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Podcast: Breastfeeding stories ... eleven years of breastfeeding

Kate's story of breastfeeding her three children

Many mums have ideas about what breastfeeding will look like before their baby arrives. Kate’s plan was to wean her first baby at around 6 months. After some initial hurdles, she found ABA and discovered how breastfeeding could continue past 6 months as part of her parenting toolbox. Kate shares with Belinda her experiences of breastfeeding her three children through pregnancy, tandem feeding and weaning over eleven consecutive years, and how her local ABA group provided support for her to breastfeed and parent confidently.

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Kate's story of breastfeeding her three children

Many mums have ideas about what breastfeeding will look like before their baby arrives. Kate’s plan was to wean her first baby at around 6 months. After some initial hurdles, she found ABA and discovered how breastfeeding could continue past 6 months as part of her parenting toolbox. Kate shares with Belinda her experiences of breastfeeding her three children through pregnancy, tandem feeding and weaning over eleven consecutive years, and how her local ABA group provided support for her to breastfeed and parent confidently.

Information discussed in this episode:



This episode is presented by Belinda Chambers. Featuring Kate.

Audio editing by Emma Pennell and Jessica Leonard. Show notes by Belinda Chambers and Eleanor Kippen. Transcription by Eleanor Kippen. Produced by Belinda Chambers, Jessica Leonard and Eleanor Kippen.

Episode transcript

[Music intro]

KATE: I think I didn’t realise that breastfeeding was more than just nutrition before I had children and saw how other mums were parenting through breastfeeding and using it as part of their parenting tools, offering a breastfeed in the way that you might offer a cuddle or something, when something small has gone wrong with a small toddler.

BELINDA: Welcome to Breastfeeding with ABA, a podcast brought to you by volunteers with the Australian Breastfeeding Association. Breastfeeding with ABA is a podcast about breastfeeding, made by parents for parents. In this episode we’ll be sharing a breastfeeding story. 

ABA was started in 1964 as Nursing Mums, or NMAA, by a group of mothers wanting to support other mothers through all stages of breastfeeding and early parenting.  Evidence-based information, sharing stories and experiences and learning from one another was an important part of ABA back then, and continues to be today. 

We are recording this podcast in different parts of Australia. We would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we are recording and which you are listening to this podcast. We pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging, and to any Aboriginal people who are listening today. We also acknowledge the long history of oral storytelling in this country, and the Indigenous women of Australia who have been living, working, birthing, breastfeeding and raising children successfully on this country for tens of thousands of years.

In each episode you will hear from different mums from around Australia. My name is Belinda and I’m a volunteer breastfeeding counsellor with the Australian Breastfeeding Association, and a mum. I am speaking from just outside Geelong, in Victoria, on Wadawurrung country. 

Today we’re having a chat with Kate, a mum, who is also from the Geelong area and Wadawurrung country. Kate, do you want to tell us a little bit about yourself and your family?

KATE: Yes, so I live with my partner, and with our three children, who are at the moment aged 12, 10 and 7. 

BELINDA: So, I first met you when I was pregnant. I had been given a gift membership to the Australian Breastfeeding Association and, at 36 weeks pregnant, I toddled along to an ABA meeting because I was desperate to know about breastfeeding. And I met you, Kate, at that first meeting. You were leading the meeting, and it was just such a lovely, welcoming atmosphere. Lots of mums with babies, and it was just so lovely, and just … I learnt so much. But you had your third baby, and I think, how old was he at the time? He would have been …

KATE: He would have been probably about 10 months.

BELINDA: Yeah, so you were feeding your baby in amongst talking to other mums. And I was like, ‘Wow, this is great’. And then part way through the meeting, your toddler who just had these beautiful curls, and just was an adorable little thing, toddled over and climbed up on your lap and started to have a feed! And I’m like … You should have seen my eyes pop open internally, in my head, with the surprise of a toddler having a breastfeed. Breastfeeding a toddler was outside my expectation of what breastfeeding looked like. And through the years of getting to know you, and learning more about breastfeeding, I’ve learnt that breastfeeding past 12 months is a normal thing and what many mums do choose to do. So, tell me about how long you did breastfeed your children for.

KATE: Well, I guess I’d start by saying I didn’t expect to be feeding for so long. But I breastfed my eldest until he was 3 years about 4 months. And then my daughter, my second baby, she breastfed till seven. And my youngest weaned himself when he was almost six. 

