Wednesday, May 30, 2012

4 months in: the good/hard

Welcome to the Carnival of Tandem Nursing
This post was written for inclusion in the Carnival of Tandem Nursing hosted by Mommying My Way. Our participants have shared their personal stories of the highs the lows and information on what to expect if tandeming is in your future. Please read to the end of each post to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.
Many of you know that I currently have two nurselings:  one is a bubbly dark-haired 4 month old girl who coos and giggles and is just learning to roll over; one is a busy blonde haired 21 month old boy who talks and runs and jumps and climbs and can manoeuvre an ipad like he works for Apple.

There are moments when I am so glad to be nursing both of my children - love the closeness of all of us, mouths full of milk when my babies stop nursing to smile at each other, the luxury of caring for two little ones while sitting on the couch.


There are moments when I am pretty much done being touched for the day by noon, when Saf tries to slowly roll his body across his sister while he nurses next to her, or she won't stop grabbing his hair and concentrate on the task at hand - and I'm feeling insanely parched listening to them both glug liquids with no one serving me a beverage.

Like most worthwhile things in life, tandem nursing is good/hard.

A friend recently described my son as a weather system.  He has his own atmosphere, and he takes it wherever he goes.  He is tightly wound, energetic, emotional, bright, spirited, strong-willed, vocal.  He puts our gentle parenting desires to the test daily while simultaneously filling us with joy.  I knew when he was young that I would need our nursing relationship to parent him well when he was a toddler.  Saf does benefit from the immunological properties of the milk and he is generally quite healthy and robust.  But he also benefits from the connection, the 'reset' button that is us together, the way nursing brings a gentle amnesia to the tension that can build between a new mama and a frustrated little guy trying to figure out how the world goes 'round.

When we became pregnant, our Safran wasn't even nine months old, still such a baby.  He was nursing every two hours day and night, just barely eating solid food and relying on "nai-nai" for emotional needs as well.  Weaning sounded like a tougher road than tandem nursing.

I'm amazed at how easy the transition into "big brother" has been, even at just 17 months.  I had thought during the pregnancy he was understanding that there was a "baby in mama's tummy" but to this day everytime he sees a belly button he yells, "baby!!"  Mhm.  Regardless, he LOVES his little sister.  He was curious in their first moments together, sharing milk when she was 5 hours old and today he's enamored.  He heard her voice on the baby monitor, "Boobee up!  Me Me!!!" and he came with me to find her.  He wanted her unwrapped, but to stay on the bed with him while we read "The Cat in the Hat" again.  She giggles just seeing him, kicking her little legs. 

The first weeks after Jubilee's birth were spent on the couch.  If you asked me what I did that day I would have said, "I nursed my children."  But as Saf adjusted to Jubilee's presence he would insist less on simultaneously nursing every single time she had milk, although we still usually do a few times a day.  It's gotten easier as Jubilee has grown and we no longer need pillows to help us all stay comfortable. 

With one nurseling, my supply easily matched my child's need.  Occasionally Safran would need more and he'd nurse more and then there'd be the perfect amount again.  This time around my supply is having more difficulty figuring out what my children need.  Jubilee is only recently seeming like she can really handle the rate at which my milk flows, and the amount that I produce.  In the first months she was done feeding within a few minutes and unable to comfort suck because the milk kept coming she would struggle in the evenings with tummy pain.  If she succeeded at nursing for comfort she would often do massive vomits because of simply too much milk in her tummy.  I never had this problem with Saf, who could have nursed all day and all night without any trouble.  At 12 weeks I started to use a pacifier in the evenings to help her with tummy pain and she immediately relaxed.   Just now, at 4 1/2 months, she seems to have a handle on my supply and is starting to comfort nurse as she falls asleep. 

Sometimes I'm tired, touched-out and frustrated at the dishes and laundry that pile up while caring for two nurslings.  But then I watch the way she smiles at him as they nurse together.  She reaches out her hands to him and touches his hair and he always looks astonished, as if he's taking note of her changing and growing up.  There's an affection and trust present that I hope remains throughout their sibling-friendship, and I'm sure that when they are older they'll lovingly and joyfully work together on the dishes and laundry.

