A makeup artist whose daughters breastfed together – one quit just before she was five and the other continues until the age of four – says they’re so strong that only one girl has ever been to the doctor with a bug.
Natasha Keane, 38, who credits her nursing with strengthening their immune systems, naturally exercises weaning at the natural stage – where a child decides when to stop breastfeeding.
But Natasha, from Galway, Ireland, whose husband Adam, 35, has his own gym, says that, as a mother to her son Stephen, 19, from a previous relationship, she believed that breastfeeding after a year was ‘creepy’ used to be. ‘
Now Natasha, also the mother of Ellie, six, and Grace, four and a half, praised the virtues of grooming and defending a woman’s right to do this in public: ‘I try not to comment and look for me, but I feel uncomfortable.
Natasha Keane, 38, from Galway, naturally practices weaning on stage – where a child decides for herself and breastfeeds her daughters Ellie (left) and Grace (right) for years
“I think it’s such a huge double standard. It’s okay to put women in bikinis or lingerie on huge billboards, but isn’t it okay to have a mother subtly feed her child?
“For me, breastfeeding is the most natural in the world. Ellie has never been to a doctor in her life for a syndrome and never needed antibiotics, and Grace was only once for a breast infection she couldn’t shake off.
“I am absolutely convinced that breastfeeding has made their immune systems so strong.”
In contrast, when Natasha had Stephen, who works in a restaurant, she was medicated when he was just four months old and had to stop breastfeeding.
Natasha, pictured with her four-year-old daughter Grace, who continues to nurse once in the morning and once in the evening
Natasha and her partner Adam are married to their two daughters. The mother of three struggled with breastfeeding when she had her eldest son, but was determined to do things differently with her daughters
“I wanted to do it longer, but I was only 19 at the time and didn’t think I could question my doctor,” she said.
“Then I cried so hard for about a week. Stephen struggled to get his bottle and it was very stressful. ‘
Determined not to repeat history, when Natasha became pregnant with Ellie, she vowed to be more prepared and to join a local breastfeeding group.
“I walked into my first meeting and saw a woman feeding tandem her three-year-old and eighteen-month-old with one at each breast,” she recalled.
“My jaw hit the floor. I really had no idea it was possible to feed children over one year old – let alone two at a time.
“Instead of judging, I just asked questions.”
After finding other similar groups and speaking to several other mothers, all the protagonists of ‘extended breastfeeding’ – an umbrella term used to describe women who continue to nurse their children after a year – she also read articles on the subject, including one that examines breastfeeding habits of other mammals.
By combining her findings with information on the NHS website and saying that babies are given valuable antibodies to protect them from infection through breast milk, she became increasingly convinced that this was the way to go.
Meanwhile, she discovered that even the prestigious World Health Organization states that breastfeeding can continue for up to two years and beyond.
According to their recommendations – made in collaboration with UNICEF – children should start breastfeeding within an hour of birth and be exclusively breastfed for six months, then breastfeed on request and start eating safe and sufficient food from six months, while they continue to take breast milk.
Supported by her findings, Natasha became an advocate of natural weaning on stage and said, “There is a saying in the community – ‘Don’t offer and don’t refuse.’
“Putting that into practice with my girls meant that while I wasn’t putting them on like clockwork and offering them my milk, I wouldn’t say no when they asked.”
Breastfeeding Ellie with no set deadline to quit, when Grace arrived two years later, she nursed them together – one on each breast.
“I fed for two years in a row,” she said.
“At first I was a little worried about the practicalities of it all, but you find your own groove and the more you do it, the easier it gets.
“Since Ellie was a little older by then, I was able to explain to her that she should be patient and have Grace hang on and settle in first.
“Every night they would fall asleep without fail, one on each chest, hand in hand.”
While Ellie stopped breastfeeding just before she turned five, Grace continues to nurse once in the morning and once in the evening.
But Natasha is still concerned with negativity, which she blames for the wrong education of people, rather than deliberate nausea.
“People see breastfeeding as a fair game – something everyone should have an opinion about and criticize,” she said. “I would never do it because it’s every mom’s choice, but I know if I said anything about bottle feeding it would be unacceptable.
“Over the years I have received some difficult comments. When Grace was just eight months old, I told someone I should be weaning her by then. I just thought, “What would you say if you knew I was feeding her older sister too?”
‘I also get a lot of people who notice that I am’ still ‘feeding – with an emphasis on still.
“I don’t think people are deliberately trying to shame me or be bad. It is a lack of education – even within the medical world.
“We have lactation specialists, but not many, and most doctors and nurses are not armed to the teeth with the same level of information. That’s how you end up with mothers like I used to be, who don’t realize you can feed for a year or think it’s wrong. ‘
By sharing her story, Natasha, who says her husband Adam is her biggest cheerleader and is fully supportive, hopes to normalize breastfeeding and reassure other moms that they don’t have to stop before they’re ready.
Also, knowing that some mothers cannot breastfeed, she wants to encourage them to find their local milk banks, where women can donate their own excess supplies.
In the past, she has donated six liters, helping 22 different preterm babies, and also giving some moms she met through Facebook who couldn’t feed because they were on chemotherapy but didn’t want to give their babies formula.
“It’s up to every mom as an individual what they want to do, and I understand that some have tried and tried, but just can’t breastfeed,” she explained.
Breastfeeding is a great mood booster due to the constant flow of oxytocin – known as the love hormone. I had postnatal depression with Stephen and Ellie, so I thought it would be written in stone that I would do with Grace, but I didn’t.
“Before making a comment, you must inform yourself. If a mom ever says something to me that I don’t understand, I’ll shut up and then go and look it up.
“Whether I agree or disagree is irrelevant. It is education that is important. ‘