son and her daughter, who is three and a half.
She says: “The reaction from the NHS has been supportive, albeit surprised. The midwives who attended my son’s birth at home said ‘Good for you,’ when my husband explained.
“Most people don’t know that I am still feeding my daughter. I know that I would get a negative reaction from the vast majority. Even nursing past a year old is often seen as weird, disgusting – despite the WHO [World Health Organisation] recommendation [that children should be breastfed until the age of two or older].
“When I nurse my son out in public (my daughter hasn’t wanted milk during the day since the age of 18 months), I use a cover. This is more for me than for the benefit of others.
“People still look uncomfortable though, even when they can’t see anything.”
‘Society is so negative’
Kelly Lane, 38, from Redditch in Worcestershire, breastfed her daughter, now nine, and her son, now seven, until the age of two and a half.
She says her confidence took a knock after a friend’s husband criticised her, telling her it was “pointless” – but she carried on because she could see the health benefits for her children.
She says: “You do have to be dedicated to do it but I was happy to give that up for what was only a very short period of my life.
“The one quite hard thing is having a meal. I personally felt too uncomfortable to breastfeed in public and would use breast-feeding rooms or the toilet.
“But breastfeeding in toilets is horrendous – they’re not hygienic, there’s not enough space and you’re conscious you are taking up space for someone who might be queuing.
“Both my children did not like having blankets thrown over them when feeding, as they like to look at Mummy and be talked to and, to be honest, rightly so. A child shouldn’t be covered up when it’s being nursed.
“I feel so sad that society is so negative and disgusted that a mother would be feeding her child the way nature intended in public, than actually congratulating her for doing a great thing.
“It’s ok though for women to be up on billboards everywhere flashing every body part possible! The hypocrisy is astonishing!”
‘Should be visible’
Rebecca Alexander, 34, from Liverpool, still breastfeeds her son who will be three in April. She says she loves Tamara Ecclestone’s “continued support and promotion of breastfeeding”.
She told the BBC: “I struggled feeding my elder daughter for more than three weeks first time around because of the lack of knowledge and support. Breastfeeding should be visible in our society. It’s how we learn; by seeing others do it.
“I set out on this journey [with my son] thinking I would breastfeed till two years and then pump until four.
“When he has had big changes such as starting nursery, with a new childminder and me returning to work, breastfeeding has been his source of comfort and a way to reconnect after being apart all day.
“How anyone can see it as sexual completely shocks me, and I think it says more about our society, and the view of women than anything else.”
‘Pressure to stop’
Sarah Johnson, who breastfeeds her two-year-old son twice a day, says: “I think it is a benefit for his health and also a nice bonding moment for us both, especially as I work away part of the week.
“I have decided to continue until he is ready to stop, but I am coming under pressure from family members to stop – grandparents – who say he is ‘no longer a baby’.
“I tell them about the WHO guidelines for breastfeeding until two and beyond, but I guess in our Western culture you are seen as a hippy earth mother or odd if you still breastfeed a toddler – shame as in other parts of the world it is totally normal.
“When did something natural become unnatural? I don’t judge mothers who choose to bottle feed, so would not liked to be judged either.
“Although the pictures [of Tamara Ecclestone] are rather posed, I commend her for posting them.”
‘I complied unwillingly’
Sue Burgess, 57, from Oxford, breastfed her daughter until she was two and a half, and while she says she cannot understand why anyone would describe it as disgusting, she admits she only did it in public “a handful of times” as she found it “embarrassing”.
Although her daughter is now 16, Sue still cringes when she thinks about the “worst time” feeding her in a village square in Italy and feeling “exposed” as a solemn church procession took place close by.
“My daughter started to say ‘A boo! A boo! A BOO!!!’ at ever-increasing volumes, which was her way of asking for a breastfeed. I complied unwillingly.”
Sue adds: “Nonetheless, if other people feel the strength to take such experiences in their stride, I can only admire them.”