I still breastfeed my five-year-old and she’ll grow up to be a genius
‘She’ll stop when she wants to, at six, seven or even ten’
Standing outside the school gates laughing and joking with the other mums, Miira waits for her six-year-old daughter, with her toddler Ray Lee patiently sitting in his push chair.
Wearing a red cardigan emblazoned with the school logo and pigtails a little crooked, Tara, with two front teeth missing, hugs her mum and waves the days crayon drawings in the air.
Bundling into the Citroën Picasso with book bag in hand, Tara appears to be like any other girl of her age – but there’s just one aspect of her life that sets her apart from the rest of the children in her class.
She is still breastfed.
When her mother, Miira Dawson, fell pregnant over six years ago she knew she wanted to breastfeed her children but admits she did not intend for it to go on for as long as it has.
“I don’t think I ever considered bottle feeding either of my children, I didn’t prepare myself for failing to breastfeed. I’m quite stubborn by nature.”
The 36-year-old adds: “But if you had told me three years ago that I would still be breastfeeding now I would have been very shocked. Extended breastfeeding was not part of the long term plan, it has just sort of happened this way.”
Today, just under six years later, in a leafy Dorset suburb, Tara sits close to her mum in an armchair cluttered with books and toys.
“Mummy can I have Noo Noo?”
Miira lifts up her shirt and Tara goes in for the kill. Miira carries on reading Little Red Riding Hood and discussing her breastfeeding journey so far and why she is convinced it’s not only natural but great for her daughter’s IQ.
“Tara calls breast milk ‘Noo Noo’. I’m not entirely sure where it came from but it’s definitely stuck. She’s such a fussy eater. Breastfeeding is so important to her.”
The World Health Organisation recommends children are exclusively breastfed for their first six months and continue as part of a balanced diet until the age of two and beyond.
Tara, in her second year at primary school, needs breastfeeding up to three times a day, sometimes alongside her two year old brother, Ray Lee.
“Tara has to have her morning feed or otherwise she can get very grumpy. If we’re really busy, I will do my make up in the mirror and Tara will pull up a chair to stand on and feed from there. I’m sure it’s hilarious to see.
“She then likes to feed after school and is also dependent on it to get to sleep,” the proud mum explains.
“Three times in the day is an average amount, but she can also feed more often if she’s feeling poorly or upset. She’s never had a blanket or a dummy so this is her equivalent. I’m sure if I could detach my boob and just give it to her, she would be extremely happy.”
While over 70 per cent of new mothers give up breast feeding after six months, Miira who was not breastfed herself, can consider herself a minority.
She says there are a variety of reasons why she chose to breastfeed and why she continues to now.
“I think in the beginning it was mainly due to the health benefits for both the baby. It is madness to put all of the chemicals of fortified milk into a child, when our bodies are created to feed naturally.”
After a long day of work as a wine merchant, Miira’s husband of ten years, Jim returns home to cook the family dinner.
“I had little choice in the matter of encouraging Miira to breastfeed as there was never an alternative other than to support her. I don’t think we discussed it before Tara’s arrival and I definitely did not expect her to still be breastfeeding at five years old,” says the business owner.
But the 56-year-old, business owner admits he can see the advantages it has had on his daughter.
“Tara is an extremely bright girl and is very grown up for her age. So for now I will continue to encourage it.”
Miira is originally from Finland, but moved to the UK in 1997 to study Ecology and Biodiversity at the Queen Mary University of London.
She then went on to get a masters in Advanced Methods in Taxonomy and Biodiversity and finally a PhD in Leaf Litter Processing.
With her student days long behind her, she now dedicates every day of her life to her children.
The stay at home mum promotes a close parent and child bond – breastfeeding on demand, plenty of skin on skin contact and co-sleeping with the children.
While these dedicated parenting routines can be strenuous and exhausting, Miira believes that her extreme choices are a result of her own childhood.
