A mum has revealed how she will miss her daughter breastfeeding after the youngster finally weaned – aged nine.
Mum-of-four Sharon Spink insisted feeding daughter Charlotte Spink until earlier this year was completely normal and has cemented a lifelong bond between them.
She said despite doing it for almost a decade she is happy the schoolgirl made her own decision to stop two months ago.
Actor mum Sharon, who supports natural term weaning, claims the Charlotte is healthy and rarely gets ill thanks to the beneficial properties of 'mummy milk'.
And despite facing a backlash from critics who have accused her of child abuse, Sharon, 50, wants to break down the stigma around breastfeeding older children – believing there are many mums out there doing it.
Sharon, from Sherburn-in-Elmet, North Yorkshire, said: "When I came to have Charlotte, I had decided on natural term weaning.
"It's nice for the child to be in control of when they want to wean, rather than forcing the issue.
"She naturally self-weaned earlier this year.
"It was a gradual process and her choice.
"She was feeding about once a month if she wasn't feeling great or was feeling a bit run down, and was going longer and longer without feeding.
"Now she hasn't done it for about two months.
"She told me she would stop when she was 10 which will be in April next year but it seems to have come to a natural end earlier, although I would have allowed her to continue for as long as wants to.
"As she's been reducing anyway I don't feel sad about it. If she would have stopped suddenly I think I would have missed it, but it's just nice that it's come to a natural end.
"It's how I envisaged it would end. It was her choice and was done in a very gradual way.
"We haven't had a discussion about her not doing it anymore. I just hope when she's older she'll remember that feeling of comfort and security it gave her rather than it being about feeding.
"We have such a close bond and I'm convinced it's because of breastfeeding her for so long.
"It cemented our bond and I don't think that will change now it's stopped. I think we're closer because of doing it. I haven't had any pangs since she stopped and she still comes for a cuddle.
"With Charlotte it about was the security. Children find a lot of comfort in the breast, and the older they get the more it becomes about comfort rather than nutrition."
Sharon claims Charlotte is very healthy and rarely gets ill due to breast milk's boost to the immune system.
The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding up to six months with continued breastfeeding along with complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond.
Sharon said she was determined to breastfeed Charlotte after struggling to do it with her other three children Kim, 30, Sarah, 28, and Isabel, 12.
Sharon, who last year qualified as a breast feeding counsellor, said: "I breastfed my first two children for a couple of weeks and my daughter Isabel for about six months but I ran into problems and felt like there was a lack of support.
"When Isabel was four months old she lost weight and I had to supplement that with formula.
"I was determined to make it work for Charlotte.
"My initial goal was to get past the six months mark then it became 12 months then two years which is the WHO minimum recommendation. After that it was seeing how far she wanted to go.
"There were times when I wanted to give up especially in the early days of feeding but you think I'm doing this for my child. This is what she wants and I'll carry on because I know it's helping her.
"By four and a half Charlotte was sleeping through the night but she'd still come into the bed and have a feed.
"Sometimes I wouldn't even realise and I'd ask her the next day whether she came in in the night to feed."
Sharon said at the age of five Charlotte was feeding three times a day but this has been gradually reducing over the last four years until she was doing it about once a month.
She said she used to feed Charlotte in public places including the hairdressers, supermarket and church but now just does it at home.
Sharon said: "She stopped feeding in public when she was about four or five.
"Charlotte doesn't talk about it at school. It's not something that would come up in conversation with schoolmates.
"The reaction I get from within the breastfeeding community is one of support. There were a lot of positive comments.
"Obviously there have been the negatives – usually from typical keyboard warriors who post their opinion.
"I have been called every name under the sun. I've been told it's child abuse, I've been called a paedophile and told it's wrong and that I'm a freak.
"The first time it upset me because I wasn't used to it but now it's water off a duck's back.
"Charlotte knows it's not true and people I care about know it's not true.
"I explain to her that they are people who do not know her or us or our situation.
"Our family and friends are very supportive.
"I'm sure it's more common that people think but mums are too scared to talk about it and are scared of the backlash from people that don't understand that it's normal.
"I just want to let other mums out there who are wondering 'should I or should I not?' that this is normal and this is what children do.
"If they feed for as long as they want to they will naturally wean.
"In a lot of countries it's perfectly normal to breastfeed older children and they will do it for a lot longer than we do in the west.
"She's not had an ear infection, cough or cold for a long time but it's hard to say what the long term health benefits will be as I can't turn back the clock and see how it would be had she stopped earlier.
"When compared to my other three children I would say she is healthier and doesn't get as many coughs, colds and tummy aches.
"She's got all her adult teeth. I'd read when they get all their adult teeth they lose the ability to latch on but it seems to be fine.
"For quite a while she fed on the left side and every so often she'd try the other side and say it tastes different.
"I can't express milk anymore, but I still was able to produce it when she fed."
Sharon said Charlotte's dad, CAD manager Paul Spink, 45, is understanding.
But she admitted her choice to breastfeed Charlotte may have caused a bit of jealousy with her older sister Isabel.
She said: "He just lets us get on with it although he doesn't really have a choice."
"Isabel is laid back about it. I think when she was younger it caused problems with jealousy with Charlotte getting more of mummy's time.
"We made a point of Charlotte having a feed for half an hour at bedtime then I would sit with Isabel for half an hour.
"There has been the odd time when Isabel said 'can I have a go? I wouldn't know how to do it' and she would pretend to feed.
"I hope that this has helped Charlotte decide if she wants to breastfeed when she's older."
Former jewellery maker Sharon said she feels proud about what her body has achieved.
Sharon said: "It feels empowering doing something like this.
"All four of my children were born by c-section and I felt like my body had failed. I hated feeling like that but it was true.
"I've grown up and learned so much more now. I look back and I've got four healthy children who had they not been born by c-section would not be here today.
"With breastfeeding when it doesn't happen you feel like your body is not working properly. I tried to breastfeed three children and failed and that made me more determined.
"I feel like my body is doing what it's supposed to be doing. It's what breasts are for.
"We have to support mums. It's about choice."