I wrote my first story of tandem nursing after we had been at it for about 3 months. This week I’ve seen tandem nursing pop up all over the place with Hobo Mama’s story of nursing in her third Trimester, Code Name: Mama documenting her first tandem nursing experience (with a child that was not her own – love it!), Kitchen Witch writing on nursing through pregnancy and my original story posted up on the Nursing Freedom Facebook page. I keep promising to write an updated story so here it is…
Well firstly and most obviously is that we are STILL tandem nursing. My girl, Keeyah is 32 months and my boy, Amarii is almost 18 months and they both remain ardent breast-milk fans. I can’t see our tandem nursing journey ending anytime soon, which some days is a sweet, comforting thought and others a daunting and frustrating one. For me breastfeeding and extended breastfeeding is natural, normal and worthwhile but it can also be hard work too.
Making it Work
I’ve never had a schedule or timing for breastfeeding, in true attachment parenting style, I just feed on demand. At one point both of the children were breastfeeding at least 5 times a day. This was highly time consuming and as I said in my previous post, I probably spent more time breastfeeding then sleeping at that point! Even though it may have been better in terms of time management, I stopped breastfeeding my children simultaneously very early on. Having a child on each breast was complete sensory overload for me and we would not still be a breastfeeding triad today if I had forced myself to do that. It works for some people and I read some really cute stories in ‘Adventures in Tandem Nursing‘ (read my review here) about kids holding hands and bonding while breastfeeding but nah, not for me!
In the early days of breastfeeding, I would just gaze at my child, enjoying the special moments of eye connection and the delightful bubble of love that many mothers feel when nursing a newborn. I also used our breastfeeding sessions to meditate and pray. However, as I admitted in my guest post for Code Name Mama’s Breastfeeding Beyond Infancy feature, as time progressed I started to need a little distraction to be able to tolerate long feeds from my older child and would sometimes have a book handy to read as I nursed. Nowadays our breastfeeding sessions are almost always a chance for me to read a good magazine, book or blog and my daughter will often bring me my glasses just before we are about to nurse! There is still a lot of tenderness, cuddles, kisses on their sweet little foreheads and a little chit chat, but I’ll admit that a lot of the time I’m a multi-tasking breastfeeder!
When Amarii was a few months old and had established a fairly regular bedtime for himself, I would breastfeed him to sleep, then go to Keeyah and do the same for her. When Keeyah turned 2 this arrangement was getting too much for me to continue. K would take ages to fall asleep on the breast and it was getting so irritating I would think of weaning her, even though in my heart I didn’t really want to. During our trip to the UK in Summer 2010, where I was sometimes without the extra hands to hold her, we changed the routine so that I would give her breastmilk before bed time and have her fall asleep with a cuddle while Amarii breastfed. This worked much better as I felt more in control of the duration of her breastfeeding and able to soothe and nurture her in other ways. We mostly continue with this sleeping arrangement although recently there are days when she skips an afternoon nap and is extra tired by bedtime. On these evenings I’ll often breastfeed her to sleep as it’s quick and really what she wants.
Night-time feedings have been fairly easy for me as Keeyah was already sleeping through the night when her brother arrived and so I only ever had one baby to wake up for. However, Amarii was a voracious feeder at nights and I am sure each day he would wake up heavier than when he went to bed. He still does feed at night, at irregular times although because we co-sleep it’s quite simple to just roll over, put breast in mouth and continue in a light sleep until he is done. I especially love feeding him when I first go to bed, and spending the last part of my day watching his face look so content and at peace, while feeling that sense of special bonding and closeness. I don’t like when he goes through phases of waking me up every 2 hours and it feels as he is feeding for 2 hours each time!
Getting Sick, Getting Better
In November 2010 we all were knocked down with sickness. Keeyah got viral gastroenteritis and we had to stay in hospital for 3 days with a drip for her to rehydrate. During that time the only other thing she wanted was breastmilk. This was great to know I could still supply her with a good source of nutrition as her body was healing but it also placed extra demands on me. It was also the first time I’ve been separated from my boy and since he still wakes in the night I was worried about how he would cope without my milk. Thankfully he and his Daddy were staying just across the road from the hospital so it was relatively easy to keep a check on him during the day and when I was certain that Keeyah was completely asleep at night I would run over to nurse him too. The first night I left the hospital at 1am to go and nurse him again in case he woke and got some strange questions from the security guard when I tried to re-enter the hospital an hour later!
On the same day Keeyah was discharged from the hospital, Amarii showed symptoms of the same virus and that night was waking up every two hours with huge diapers full of diarrhea – yuck. Thankfully I was much more aware of the need to keep him fully hydrated and simply gave him plenty of breastmilk and water until the virus passed through his system.
Phew, that was over but I was exhausted! All the extra breastfeeding had helped the children bounce back fast, but when I got a little cold a few days later it turned into a thick chesty cough that I couldn’t shake off. None of my usual natural remedies would work and later that week when I took Amarii to the pediatrician for a check up, she also gave me course of antibiotics. A week later the antibiotics had done nothing and I was routinely coughing up thick phlegm…sorry to gross you out with all these bodily fluid details…stick with me here!
Both my Grandmother and an Ayurvedic practitioner felt that my immune system was being compromised by the breastfeeding and urged me to wean Keeyah. I did feel weak, worn out and in need of a rest but when it came down to it, the thought of weaning her seemed emotionally and physically more difficult than the prospect of continuing. I didn’t feel I could deny her, while still breastfeeding her brother and this must be a conundrum other tandem nursing mothers face too – how do you wean an older child without inciting feelings of jealousy and resentment towards their sibling? I wasn’t just taking the path of least resistance, I also felt sad that our breastfeeding relationship would come to an abrupt rather than a gentle, mutually agreed upon end. I am intrigued by child-led weaning and although I do not envision breastfeeding when she is 7 years old1, I’d like her to come to a stage where she steps away from the breast rather than it being taken away. So I made all efforts I could to reduce her intake each day and while I recovered from the bout of sickness we went down to once a day. It has since increased slightly with her breastfeeding now between 1-3 times a day. My immune system is better although I have found that I have low blood pressure which may be related to the breastfeeding but I gotta check it out to be sure!
Breastfeeding in Public
I’ve always been a brazen breastfeeder and I find it quite interesting to watch people’s reactions on the occasions that I feed one child after the other. Some have tentatively asked if they are twins whilst others confide that they wish they had been able to nurse both babies, as they were told to stop during pregnancy. Dominica is a very breastfeeding friendly culture (no one bats an eye if you feed your child in the street!) but tandem nursing seems to be relatively unheard of.
If I am asked my friends and family when I will wean and I usually just shrug and answer ‘I don’t know’, because at this stage I really don’t. I find that sometimes I have to defend Keeyah and quietly reassure her, as some people accuse her of stealing her brothers milk! Mostly I like the conversations which give me the opportunity to share all that I have learned so far, bust a few myths and learn from others who share their stories of extended breastfeeding. I am proud to be a living testimony to the possibility and reality of tandem nursing.
The Journey Continues
Ultimately tandem nursing has not been without it’s challenges; some days I feel completely touched out and want to scream ‘GET YOUR HANDS OFF MY BREASTS’ and run for the hills! But overall I feel very fortunate that I have been able to continue breastfeeding my children for this length of time. I’ve never used formula or even had to pump breast milk. I am still producing a lot of milk and on the rare occasions I am away from the kids for a few hours, I return to them very full (which of course they love!) I still have no idea how long our tandem nursing journey will continue and I am aware that although it may seem like a long time while I am in the midst of it, really it will be just a fraction of their lives, so I do my very best to enjoy it all.