BELINDA: So what were your thoughts or ideas about breastfeeding before you had your first baby?

KATE: Well, I distinctly remember saying to friends when I was pregnant, ‘Oh, I wouldn’t breastfeed my child when they could talk, and ask for it. That would just be weird’. And I knew my mother had breastfed myself and my sisters for about 6 months, which in the 80s was about as long as people breastfed for. And then, similar to you, I went to my first ABA meeting, probably still thinking I’d wean around 6 months, but also having done a little bit of reading and made a massive effort after my baby was born to breastfeed him, despite having a few issues with cracked nipples — had got through that with the help of a lactation consultant and felt finally I could go to an ABA meeting because I could breastfeed now (laughing)! Not realising that I had just missed out on the support of a great group. I should have been there 8 weeks earlier. And walked in, and same as you, and saw someone – several someones – feeding toddlers. And you’re like, ‘Wow! Didn’t know you could do that’ or ‘didn’t know there were people in Australia who did that’. 

I think I had this idea that maybe it wasn't done in Australia because I'd never seen it. Then as I got to know these people and came to admire them as mothers, I sort of realised that well, actually my child will never sleep again if I stopped breastfeeding him, so I'll just keep breastfeeding.

BELINDA: Why was sleep important?

KATE:  So, I think I had expectations. I only had had a couple of friends who had babies. And they've both done sleep training and I’d tried that, and I couldn't do that. Like I just found it too emotionally draining. And in hindsight, I don't think it would have ever worked with that baby. Because that wasn't his personality, and he was a baby that needed a good 45 minutes of rocking and pacing and jiggling and shushing and wrapping to go to sleep, and breastfeeding as well. And then I put him down. He'd nap for about 40 minutes and then he'd wake up again. Yeah, and that was all day, every day for the first, probably, 9 months. And I didn't know how I would parent without breastfeeding, so I just kept feeding.

BELINDA: Yeah, there's … there's lots of expectations on sleep and … and how it should look, but it's surprising how many babies don't know what the books say. Finding the rhythm of your baby and works for … in your house and for your family. The trusting your own instincts that that's what you need is a really important thing for mums.

KATE:  And that's what I found at ABA was other mothers who were parenting in a more responsive way and acknowledging that babies don't sleep through the night. And actually, that first meeting that I went to, the topic was baby-led weaning and I thought that meant working towards weaning. And at this point my son was about 4 months old and so I was like, ‘Oh well, I guess we'll be weaning in the next couple of months’ and then realised it was actually about, like, baby-led solids and feeding babies, or letting babies learn to feed themselves solid food. So that whole meeting just totally changed my impression of what the weaning process could look like. I kind of … I think I had in my mind like ‘I'll stop here. Breastmilk can stop and Aidan can have three meals’. There was no in between! Not realising that breastmilk was still really important, and important to his diet for a lot longer. Yeah, so I learned a lot just in that 2 hours at the local Community Centre.

BELINDA: The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for babies to 6 months of age and after that, for breastfeeding to continue alongside suitable complementary foods for up to 2 years and beyond. The National Health and Medical Research Council, who develops Australia infant-feeding guidelines, recommends exclusive breastfeeding for around 6 months, and then for breastfeeding to continue alongside complementary foods until 12 months of age and beyond, for as long as mother and child desire. The weaning process sort of starts at around that 6-month mark with the introduction of solids, but it doesn't mean that it needs to be the end of breastfeeding.

KATE:  Yeah, and I think that's a distinction that I didn't understand until that day.

BELINDA: Breastfeeding for 2 years or as long as mother and baby desire, that's not just for developing countries or countries with concerns with clean water supply. That's an unrestricted recommendation they make for all babies, no matter where they come from in the world. It applies to babies in Australia just as much as it applies to anywhere else.

So, with what you learned, what did you, like, with that eye-opening experience, what did you start to think then about how long that you would breastfeed your baby?

KATE: From that time, I guess I felt more confident that I wasn't doing anything wrong — and that my baby wasn't weird or different, or broken, or in comparison to all these other mythical babies that I'd heard about but never met, that slept through the night from 4 months old. Like, I think I had in my mind he would start sleeping from 4 months and then he'd be like this … like, I don't know … mini-adult kind of thing. I slowly, through meeting these other people at ABA, these other mums, and learning about how they were parenting and I think I sort of … I really did see them as wise in parenting, in that they were all on second or third babies and they were so confident, and their kids were so confident and well attached and gorgeous little things. And I was like, ‘Oh okay, so I could just do it this way and I could stop stressing about this stuff’. And so, at that point I just thought, ‘Well, I'll just keep breastfeeding him and we'll see where it goes’.

