Single mom Lynn Stuckey thought she was doing the right thing by letting her son Kyle wean himself on his own schedule.
But his babysitter thought differently and called a child-abuse hotline after Kyle — then 5 years old and in the first grade — allegedly said he wanted to stop breast-feeding but "Mommy wouldn't let me."
Although Stuckey denied she forced her son to nurse, Illinois child-welfare officials put her son in foster care. Now, a little over two years later, Kyle is back with his mom,and still nursing occasionally, although he is 8 years old. And his mother is speaking out about the controversy.
"I did nothing wrong with nursing him for an extended period of time," Stuckey, 32, a part-time store clerk, said today on Good Morning America. "Kyle is my only son and he's very important to me … and he's going to be allowed to nurse until he decides to finish weaning himself."
Do Americans Have Hang-Ups?
Back in 2000, Stuckey went on Good Morning America, although she chose to appear in shadow, and maintained there is nothing abnormal about breast-feeding an older child. Stuckey said she did not make Kyle keep breast-feeding; she wanted him to decide when the time was right to stop.
"I never forced my child to nurse," Stuckey said. "I did not nurse because I was gaining any sort of sexual pleasure out of this. The [Illinois] state's attorney's office and the Department of Children and Family Services are very incorrect and are greatly misstating my motives."
The state claimed that breast-feeding a first-grader was "sexual molestation," but a family court judge disagreed. Nevertheless, the judge refused to return the boy to his mother.
"Even though Kyle is a bright, sunny boy, he is also embarrassed and faces enormous potential emotional harm," the judge wrote.
His mother says the only harm to Kyle came from the six months and six days he had spent in foster care. She maintains that she was also a victim. Now, after six months of separation that included counseling and evaluations, mother and son have been reunited for a year and a half.
Stuckey says her son, now 8, still chooses to nurse occasionally. She says he does so every 10 to 14 days, just for a few moments each time.
Although she is not certain she is producing milk, her son says she still does occasionally, Stuckey said. And she says she sees nothing inappropriate about breast-feeding unless the child is "maybe into their teens."
Americans are just uncomfortable about breast-feeding, Stuckey suggested.
"Around the world, they commonly nurse until 5, 6, sometimes even 7 and 8 years old," she said.
Just Like Carrying a Blankie?
The American Academy of Pediatrics says all but 18 percent of mothers in the U.S. have weaned their child by age 1. The World Health Organization says that children breast-feeding at 2, and even 3 years old, can be seen around the world. Neither of the health organizations give a cutoff date as to when a child should be weaned.
Diane Sanford, president of Women's Healthcare Partnership, said that in other cultures it is not uncommon for children to nurse until they are 3 to 6 years of age.
Sanford said Stuckey is confronting the same problem other parents have faced in different forms: Her son does not want to give up something he is used to.