Life as An Extended and {gasp!} Tandem Breastfeeder

Disclosure :: World Breastfeeding Week is recognized August 1 – 7, 2016. This year, the World Breastfeeding Week theme is about how breastfeeding is a key element in getting us to think about how to value our wellbeing from the start of life, how to respect each other and care for the world we share. Our World Breastfeeding Week is sponsored by Woman’s Hospital.

Image by Katie Joy Photography

Image by Katie Joy Crawford Photography

I have always wanted to breastfeed. There was never a doubt in my mind. Sure I would casually say to my friends and family before the birth of my first, “I mean, I’m going to try. If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out.” But in my head I was saying, “Oh, it’s going to work out. It.will.work.out.”

I took the breastfeeding class when I was pregnant for the first time. That’s about all I did to prepare. Honestly, I had it in my head that breastfeeding was natural, therefore it would come naturally (and easily). I would venture to say that more often than not (as with my case), this conclusion while seemingly logical is in fact NOT true — meaning it often doesn’t come naturally. We struggled from the start. I had no clue what I was doing. She didn’t want or know how to latch. Did I mention I had no clue what I was doing?

After some time, the lactation consultant in the hospital finally suggested I use a nipple shield due to my flat nipples ( Hold on, I’m sorry, what? Flat nipples?! I had no idea that was even a thing. Thanks, Mother Nature, kick me when I’m down.). If you’re aren’t familiar, the nipple shield acts basically as a false nipple, a larger more protruding one, that gives baby more to latch on to if your own nipples aren’t quite “milking material” if you will. She was able to latch with the use of the shield. But as they gave me this tool, they also warned me that the use of the shield was a last resort, and I needed to wean her off the shield in about 2 weeks or less in order to be successful. This cautionary tale was due to supply concerns and practicality in general. I left the hospital feeling discouraged and exhausted. When we got home, it got worse instead of better. We were scared she wasn’t getting what she needed. We supplemented some with formula. When I wasn’t nursing, I was pumping to boost my supply. Pumping blows. I cringed every time we gave her a bottle of formula — not because I am anti-formula, but because I felt like I was loosing something that was so important to me and my baby. When we were out and about, if I didn’t have that mother-lovin’ nipple shield, breastfeeding was NOT going to happen. She simply wouldn’t latch without it. I just hoped and prayed we’d make it to my 6-month goal.

I tell you all of this because I totally understand why mothers give up on breastfeeding. If it doesn’t come easily by luck, it’s a complete pain in the you-know-what. It was by sheer force of will (read: stubbornness) that I didn’t give up myself. And even though it was such a struggle and a pain and not what I had envisioned for us, we were doing OK. She was healthy, we had completely stopped supplementing by month two and were surviving on my milk alone … somehow, we were eeking along, nipple shield in hand or on boob or whatever. BUT then, oh then, came the glorious day I will never forget: the day she latched WITHOUT THE NIPPLE SHIELD! I swear it was one of the happiest days of my life. She was four months old. So after four months of struggle, four months of a fake nipple, it finally was working how it was supposed to. We were doing it on our own. It was finally easy. I half-joked that we were never going to stop breastfeeding now that we knew how. I had no idea what I was saying.

Her first year came and went all too quickly. Many moms decide to wean around this time, but for me, I felt like our journey had just begun and since she showed no signs of weaning, we just kept going. And going. Year Two came along. Of course she was eating food now, but still going strong in the nursing department. Never did I think that I would be breastfeeding for this long, but again, it just felt right for us. Breastmilk provides exceptional nutrition, it was such a comfort to her, and the overall benefits of continuing to nurse in toddlerhood are evident. It’s true, my circle of nursing friends had all but completely dwindled, in fact there was a time I didn’t know anyone at all personally who had breastfed for longer than a year. But I didn’t care. For me and my daughter, there was no need to stop.

I will say that things weren’t all milk and honey in the second year. First of all I hadn’t gotten my period back, and we wanted to try for another baby. She was still waking up often throughout the night wanting to nurse and that was starting to really wear on me. It was hard to leave her because she was still looking for that comfort that only I could give. As time went on, I was beginning to realize that things needed to change.

