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Coco Austin's daughter Chanel will be 6 in November, but she still loves to nurse, Austin said.
Austin said she and her husband, Ice-T, are OK with Chanel nursing occasionally.
Experts say nursing a 5-year-old doesn't provide nutrition but could give COVID-19 protection.
Coco Austin, the reality TV star and wife of Ice-T, says her 5-year-old daughter still nurses and that she has no plans to stop breastfeeding anytime soon. Experts say that while nursing a kindergartner is outside the cultural norms in the US, it could have benefits for both the mom and the child.
For long-term nursers, "there is a special closeness that you get," Diane Thompson, the director of La Leche League Alliance, an affiliate of La Leche League International, told Insider. "They're just not willing to give up that particular piece of their relationship just yet."
Still, Thompson said, the breastfeeding relationship is likely almost over.
"Children do wean," she said. "It does come to an end."
There is no weaning age
The World Health Organization recommends that parents nurse children exclusively for six months and then nurse and offer food "up to the age of two years or beyond." Nursing parents stop for a variety of reasons, from perceived low supply to a return to work to a desire to be done with breastfeeding.
There's no consensus on when humans naturally wean, but most experts agree that it's generally between the ages of 18 months and 4 1/2 years.
"At some point, most children will get off the breast after the age of 2, voluntarily," G. Thomas Ruiz, the OB/GYN lead at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, told Insider.
But in many cultures, nursing toddlers is more common, and Austin and Chanel wouldn't be outside the range of normal, Thompson said.
Extended breastfeeding looks different
Many people may imagine a 5-year-old nursing on demand like an infant does. But nursing a preschooler is very different from breastfeeding an infant, Thompson said. For starters, school-aged kids are getting almost all of their nutritional value from food.
That's true for Chanel, who likes to eat steak and hamburgers, Austin told US Weekly.
"At this point in nursing its just for comfort and believe me the girl loves meat so it's not like she isnt eating real food," Austin wrote in an Instagram post over a year ago.
"Five-year-olds don't nurse like newborns," Thompson, who nursed her daughter until she was 4, said. "It might be before bed or when they get hurt. It's when someone gets hurt or someone just needs comfort."
There are some possible benefits
Ruiz said that nursing held little nutritional or immunological benefits for preschoolers during normal times.
"Five-year-olds are vaccinated, and they have an immune system, so they're not generating a lot of immunity from breastfeeding," he said.
But during the pandemic, there could be a benefit, especially if the nursing parent is vaccinated against COVID-19. COVID-19 antibodies have been shown to pass through breastmilk, so Austin could be giving Chanel a little bit of added protection if she's vaccinated.
"I wouldn't necessarily recommend that you breastfeed a 5-year-old, but it's an interesting thought now because breastfeeding is a way to deliver antibodies to your child," Ruiz said.
Ruiz and Thompson agree that if Austin and Chanel are happy with the breastfeeding arrangement, then it's fine.
As for when to stop, Thompson says that's up to the parent and child.
"You're both doing this together," Thompson said. "This is a relationship. You both have to be happy with where the relationship ends."
Read the original article on Insider