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Weird non-Polish news story

Non-Polish news story

I'll breastfeed till they're EIGHT!

Stella Onions doesn't worry about people staring.

Whether sitting outside a cafe or walking round the park, whenever she breastfeeds her two children, she ignores the women gawping and men brazenly pointing her out to their friends.

Even in her own home - the only place she now lets her son and daughter feed from her - she barely cared when one friend turned away, unable to watch as they suckled.

But such reactions are hardly surprising; the babes sucking at this middle-aged mother's breasts are toddlers aged five and three years old

For many, breastfeeding at this age is unnatural, crossing the boundaries of normal maternal behaviour.

While two-thirds of mothers solely or partially breastfeed their babies for the first year, doing so after a child's first birthday remains rare - let alone through nursery school and beyond.

Government health advisers advocate exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, yet Stella insists she will at least try to breastfeed her children, Josephine and Zac, up to their eighth birthdays.

And though Stella, 45, flouts convention and the recommendations of experts, she is proud that her children are acknowledged to be among the eldest to be breastfed. Indeed, she is campaigning for other women to follow her example.

'As a mother, you are totally responsible for the health of your baby, and I consider part of that duty to be breastfeeding - it might not be best for every woman, but it is best for every baby. My children don't strictly need breast milk now, but they are still getting benefits,' says Stella, from Ludlow in Shropshire.

'Of course, some people are squeamish - they don't like three-month- olds feeding in public, let alone three-year-olds sitting on your knee - but you wouldn't throw a blanket over a sheep feeding a lamb in a field, would you? It's what nature intended.

'One friend said she thinks it's a bit strange and sometimes pulls a face, but most mothers I know are also long-term breastfeeders. Though my children are the eldest ones I know of, many women breastfeed late but keep it private for fear of public rejection. I think women want to continue for as long as possible, but public and family pressure makes them give up earlier.

'Mine will probably stop feeding between the ages of five and eight. Whenever they lose their milk teeth and can no longer suckle, but I would never stop them - I want my children to self-wean, as children who do tend to be more confident and self-assured adults. If you don't meet your child's needs, they become distant and more troubled during adolescence. '

Josephine has said she doesn't want to stop till adulthood. She really enjoys it and has actually told me she won't stop until she gets married.

She often says: "I never want to stop my mummy milk."

'Zac loves it, too - he says it's yummy and sweet.'

Though Stella's maternal instinct is now central to her life, as a teenager she was ambivalent about having children. So much so that, at 20, she married a man years older than her who had already had a vasectomy.

But by the time they divorced in 1997, her views had changed vehemently

She told her second husband, Andy, when they met the following year that children were part of the deal. She was thrilled when she swiftly fell pregnant, but by the time they married in 2000 she had miscarried twice, the first time at 14 weeks and the second at nine weeks. The latter occurred just four days before their wedding.

'We both felt dreadful. At my wedding, people patted what remained of my bump and asked how the pregnancy was progressing - it was heartbreaking. After the first miscarriage I was determined to try again, and to succeed, but when I lost the second baby I couldn't bear any more anguish.'

After yet another miscarriage, on her 39th birthday, Stella vowed not to fall pregnant again.

'We both said "no more" - no more pregnancies and no more heartache. Our lifestyles were just too hectic - we were both working, going skiing and travelling.'

Yet Stella again fell pregnant. 'I was petrified, the thought of losing another child was absolutely awful. As a result, I was incredibly careful, and when Josephine was born I was absolutely ecstatic. I went into labour on Christmas Day and it was amazing when I had her.

'I kept yelling at Andy: "It's a baby!" I couldn't believe we'd finally managed it - something I'd resigned myself to never occurring.'

Has such torment led - understandably - to Stella's desire to form a stronger bond with her babies? She denies being a particularly protective mother.

'I'm not overly anxious about them. I just want them to have the best start in life.'

And, according to diligent internet research during her first pregnancy, that meant breastfeeding - something Stella vowed to do until Josie was six months old.

'I was absolutely determined - it wasn't a case of giving it a try - I would do it come hell or high water.

'But there were difficulties - the latch wasn't right and Josephine clearly wasn't feeding properly as she became underweight. My nipples were cracked and bleeding - to the extent that blood would drip through my T-shirt.'