  • My Tandem Nursing Journey: Jenny at I'm a full-time mummy is sharing her tandem nursing journey so far...
  • Built for Two: No matter how much you read and plan, things may not always go as you expect. A few things that Jennifer at True Confessions of a Real Mommy wished she knew when she was planning to tandem feed her toddler and newborn.
  • Tandem Nursing - Magic Cure?: Jorje of Momma Jorje had high expectations of tandem nursing easing her toddler daughter's transition from being the baby to being a big sister.
  • Mutually Desirable - Navigating a Tandem Nursing Experience: Amy Willa at talks about limit setting and meditations that help her navigate an intense tandem nursing experience.
  • My Adventure in Tandem Nursing: Alicia at Lactation Narration tells her story of nursing her daughter through pregnancy and then tandem nursing.
  • 4 months in: the good/hard: Becca at Exile Fertility writes about the joys and struggles of having two nurslings 17 months apart.
  • Tandem Nursing: One at a Time: When tandem nursing resulted in a nursing aversion, Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children looked for ways to meet everyone's needs.
  • Why Nurse a 4 Year Old?: One of the questions Dionna at Code Name: Mama keeps getting is, "but why breastfeed a four year old? What are the benefits?" Today she answers that question.
  • My Hurt Feelings: Shannon at The Artful Mama shares how her first son reacted to nursing after the birth of his brother and the gift she received the last time he nursed.
  • Carnival of Tandem Nursing: A Letter To Myself 7 Years Ago: Dulce de leche shares the advice and reassurance that she would have given to herself if she could go back in time.
  • Nursing Both My Babies: Cassie at There’s a Pickle in my Lifeshares her experience with nursing and transitioning into tandem nursing. She also gives tips for struggles.
  • Our Tandem Nursing Journey: Kim at Life-is-Learning describes her journey into tandem nursing and why it is important to her.
  • Based on her own experience, Lauren at Hobo Mama dishes about the benefits and downsides to nursing multiple children.

Monday, May 21, 2012

On Sleep (how the cow kept us awake for hours)

As we began implementing some gentle sleep techniques to help our son sleep longer between wake-ups, they actually started to work.  After a few months Safran went from about 8 wake ups a night to 1-2.  It might still seem like a lot to other parents, but for us, parents of a 'Duracell Bunny Baby' (love this article - does it sound like your baby?), it felt really good.


Saf started to have these periods of extended night waking:  Oh. my. goodness.  So many mornings I was blurry-eyed and googling this topic.  Do other kids do this??  Do other kids wake up for 2-3 hours in the middle of the night, not wanting to get up and play but unable to go back to sleep?  It started when Saf was probably 10 months old.  At first it was a random occurrence that left us wondering but not too concerned.  But by 13 months he was doing this at least every week, sometimes 3 nights in a row.  1-4 am, awake.  2-4 am, awake.  3-6 am, awake.  Not wanting to play, just wanting to be held, rocked, nursed, cuddled.

We were tired.

I did some research trying to figure out what was going on.  Here's a short list of things that can wake a child up in the night from
  • baby wants more time with mom
  • teething
  • developmental advances (for example: waking more often right before or after learning to turn over, crawl or talk)
  • illness, allergy, diaper rash, eczema
  • hunger (including growth spurts)
  • reverse cycling: Some babies whose moms are away during the day prefer to reject most/all supplements while mom is away, and nurse often during the evening and night. If mom is very busy during the day or if baby is very distracted, this can also lead to reverse cycling. 
 Initially I thought that Saf's extended night waking could be developmental.  He is pretty intense, he's on on on all day and maybe he isn't fully 'off' when he is sleeping.  But then his nightwaking became so frequent and hardly bearable, especially the two weeks when Chris was on a work trip in SE Asia and I had no one to relieve me.  Some of those nights, probably accentuated by my pregnancy and missingness of my husband, I would have tears streaming down my face while I was rocking him, so tired and desperate for him to sleep.  Dramatic?  Maybe.  But in the moment it felt very hard to cope.  Sometimes we would let him cry in our arms, which maybe would wear him out in the short term and help him fall back asleep eventually, but was not causing the extended periods of night waking to stop.

Chris bore the brunt of the episodes and would spend hours rocking or bouncing Safran and I would sleep.  Saf would fall asleep eventually and when he woke for the morning (which was usually as early as normal) I would take over and Chris would sleep until he had to get up for work.  Tag-team sleeping.  This was our life.  (And now with two little ones we still do this.  A lot.)

I could find very little on the internet related to the extended nature of the night wakings.  A friend said that with her son they'd do quiet play or read stories until he was tired again.  She didn't know why it happened, but it did end when he was night weaned.  We tried that with Saf a few times, but he would just cry and cry.  He didn't want to be up, he wanted to be comforted.  He wanted to be rocked or nursed or walked or bounced.  But no matter how long you did it, he couldn't get back to sleep.  And (my husband adds) he was getting heavier and heavier.  (Again, a good reason to marry a man or woman with big muscles.)

When I was around 30 weeks pregnant with Jubilee I was starting to panic.  The nights in general were getting better - the gentle nightweaning techniques were working and Chris was doing most of the caring for Saf when he woke.  But one or two nights a week he would still be up for hours.

