Natasha Keane has breastfed her daughters for four years. And, she believes that her daughters' immune system is better because of that.
Keane practices natural stage weaning, where a child decides for themselves when to stop breastfeeding.
But she did say that as a first time mom to her son Stephen, she believed that breastfeeding after a year was “creepy."
Natasha tandem feeding her daughters (PA Real Life/Collect)
She changed her mind on that, and now advocates that women should be allowed to breastfeed for as long as they like, and in public.
“I try not to let the comments and stares get to me, but I have been made to feel uncomfortable," she said.
“I find it such a huge double standard. It's okay to put women in bikinis or lingerie on huge advertising billboards, but it's not okay to let a mum to subtly feed her child?"
“To me, breastfeeding is the most natural thing in the world. Ellie has never been to the doctor's for a sickness bug in her life, and never needed antibiotics, and Grace has only been once for a chest infection she couldn't shake. I absolutely believe that it's breastfeeding that has made their immune systems so strong."
Natasha, Adam, Grace and Ellie (PA Real Life/Collect)
When Keane had Stephen she was placed on medication when he was just four months old and had to stop breastfeeding.
“I wanted to do it for longer, but I was only 19 back then and didn't think I could question my doctor," she said.
“I cried so hard for about a week afterwards. Stephen struggled to take his bottle and it was very stressful."
Natasha with her family – Grace, Ellie, Adam and Stephen (PA Real Life/Collect)
Determined not to let history repeat itself, when Keane fell pregnant with Ellie she vowed to be more prepared and joined a local breastfeeding group.
“I walked into my first meeting, and saw a woman tandem feeding her three-year-old and 18-month-old, with one at each breast," she recalled.
“My jaw hit the floor. I genuinely had no idea it was possible to feed children past the age of one – let alone two at the same time. Instead of judging, I simply asked questions."
Natasha tandem feeding Ellie and Grace (PA Real Life/Collect)
After finding other similar groups and speaking to several other moms, she read tons of research on the subject, including examining the breastfeeding habits of other mammals.
Combining her findings with information on the NHS website she became increasingly convinced that this was the way forwards.
Meanwhile, she discovered that even the World Health Organization states that breastfeeding can continue for up to two years and beyond.
Our free Infant Feeding Support line is open this weekend (and everyday) 8am to midnight. Give our friendly Breastf… https://t.co/tZZ9VcafVG— NCT (@NCT)1587193202.0
According to their recommendations, children should start breastfeeding within an hour of being born and be exclusively nursed for six months. Going on to be breastfed from six months onwards, should begin eating safe and adequate foods.
“There's a saying in the community – 'Don't offer and don't refuse,'" Keane said.
“Putting that into practice with my girls meant that, while I wasn't sitting them down like clockwork, offering them my milk, I wasn't saying no if they asked."
Natasha with Adam, Grace and Ellie (PA Real Life/Druimè Nolan Tender Life Photography)
She was breastfeeding Ellie with no set deadline in mind of when to stop when Grace arrived two years later. So, she nursed them together.
“I tandem fed for two years," she said. “I was a little apprehensive at first about the practicalities of it all, but you find your own groove, and it gets easier the more you do it."
“As Ellie was a little older by then, I could explain to her to be patient and let Grace latch on and settle in first. Every single night, they would fall asleep without fail, one on each breast, holding hands."
Ellie and Grace tandem feeding (PA Real Life/Collect)
Ellie stopped wanting to breastfeed just before she turned five. But Keane still deals with negativity, which she blames on people's miseducation.
“People see breastfeeding as fair game – something everyone is allowed to have an opinion on and criticize," she said. “I never would, as it is every mum's choice, but I know if I said something about bottle feeding, it would be unacceptable."
“I have received some difficult comments over the years. When Grace was just eight months old, I had somebody say to me that I should be force-feeding her into weaning by that point. I just thought, 'What would you say if you knew I'm also feeding her older sister?'"
Natasha and Grace (PA Real Life/Collect)
“I also get lots of people remarking that I'm 'still' feeding – with emphasis on the still," she continued.
“I don't think people are deliberately trying to shame me, or be evil, though. It's a lack of education – even within the medical profession."
“We have lactation specialists, but not many of them, and most doctors and nurses aren't armed to the teeth with the same level of information. That's how you end up with mums like I used to be, who don't realize you can feed past a year, or think it's wrong to."
By sharing her story, Keane hopes to normalize breastfeeding and reassure other moms that they do not have to stop before they are ready.
She is also aware that some moms cannot breast feed, and she wants to encourage them to find their local milk banks, where women can donate their own excess supply.
Natasha, pictured here with her daughters Grace and Ellie, and the milk she donated (PA Real Life/Collect)
“It's up to every mom as an individual what they want to do, and I understand that some have tried and tried, but simply cannot breastfeed," she explained.
“Because of the constant flow of oxytocin – known as the love hormone – breastfeeding is a great mood booster. I had postnatal depression with Stephen and Ellie, so thought it'd be written in stone that I would with Grace, but I didn't."
“Before you make a comment, educate yourself. If a mom ever mentions something to me that I don't understand, I will keep my mouth shut, then go away and look it up. Whether I agree or not is beside the point. It's education that's important."