“I had a really good upbringing but I can never remember being cuddled as a child. All I remember is my parents working a lot. So I want to make sure my children remember this close bond that we have.”
She says: “Me and the children all sleep in a king size bed and Jim sleeps in the other room. Because Tara feeds to sleep, it’s just the easiest way. It’s also so lovely, but it does mean that I end up going to bed with the children at 7.30pm most nights.”
Attachment parenting can be done by both parents but Miira chooses to tackle it alone. Jim admits he does feel excluded and often feels his role as a father is inactive.
“Naturally I feel left out when it comes to the sleeping situation. I feel like it restricts mine and the children’s time together and it doesn’t give me the chance to do things that I would like to, such as reading bed time stories.” He says.
But the lifestyle Miira has chosen for her family has come at a price. Since she has become a mother she has suffered from depression.
She explains: “I do understand that the routine of my life and the parenting is making me feel the way I feel. It’s very difficult but I know it’s what I want to do and that it is not forever.”
Even though the couple still live in the same house, Jim and Miira made the decision to sleep in different beds to ensure they get rest.
Jim said: “There are a lot of different paths for children and you just have to give them the best one you can.”
Dr Maria Iacovou is from the University of Cambridge and has focused much of her work on breastfeeding and motherly attachment.
She believes there is no reason why a child should not be breastfeeding at the age of six.
She says: “Breastfeeding is a topic that divides people and everyone has an opinion on it. In terms of breastfeeding older children, the research is very limited.
“It’s very rare to find someone who is still naturally feeding a child of six years. But there is absolutely no evidence that there is anything wrong, so why should mothers stop if it works for them.”
She adds: “Mothers who breastfeed for an extended time feel that it has got really meaningful benefits for their children. I think it is a lovely thing for a baby to grow up and remember being breast fed, as not many people would be able to say this.”
At the beginning of 2015, figures were released showing children who are breastfed are linked to having higher IQ’s when they reach adulthood.
Dr Iacovou believes that media coverage of breastfeeding is having a detrimental effect on the choices of mothers.
“Hardly a week goes by without a newspaper report about some poor woman being thrown out for nursing her baby in public. I think it’s important to change this culture around breastfeeding to make women more comfortable.
Eventually I think taboos will be shaken. British women appear to be prude when it comes to showing their bodies.”
In 2010, The Equality Act made it illegal to ask a breastfeeding women to leave or cover up in a public space, but in recent headlines it is apparent that many women still face this humiliation.
However, self-confessed, confident feeder Miira says that she has always fed both of her children whenever she needed to and unlike other mums, has never had any negative responses to feeding her children in public.
“I regularly feed Tara and Ray Lee in cafes, restaurants and supermarkets, but if they both want feeding at the same time it can make it very difficult to cover up. If one of them sees the other one feeding then they get jealous, just like typical siblings.”
She adds: “Not so long ago, we were in the supermarket and Tara was getting tired and kept reaching into my top. I kept telling her to stop it, but she just screeched out ‘I want to hold a nipple’. I was so embarrassed but nobody batted an eyelid. I guess it’s a case of the stiff British upper lip.”
The breast is best debate is one that has been rife for decades however in 2012 NHS figures revealed that UK breastfeeding rates are at an all-time high at over 80 per cent- over a five per cent increase since the last results were collated in 2007.
With Tara’s 6th birthday is just four months away it appears that her breastfeeding habit won’t be kicked at any time in the near future.
Still in her school uniform, Tara has Noo Noo while her mum drinks a cup of tea and admits that she currently has no intentions of making her daughter stop.
“Just the other day, Tara announced that she was going to breastfeed forever, so things could get very interesting.
“I’m just going to let nature run its course and I will stop whenever she wants to. I really think that Tara might carry on feeding well after Ray Lee has stopped, as it’s such an important thing to her.
“It would break her heart if I made the decision for her. She will stop when she wants to, whether she be six, seven or even ten.”
Photos by Paul Carter