I think I was reading a forum on and stumbled upon someone saying that DAIRY SENSITIVITY CAN CAUSE EXTENDED TODDLER NIGHT WAKING.  (Sorry I can't link to it, I think it was just some people having a conversation).  Chris' parents happened to be staying with us at the time and his mom mentioned that Chris had a dairy sensitivity as a young child that he eventually outgrew.  As my milk supply decreased throughout the pregnancy I wanted to make sure Safran was feeling 'full' before bed so I would give him cheese or yoghurt everyday, especially in the evening.  So we decided to stop giving him dairy.  I read it can take up to 5 weeks to see a difference, but after about 2 he was sleeping better and generally was less frustrated in the day as well.  We stopped the dairy at the end of November and the last week of December he slept the whole night without waking for a week, from 7pm - 5am.

We were RELIEVED.  I felt like I was finally ready to have another baby.  Which was good, since I was about 39 weeks pregnant.

Since then Saf has still had a few nights where he has been up for a couple of hours, but the last two have been when his first molars broke through.  Saf is sensitive, he doesn't sleep through pain well and he becomes alert very quickly.  In March he had two "bad" nights, in April he had one and none in May so far.  He does still wake briefly multiple times a night as we've 'un-night weaned' but I'll share that story soon. 

If Safran wants to drink milk from the fridge we give him rice milk.  He talks about cheese a lot but it's in reference to the camera. :)


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

On Sleep (gentle ideas to make everyone happier)

Where was I ... ah, yes, we were pregnant.  This was a huge surprise and of course wonderful but also terrifying.   I had a 9 month old nursling feeding every 2 hours day and night who was just starting to really swallow solid food.  The thought of having another baby when my first needed me so much was scary - but fortunately our gestational period is nice and long and Saf grew and developed.  He became a much bigger baby who not only nursed constantly and loved to be worn but also started to talk. :)  Just Kidding.  (Kind of). 

We knew we would need to make some changes as I couldn't foresee "rotisserie nursing" two children all night long.  The first few months of the pregnancy were good sleep-wise.  We decided we didn't want to start actively night-weaning Safran until he was 12 months so we just began implementing a few things from Elizabeth Pantley's "No Cry Sleep Solution".  I found a copy for $4 at a second hand shop one day, and later checked out her book for Toddler and Pre-Schoolers at the local library.  I also have her book on naps and separation anxiety.  Yes, I'm a fan.

it's me right now.  I cut my finger while making dinner.
Her techniques are gentle, and when it comes to doing things gently with babies and toddlers who have habits that you want to change, gentle means SLOW.  And if you are blessed with a spirited child like we are, gentle means EXTREMELY SLOW.  (sometimes).  But it's good.  She says to make a little record of how things are going, times of sleep and waking and what you are doing currently to help your child sleep.  Then implement the changes that you want to try for about a month without really keeping an eye on the clock or numbers of wake ups.  Then look again at how things are going and they will most likely be better.  Maybe a lot better.

Here are some of the techniques that we implemented:

1. Consistent Bedtime and Bedtime Routine.  Up to this point we didn't really have a bedtime routine for Saf.  When he seemed tired in the evening we'd put on his pj's and either I would nurse him to sleep or Chris would 'wear him down' in the Ergo.  Often we had friends over or were out, but we were able to get him to sleep fairly easily regardless.  When we were home Chris would lay him in his bed but he'd inevitably wake up, so I would lay next to him and nurse him fully to sleep.  Usually he'd wake up multiple times before we were ready for bed, but each time I would go and nurse him back to sleep, usually only taking a few minutes.

We decided to aim for a bedtime of 7:30 which meant having the hour before be our bedtime routine.  There would be dim lights and hopefully no rough-housing.  Shower/bath, pajamas, stories and either I would nurse him to sleep or Chris would rock/dance or bounce him to sleep while listening to relaxing bedtime music.  (There has been a big range of music: from the children's songs of Kim Thiessen to Bon Iver and currently the mellow tunes from Josh Garrells).  It initially felt like a sacrifice to do the routine, but we quickly came to appreciate it.  Often Chris would lay with us in the dark as I nursed Saf and we would talk about our day as he fell asleep.  It was nice to have an hour to unwrap ourselves from the day, to let frustrations go and reconnect in the quiet.    

2. Consistent Nap time.  Pantley believes that a good amount of day sleep helps to improve night sleep.  Safran probably went to one sleep in the day by 11 months.  He's one of those kids that just doesn't need heaps of sleep - generally 12-13 hours in 24.  I started doing a very consistent nap time, which would vary within 30 minutes on either side depending on when he woke up for the day.  I would nurse him to sleep and he was usually out within ten minutes.   Now if I'm driving home from a morning activity at that time, he'll fall asleep in the car very easily as well.  It's quite rare that he will fall asleep in the car at any other time of day.  His body seems to know it's nap time.

