Six-year-old Amina Al Musa is a seemingly normal child: She goes to school and loves playing hide-and-seek. But her after-school snack is so unconventional that it has attracted media attention across the world. Amina happens to be breastfed by her mother every single day, and the little girl seems to love it!
Extended breastfeeding is highly unusual in today’s world, which is why Amina’s case is making headlines. At age 52, her mother – belly dancing expert and human rights activist Maha Al Musa – is one of the oldest women in the world to be breastfeeding. Although she’s garnering a lot of interest and some criticism, Maha says that she’s only responding to her daughter’s natural desire.
“Sometimes it tastes like candy canes. It tastes like lots of different things,” said Amina, who reportedly enjoys “sleeping and sucking” her mother’s breasts, and plans to continue for at least another two years. “I might stop when I’m eight. It’s my favorite thing to do when I’m not at school. More kids should, because it’s good for you.”
Although critics say the practice does not provide nutritional benefits over the age of one, Maha disagrees. “Breast milk helps to regulate a child’s blood sugar so for example a toddler having a tantrum can be calmed through the breast milk,” she said. “Two years ago when I was 50 and Aminah was 4.5 I had my breast milk tested at the University of WA biochemistry department where they do a lot of research on human milk.”
“This was the first time they had tested a woman’s milk of my age group and I can report that my milk still had all the properties and nutrients relative to that of a woman half my age with a smaller baby has. So this fact is worth noting when people’s opinion claims breast milk has no nutrients after a child reaches one year of age.”
According to Maha, who lives and raises her children in the Australian town of Byron Bay, breastfeeding an older child is “perfectly natural,” even in public. “She says to me, ‘Mummy milkie.’ I could be in the middle of doing something or talking and it’s so natural to us, we don’t make a big deal of it,” she said.
She added that back in the 1980s, when she was a teacher in Melbourne, the school she worked at provided a special ‘lunch time breastfeeding room’ for Turkish mothers who would come to school to nurse their children. “At no time did we think this was odd or crazy or indeed exceptional, the school just catered for these mums as a natural and normal requirement. We seem to have gone backwards as we have moved in to the 21st century. That I think is an oddity.”
“Let child and mother choose what’s best for them, their circumstance and family,” she wrote on her Facebook page. “If we are all choosing then we are all equal. 4-8 (years) is NORMAL age for self weaning,” she explained on her Facebook page. “If one woman feels comfortable and another uncomfortable then so be it.”
But not everyone agrees with Maha’s point of view. Ever since Woman’s Day Magazine carried a cover photo of Maha breastfeeding Amina, discussion groups on parenting have gone wild. “I have had the extremes from disdain and repulsion to absolute support, joy and encouragement,” she said. But she also feels that everyone is entitled to an opinion. “The fact we are having open dialogue and debate is very very positive, the topic is being explored and I am grateful for that and I am grateful to be spearheading this debate especially for older children and older mums.”
For now, Maha is happy that Facebook has chosen to use her photograph for their announcement about allowing breastfeeding advocacy images on their platform. She is also the star of a new Discovery channel show called Extreme Breastfeeding. Maha said that she is proud of the way she parents Amina, and hopes that attitudes towards extended breastfeeding will slowly change.