BELINDA: And I love that you said that you settled into sort of trusting your instincts and relaxing, ‘cause I think you know we're all individuals as mothers. So, learning what you know, paying attention to our own instincts, and what feels normal to us, and what we … like our gut is telling us. You know, trusted that that ability to trust our gut of what we want to do with our family and what's right for that baby is really important.

KATE: Not necessarily like, easy to do. So, I think I got better at it with each baby. I became more confident in the fact that … I guess I had the proof, prior proof with the previous children. That yeah, that they were growing and thriving.

BELINDA: So how long did you end up breastfeeding for? Like how many years consecutively did you breastfeed for? 

KATE: My youngest baby weaned when my eldest baby was almost 11, so it was probably 11 years. Oh, 10 years and 9 months altogether. Looking back through my phone, at that … one of those last breastfeeding photos that I took of my youngest, I was like ‘Wow, it was actually a long time’. And there wouldn’t have been a day in there – well, towards the end there are probably a couple of days – where I didn’t breastfeed as my youngest was weaning. But I breastfed through the second and the third pregnancies and fed my toddler whilst I had a new baby twice though.

BELINDA:  So, tell us a little bit about the experience of breastfeeding through pregnancy. How did you find that? Or how did you feel about that?

KATE: By that point I was doing my training to become a counsellor with ABA, when I got pregnant with my second baby. So, I knew that it was the safe thing to do. So I was never sort of worried that would impact on the growing baby because I understood how your body preferences the foetus over breastmilk. And so, I noticed my supply dropped off. And, at that time my eldest child was only breastfeeding from one side — he didn’t like my right breast, not sure why. So, he was only feeding from the left, and towards the end of the pregnancy I actually had breastmilk for him on one side and could express colostrum from the other side, which was kind of cool, and a bit weird. And … and I just found out he did sort of slowly reduce his feeds, so by the time his sister was born he was only having a feed at night. And I had actually done a little bit of work during the pregnancy to wean him overnight because I found when I got up to feed him at night, that I would have quite a strong aversion to the feel of him breastfeeding. Like just a real a real strong sense that I didn't want him to be feeding. Even though during the day it didn't bother me. Like, it didn't bother me feeding him to sleep in the evening but if I had to get up at 2.00 am, I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, get off, it’s too much!’, like it was just a sensation overwhelm. So, I weaned him overnight by reading him stories instead. And then, a month later, I had to wean him off asking for a book at 3.00 am. [laughter] It worked really well. He started waking up and saying ‘book, book’. And I thought ‘Hmm, maybe not, back to sleep’. So yeah, that was that, and I was worried about having to wake up and feed two babies at night. And then he started to sleep through the night whilst I was in the late stages of pregnancy, and about three days after his sister came home one night, he woke up and he wanted me. And I was feeding her and he saw me, and he had a bit of a cry with his dad. And then he went to sleep, and he didn't wake up again for about 4 weeks. So that was sort of how that night-weaning process went in that. And he finally was that miracle child who went to sleep at 7.00 and woke up at, well, 5.30 but that was pretty good. It was okay, like breastfeeding through pregnancy was yeah, kind of cool really. I mostly enjoyed it.

BELINDA:  It's interesting that as babies get older, so they get into those toddler years, that it doesn't have to be an all or nothing thing with breastfeeding, that you can put some boundaries around when you want to feed them. But we know that past the 12 months and well established on solid food, that having some boundaries and having some gentle strategies like the book – I really like the book idea – of having something else for them to do at night-time. But you … you know, you’re still happy to breastfeed them during the day.

KATE:  And I needed to put boundaries in place, particularly when I was breastfeeding my daughter and my youngest — which would have been about the time that we met that I was doing that. Because she was interesting. She was maybe … she must have been almost three when my youngest was born and she nearly weaned herself. Like she was only feeding during the day, and we night-weaned. And then the day I brought her brother home and I fed him on the couch she gave me this look like ‘What have you done, Mum, and what is that thing on your lap?’! And I said, ‘Would you like to have a feed?’ and she hopped up. And I was like tandem feeding them within 15 minutes of being at home.