3. Re-settling during Naps.  For a long time Safran would wake after 45 minutes of sleep during a nap, when his sleep cycle finishes and he is too disrupted to fall back asleep even though he is still very tired.  For a few months (maybe 4 or 5?) I would listen closely for the first sound of his waking during a nap and quickly lay next to him and nurse him back to sleep if I could tell he was waking.  I would do this often a couple of times before his nap was over.  It was a lot of work, but he now usually naps 1 1/2 to 2 hours without waking.  For a sleeper like Saf, that feels like a big accomplishment. 

4. Enough Time between Nap and Bed.  Saf could really use 30 hour days.  He needs a lot of time to burn off his energy, and sometimes it feels there are honestly not enough hours in the day for him to have a decent nap and still be ready for bed.  He needs a good six hours between the end of his nap and bedtime, so we try to do ourselves a favour and pay attention to the clock.  If he wakes up at 2pm we aim for him to be sleeping by 8.  If his nap finishes closer to one then we would start the bedtime routine closer to 6:30.  It might sound obsessive to watch the time that closely, but it really works for us and we generally can avoid Saf being overtired or not tired enough to fall asleep.

5. A Good Sleeping Environment.  Our bedroom was right on the main street of our town.  We live across from a pub that had some colourful characters come out in the wee hours.  Huge trucks would start moving through around 4:30 am, which Saf believed to be his alarm clock for a while.  We decided to move to the middle room, which was our guest room and a bit smaller.  But it was quiet.  We put black out material over the skylight, so it became nice and dark.  We got a white noise soundtrack that Chris edited (finally putting his audio engineering education to good use) to meet our needs which helped to even out the sound in our room.  (Saf would sigh and roll over if my ankle cracked.  Definitely a light sleeper.  Definitely his dad's son.)  We would be conscious of Saf's pajamas being warm enough since he always kicks blankets off.  And socks.  Always socks.

6. The Pantley Pull-Off.  This was probably the key to extending the time between Saf's waking.  Pantley explains that however a baby or toddler falls asleep, that's what they will hope for when they are moving into a new sleep cycle (thus why Saf always would wake after 45 minutes looking to nurse).  So the idea is to nurse the child until their sucking slows but they are not fully asleep, then break the suction with your finger and gently remove your nipple from their mouth.  When I started doing this with Saf he of course would protest and start to wake back up, so I would let him suck for another minute or two and then try again.  And again.  And again.  Probably 8 times it would take before he would just relax and fall asleep without my nipple in his mouth.  But then the next week it only took maybe 4 tries.  And after a month only two tries.  And now I usually just say to him, "Nai nai all done, mama's here, you can roll over" and generally he'll roll himself over and get comfortable enough to fall asleep on his own. 

Things started to get better.

More to come ... 

Thursday, May 3, 2012

three years of this.

Remember the night you asked me the question?  The one that would wreck all your plans and make us both so happy?  You sang to me, passed a note and I said yes, I would love to.  You gave me a ring, our first kiss and a thousand more; I had never been rosier or more smiling.

Remember that night?

What did we think this would be like, three years in?  We said it would be hard but barely believed ourselves.  How could we, together in space after so many months apart, be hard?  We imagined the long walks and conversations face to face, the bedsharing and skintouching, making music and close, of everything infinite and natural and yes.

You didn't realize I would demand everything.  There's something about marriage that whispers to the dark places safety, 'It's alright, you can come out now.'  All my hardness floats to the surface, the scared words come out of hiding, the old photo albums I'd been lugging around in invisible heavy bags.  I would have warned you if I'd known.

You laid next to me in a lot of ugly grief; you prayed prayers I couldn't hear and wouldn't have listened to. You stroked my hair.  I'd pick fights because I wanted your attention and couldn't remember the sign for 'help'.  You kept eating from the tree of life.  You never judge.  You call me out sometimes but receive me still, unchallenged like that falling snow we talk about.

You've stayed close, not just stayed, but really have come in, invited or not:  through hormone explosions and difficult births, a messy kitchen and weekend demands, a cross-country move and international flights, weeks apart and babies in our bed.  You always stay so close.

Three years of this, nothing what we thought it would be, and your eyes are still smiling.  Your string finger calluses have been slowly replaced by some of the toughest, kindest love I've seen in a boy.  You take up your cross daily for me, for the children, and there is little reward here.  Just another early morning, more nappies to hang, dishes to wash, babies to rock.  Sometimes I worry that I've stolen you from something greater, something more creative and influential.  But you really do want to go with me, wherever that is, no matter how slow or how many babies we carry there.  You are my Ruth and I don't deserve any of it.

we will be married.
Thank you for these three years, my lover and friendboy most of all.

Thank you for staying close.