1. ITV Report

'I still breastfeed my six-year-old daughter': One mother's story

Mother-of-two Denise Sumpter will breastfeed her daughter Belle when she's tired, ill or needs comforting.

But Belle is a little older than the World Health Organisation's guideline of up to two years.

At almost seven, Belle is still feeding with her mother's milk up to twice a day - sometimes at the same time as her 18-month-old brother Beau.

Denise Sumpter still feeds her six-year-old daughter Belle Credit: Platform Press

Despite criticism that she may be damaging Belle's emotional development, and claims that by the age of six breast milk has very little by way of health benefits, Denise, 44, says she believes she is acting in Belle's best interests by giving her the most nutritious source of food she can provide.

Speaking on ITV's This Morning, she said she had trouble 'expressing' her milk, which meant she did not have the choice to give her children glasses of her own breast milk instead of continuing to feed them directly.

I can’t express but I feed my children whenever I want. It’s not just a drink - it isn’t like Cola - its nutrition, it’s a living food.

It changes hour by hour... so that child gets a perfect nutritional, immunological fix.

[I’m] happy and I’ll feel really fulfilled and that I’ve done the best for my children

– Denise Sumpter, mother

And she said she has had the support of a number of other women who had chosen to continue breastfeeding into early childhood.

Other people have been great. I've had so much support, so many other mothers who have come to me, either online or personal friends, who have come up to me and said 'thank you so much - please go on TV and tell people that I have a child of four who I breastfeed, I'm breastfeeding three.

Actually I've had a couple of people come up to me and say 'I'm breastfeeding my eight-year-old' - please let people know that this is normal, it's happening in the UK.

– Denise Sumpter, mother

She said she would continue to breastfeed for as long as Belle wanted to - and would only stop when they stopped asking.

Responding to criticism that she is taking away her child's independence, she said it was a parent's responsibility to be there for their children as long as they need them.

Former midwife and breastfeeding specialist Clare Byam-Cook said breastfeeding at the age of six only had negligible health benefits Credit: ITV This Morning

But former midwife and breastfeeding specialist Clare Byam-Cook said breastfeeding was not necessary for six-year-olds, and only had negligible health benefits.

It seems to me this is a campaign for breastfeeding, and saying you're breastfeeding a six-year-old is not going to help the 50 per cent of mothers who find it too painful or difficult even to do it for six weeks.

The nutritional benefits at six are virtually negligible, and also you say that you breastfeed your six-year-old when she's tired or needs comforting, so you're teaching your child to use food as a source of comfort.

Why can't you just cuddle her? The father doesn't have to breastfeed to comfort, so it just seems to me it's the wrong association. I don't think it's natural in this country.

– Clare Byam-Cook, breastfeeding specialist