And then she tried to feed like a newborn for the next 6 months. And I found that really full on, because every time I would feed the little baby my toddler would be like ‘Oh, and me’! And it just got really overwhelming because I felt like my eldest was missing out. He was in Kinder that year and I felt like I was spending the whole year sitting on the couch feeding two children. And I ended up getting her these little cards and I made six or seven of them and – it was an idea I found in a book and it was actually about sleep but I put it to use with breastfeeding – and it was, I gave her a card and each card represented one feed. And I told her she could have this many feeds in a day, but when she ran out of cards she couldn't have any more until bedtime. And the first day they were all gone by 10.00 am. 

[Both laugh] 

I'm sure there was six or seven, but she got used to it really quickly and she did start to spread them out. And we then reduced the number of cards, so she started with six and she ended up with three and we stuck with that for about probably 12 months or so. And then it just became first thing in the morning. She'd have a feed. And that was pretty much it.

BELINDA:  So how long did you feed each child for individually?

KATE:  So yeah, so 3 years and 4 months for my first and pretty much 7 years for my daughter. And then she lost her two front teeth and her latch was just so uncomfortable and she couldn't latch properly anymore. She wasn't getting any milk and we sort of had a bit of a chat about it, and at that point she was probably only asking oh, every couple of days. And often on a school day I'd say, ‘Well, we're running out of time, so you still haven't got dressed and you have to brush your teeth’ and all that sort of thing, and it just became, I think, a hassle almost for her. She was like ‘Oh, Mum’s always saying no’. So, it started to become just a weekend thing and then just stopped asking. And then one day she turned around and said that her little brother was a baby because he still had milk. And I was like, ‘Hmm, 3 weeks ago, this was you’.

BELINDA:  Gotta love them, don't you? And I know …

KATE: It was like a competitive sport when she was a newborn. It was like ‘Oh well, he's having a drink, so I'll have a drink.’

BELINDA:  And how did you find your body, like you and yourself and your body was handling breastfeeding for two … two babies at a time?

KATE: Yeah, look, I found out when my youngest was about 6 months that I was quite low in iron. And once I treated that, I felt so much better. I did actually lose a lot of weight when I was tandem feeding both times, which didn't bother me — except that then when I stopped, I did put that weight back on quite quickly with a bit extra. But I mean I've had three kids like, and I don't stress that much about those things, so it didn't really worry me. I enjoyed it while I was skinny then went back to normal.

But I think when she was feeding, my middle child was feeding like a newborn and I also had a newborn, that was pretty full on. And then once my daughter was, you know, only feeding once a day every couple of days, I was really just making a supply for my youngest. But if she did or didn't have a feed, I never really worried about supply. I always seem to have ample, and my babies always had lots of wet nappies and I guess as a breastfeeding counsellor, I knew what to look for so I never, sort of, had any doubt about my supply. I always knew that even if I felt like I didn't have enough one night, for example, in one evening I might … like the next day, my body would have compensated for that.

BELINDA:  And with your youngest child, when did he stop feeding?

KATE:  He stopped feeding during his first year of school, so … and he'd got to the point with all of my kids, like they've … they never at a younger age – they do now just to reassure people – that at that younger age they didn't go to sleep on their own. But he got to the point where some nights he would ask and some nights he didn't. And I kind of took that approach of never offer, never refuse with him. We bed-shared forever, like from day one, and at about 18 months he went into his own single bed with a railing. And if he woke before midnight, I'd hop in his bed and after midnight he'd come to us. And then from when he was about three and it started to get a bit crowded in our bed, we … I would just go to him and he just gradually stopped waking overnight. And during his Kinder year, once he was like exhausted from Kinder 3 days a week, he stopped waking up most of the time overnight. Or if he woke up, he didn't ask for a feed he just wanted a cuddle. And then, I'd give him a feed as he fell asleep at night. And then he sort of just stopped asking and he was more interested in having a story. And if he did have a feed it would last for about 2 minutes, if that, and so there was … I certainly wasn't really producing any milk anymore. Like, if I tried to express, I might see a glisten of liquid, but it wasn't … it didn't look like breastmilk anymore. And then he just … I don’t even know when he stopped! So I went through – before this interview, we were talking about this – and I found a photo and I'm like, ‘Well, that's the last photo I've got’. That's the last record I have. I think he might have fed after that, but I'm not sure. And that was sort of, you know, term 2 of his first year of school.