Still determined, Stella expressed breast milk to top up Josephine's feed, along with formula, then with 'sheer bloodymindedness' she finally worked out a way of breastfeeding her when she was five weeks old.

From then on, Stella says the sheer convenience of it was marvellous.

'My father died suddenly and we were able to fly to South Africa with Josephine - a 24-hour journey without trouble as we didn't have to take formula feed with us. It made life so much easier for me.

'By the time she was two years old, she'd been on 32 flights as I travel a lot, and I couldn't have managed that without breastfeeding. Local water and flight delays weren't a problem.'

But it wasn't just about convenience.

'Having a baby takes a huge physical toll on your body and can ruin your figure - yet breastfeeding helps you lose weight. It also has huge mentalbenefits - new mums are tired and anxious, so sitting down quietly is hugely beneficial.

'It is a wonderful feeling: your body releases a hormone called oxytocin which makes you feel good and relaxes you. I really mellowed out when I was feeding and got things into perspective.'

When she returned to work as a freelance accounts clerk just six weeks after Josephine's birth, she publicly fed her daughter in people's offices. Stella did some more research about breastfeeding and found guidelines issued by the World Health Organisation that recommended breastfeeding exclusively for six months and then alongside normal food for two years.

So, Stella decided to continue, and when Zac was born, breastfed both children simultaneously.

'They had a breast each and I always reserved them the same one. I still keep the right one for Josephine and the left for Zac, but they feed separately now that they're older. It taught them to share and stopped sibling rivalry. It even stopped toddler tantrums.'

Stella's pragmatic attitude strikes a strange chord, for she agrees continuing breastfeeding through childhood is unnecessary. Yet both children are fed twice a day - once in the morning when they wake up and climb into their parents' bed, and once in the evening with their bedtime story. They are also breastfed for comfort when they get upset or request it, for as long as they want - when Zac or Josephine say 'Mummy milk, please', as they often do.

Surprisingly, Stella says being present to feed them to sleep each night doesn't disrupt her life or relationship with Andy, a computer games designer.

We like to do things together as a family, and if I'm ever away they cuddle with Daddy instead. It doesn't interfere with our relationship in any way; it doesn't influence us as a couple. Andy doesn't mind at all.

'He is very supportive of my breastfeeding. He knows it is best for the children; he sees the results in their good health and happy natures. He always comments on the way they bounce back from illness. 'Andy is very family-orientated and when I breastfeed in our bed every morning it's family time -we all cuddle and tickle and laugh together while I alternately feed Zac and Josephine. He enjoys us all being together and getting up together - he's a very proud, very good dad.'

It seems strange that breastfeeding in the marital bed every morning can fail to affect a couple's sex life, yet for Stella it doesn't.

'I believe, as in some cultures, that breasts are something to feed your children with, not something sexual.

'My role models come from rural African countries where women use their breasts to feed their children without the Westernised embarrassment - breast exposure there is not considered adulterous, they are far more practical about things.'

Now Stella has begun a campaign to normalise breastfeeding, so that it becomes as acceptable elsewhere as it is in her home. She says the benefits must be appreciated.

'Kids who are allowed to evolve naturally are gaining an advantage because that is the way nature intended. Babies who are not breastfed are more likely to suffer infections and five times more likely to end up in hospital in their first year of life.

'They are more susceptible to obesity, diabetes and high cholesterol in later life. In the short term, if they do get ill, breastfed babies recover more quickly and become less severely unwell.

'When you breastfeed, the areola (part of the breast) absorbs the baby's saliva and will respond to an infection by creating antibodies which return to the baby during its feed - every breast-milk feed is tailored to the baby.'

'I don't advocate that every child is breastfed until they're five - it is a personal choice - but I would like every mum to try to make it to six months. We'd have a lot more healthy adults if that were the case.'

Yet, whatever the science, it is likely that Stella's campaign will struggle. Even the most liberal of mothers find the sight of other babies sucking beyond infancy disconcerting, let alone their own.


Re: Weird non-Polish news story

Yeah, that really put me off my latte...

Re: Weird non-Polish news story

There are pictures too

That woman isn't quite right in the head

Re: Weird non-Polish news story

This reminds me of one of the sketches on Little Britain. "Bitty, bitty" ...