Today's post comes from an author who traveled through Israel in the late 1800's, when Biblical customs there were still carefully observed.
"It is, however, no extraordinary thing for a mother to continue to give a “man-child” the breast till the end of his fourth or fifth year. Indeed, our Bethlehem nurse assured us that she had known the case of a favorite child whose mother had not weaned it until it was seven years of age! Girls would never be treated in this way, meeting as they do on all occasions with marked neglect. The native women believe that the longer a child is allowed to remain at the breast the stronger he grows. When, therefore, a boy appears one of great promise, or is a firstborn, or seems likely to be the only child, the mother, if it is possible, nurses him until he is four years of age.
These facts are really important as rendering intelligible the early history of little Samuel. Her child was granted to Hannah at a time when she was hopelessly barren, in answer to special prayer, and she had dedicated him before his birth to the Lord by a solemn vow, in which she declared she would “give him unto Jehovah all the days of his life.”
When he was born Hannah determined that it would be lawful for her to keep him until he was weaned, and doubtless, like all women of Palestine at the present day, believed that the longer she could nurse him the stronger and better he would become. She, therefore, proposed to stay at home, and not accompany her husband on his yearly pilgrimage to Shiloh until the child was taken from the breast, and “then,” she said, “I will bring him, that he may appear before Jehovah, and abide there for ever.” This decision thoroughly approved itself to her affectionate husband. Elkanah said to her: “Do what seemeth thee good; tarry until thou have weaned him; only Jehovah establish His word. So the woman abode, and gave her son suck until she weaned him” (1 Sam 1.21-23).
How many yearly festivals passed by before that event we are not told; but from what has been said above, we cannot doubt that, according to every usage and feeling of the East at the present day, little Samuel was not weaned until he was from three to five years of age, and therefore quite old enough to be left by himself with the aged high-priest, and to enter at once upon some childish service in the sanctuary. Doubtless when the infant Moses was so providentially restored to his mother, she kept him at the breast much as Hannah kept Samuel, if only that she might have her child under her own care as long as possible."
(Neil, Reverend James., Peeps Into Palestine, Stanley Martin & Co. Ltd, UK, ~1913)