BELINDA: The Australian Breastfeeding Association website, which is, has got some information about safe co-sleeping or safe bed-sharing, and there's some things to consider about how to do that safely.

After nearly 11 years of breastfeeding, how did you feel about finally stopping?

KATE:  Well, I still feel a little bit emotional about it. But I think it's about the fact that my kids are not babies anymore more than anything else. I certainly found breastfeeding to be a great tool for developing a relationship with my kids, and I learned a lot from breastfeeding them in terms of being able to go at their pace, which really helped me when I was at home with them all day and maybe had other things I'd rather be doing sometimes. But I did find it really useful to be breastfeeding and have that as a calm-down switch in our family and I didn't have that anymore when we stopped. So, we again used books as the alternative and just sat on the couch and had a cuddle and read a book. So yeah, I feel a little bit of grief for that time of life being over. But at the same time, it's quite nice to not have tops with yellow stains on the neckline, or bras with stains in them. And to be able to wear an underwire bra and all that sort of thing again. It's kind of like a lot of those childhood milestones, like first tooth or starting school or kinder. It's bittersweet, like it's like ‘Wow, look how big my beautiful baby is’ but also, like, ‘Oh, they're not a baby’. 

BELINDA: Yeah. So, reflecting on how you felt about breastfeeding before you had your first baby and now that you finished, how have your thoughts and feelings changed over that time?

KATE: I think I didn't realize that breastfeeding was more than just nutrition before I had children and saw how other mums were parenting through breastfeeding, and using it as part of their parenting tools, offering a breastfeed in the way that you might offer a cuddle or something when something has gone wrong with a small toddler, and I didn't know that that was possible. But then, once I did, I don't know how I would have parented without it.

And I think also, I didn't realize how important I would think that, like the immunity and the health benefits of it are. Like, I think it's sometimes very hard to make healthy food choices, but I could always at least feel good about the fact that they were all breastfed for a really long time and their immune systems are healthy and strong. And even if they weren't, like if they had a period of illness while they were supported through breast milk, even if they couldn't keep anything else down. And then I think also, some of my enjoyment of breastfeeding came from the community that I met through it. So, it was something that really changed my life.

BELINDA: Yeah, it also changed mine, and you were a big part of that. So, I'm forever grateful for having met my ABA community, ‘cause I think there's something … it's not just about the breastfeeding, it's about being a mum and being a mum within the community of other mums, or …

KATE: There's a lot of sort of trust within a local group that other people get where you’re coming from, and it's a really nice, supportive way to be, and way to parent. 

BELINDA: And also lovely, supporting that you can breastfeed your children for 11 years straight, and I can breastfeed mine to 15 months or 16 months. And this other mum, she weaned at 6 months and we're, and everyone’s all okay — we're all here together. So that that's another great thing about ABA, is that we don't all have to breastfeed our children until they're seven, but if we want to, then they're fully supported to.

KATE: Yeah, exactly.

BELINDA: So, Kate is there anything else you'd like to share with us about your story?

KATE: Yeah, I certainly wouldn't have ever expected to be feeding my children till they were preschool age and beyond. But I feel really lucky that I found out that it was a possibility. And I actually said to my younger two in preparation for this interview, ‘Do you remember it?’ and my daughter’s like, ‘Mmm, not really.’ I said 'What?’ and I said, ‘Do you remember what it tasted like?’ And she was like, ‘Mmm, Nah’, and she just walked off. But she's 10 now. But then  my youngest said, ‘Ah, I remember it tasted sweet, like sweet milk, like with milk with sugar in it’, and he does. He's like, ‘Well I sort of remember’, and I'm thinking, ‘Well, it's only just about 2 years, so I would think you would remember it’, but it was funny that they both sort of denied any, like any knowledge?

[Music fades in]

BELINDA: Thank you Kate for chatting with us today and for sharing your story. You've been a great support to a lot of mums in our local area, and through your volunteering on the National Breastfeeding Helpline. So thank you, Kate.

KATE: I enjoy it. It’s fun, it's a fun job.

BELINDA: It sure is. For more on the topics we've discussed today, check out the show notes for links and information. Please rate, review, and subscribe to Breastfeeding with ABA.


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