My period did come back right before she turned two, and immediately I was expecting! I was thankful I wasn’t going to have to wean simply to get pregnant and that now we could take our time in the process. I had high hopes she would wean herself while I was pregnant as I had heard that supply dips during pregnancy. Ha! No such luck. Homegirl nursed throughout my entire pregnancy. That was interesting. You know how your nipples are crazy sensitive the first trimester? Breastfeeding is a peach during that time. “You’re nursing AND you’re pregnant?!” People either thought I was Super Woman or crazy or both. I managed to night wean her very gradually, which was huge. Of course as time went on, she was nursing less and less — basically just at nap time, right before bed, and the occasional cuddle during the day.

As my pregnancy was reaching term, I realized that she was probably not going to wean completely by the time the baby came. I had to make a choice: either push her to completely wean before she was ready or accept the fact that I would potentially be breastfeeding two children. I really don’t think there was a wrong choice here — I had given her a very long and happy breastfeeding journey and I had been very patient in the weaning process — but ultimately, I decided to accept that I would be nursing two at least for a little while.

We had conversations about how our new baby would be nursing a lot when she came, so that my little lady would be prepared. I don’t think we always give toddlers enough credit for the things they can understand if we just simply talk with them. I think the main reason I decided to tandem was an effort to harbor feelings of resentment toward the new baby. And I just didn’t think it was fair to wean her so close to a time of great adjustment and newness in her little world. I knew my daughter. She would need that extra bit of comfort.

And I was right, although it was ROUGH. Thankfully this time around, Baby #2 was a champion nurser from the start (How you like them nipples, now?). And honestly, I think she has her big sister to thank for that; she taught me so much during her own time as a nursling. So for her little sister, I had complete confidence in how to breastfeed. And we rocked it.

As I predicted, the first month at home with two babes was an adjustment for us all, namely for my toddler. All of a sudden, Mama was always holding someone else … and nursing that little usurper too! I think she was a little flabbergasted. Now if I never likened myself to breastfeeding past a year, you can be damn sure I never expected to tandem. Life is full of surprises. So whenever my toddler was feeling scared, feeling insecure, feeling jealous, she asked for the thing that has always comforted her. Why should that change now? She asked to nurse … and sometimes she couldn’t wait until Baby was done, so they nursed at the same time.

We had entered the tandem phase. Good Lord. I’m not sure I can fully describe the experience, that is when they nursed simultaneously. On the one hand, it was sweet to have my babies there together. My toddler would hold the baby’s hand while nursing. On the other hand, OUCH. I was being milked on both sides … it was a crazy sensation and not exactly euphoric. I *almost* wish I had a photo to document that time, but those images will just have to remain in my mind. All I can say is mothers of twins who can breastfeed are my heroes.

We rocked the tandem for a little more than 3 months. I felt it was enough time for my toddler to adjust to this big change in her world. The process of total weaning took about a year and was complete right before her 3rd birthday. I was aware of the very last time I nursed her, and just like the day she latched on without that shield at four months old, it was a moment I will never forget.

Although it’s sometimes a little sad when I think of how I’ll never nurse her again, I am also so proud of our journey together and is one I can’t wait to recount to her when she is a new mother herself. After experiencing it, tandem nursing was not something I personally desired to do for an extended period of time, but I’m so glad we did it for a short while. I’m very happy to now have just the one nursling, and let’s face it, that has its set of challenges all its own!

So if you’ve stayed with me up to this point, here’s really what I want you to know: my nipples AIN’T flat anymore! Just kidding … but seriously, they are out and fully-functional, probably for the long haul. Sorry, I can never resist a nipple joke. But what I really want to drive home is just because your feeding journey begins in one manner doesn’t mean it will end in the same way. If you’re struggling with breastfeeding but it’s something that’s really important to you, keep at it. Keep learning. Keep trying. Seek help and support. You may surprise yourself by your own power and find you’re actually capable of something you never imagined.

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Whether we breastfeed for two weeks or two years and beyond; whether we choose a hybrid of formula and breastmilk; whether we formula feed or pump exclusively — it’s OUR own story, yours and mine. And we are all making the best decisions we can with the information we have based on our very unique babies, families and lives. We’ve got this, Mamas.
RSMB WBW w border

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