Monday, November 12, 2012

tandem nursing (10 months in)

We had a friend over for a dinner this week, a young man in his early 20's.  We talked about my blog briefly and I asked what he thinks when I write about topics like breastfeeding.  I hesitate sometimes as I have a good amount of single male friends who read my writing and I assume they wouldn't find lactation to be that interesting.  I was surprised by his answer - he really loves learning about the subject, he said otherwise he wouldn't have even known that women actually feed their babies that way.  It's helped to normalize nursing for him (and doesn't western culture need it to be normalized), to read about the benefits and outworking in our life.  I felt inspired to write a short update about how tandem nursing is going these days, 10 months in.  I won't even use the word 'nipple' but if you aren't interested to read on, I won't be offended.  I won't even know.

nursing my daughter, glamour shot
Six months ago I wrote "4 months in:  the good/hard" - a review of my experiences nursing my then 4 and 21 month old babies.  The past six months have flown, for real, right by, so fast.  I can hardly believe baby girl just hit the 10 month mark and baby boy is 27 months.  [How long will I refer to his age in months?  I have no idea.  Maybe until he weans or until he is 12, whichever comes first. ;)  Saying he's TWO is just is so... broad.  Maybe I should go back to using weeks.]

Yes, so ten months in, here is the honest.  Nursing Jubilee is almost completely enjoyable.  She has always been a quick feeder (second child survival skills?) and while she did become distract-able around 4-5 months when there was something to look at, she now is back to nursing in public easily and contentedly.  I don't use a nursing cover with either child.  I almost always am wearing a singlet (tank top) under my shirt, so I pull my top shirt up and the neck of my singlet down so I'm always covered.  I'm very comfortable that way, my babies don't have to fight any blankets on their heads, and my community sees me nursing my children, even Saf when he asks (which is not too often in public unless he is hurt or upset).  We work/live near our international community full of young people (18-25) and I love that I have conversations about nursing often, that people can see the benefits clearly.  The other afternoon I was teaching in a workshop setting and Jubilee was in the back of the class being held by a friend.  She started to do the "You better give me my mom or else" cry so I put her in my faithful Ergobaby carrier on my chest, put up the hood, and suddenly it was quiet.  Everyone laughed, she nursed happily and I continued to teach.

Jubilee (who weighs 9 kgs/almost 20 lbs) nurses at night probably 3-6 times depending on how she is feeling, if she's teething or a bit sick.  I really enjoy sleeping next to her and she usually nurses for a minute or two, unlatches on her own and rolls onto her other side.  She doesn't have the need to suck all night (although she does occasionally) which gives me hope that in time she will night-wean on her own without much help from me.  My husband accuses me of ridiculous optimism.

During the day she nurses every hour or two unless she's with dad and I'm away, then she probably can last 3-4 hours.  She took interest in solid food around 8 months (we'd just put soft table food in front of her, like steamed broccoli or roasted pumpkin, 1/4 of a banana) and now she has started to chew it up and swallow well.  She has continued to gain weight steadily being basically exclusively breastfed until very recently,  and I would have continued that longer had she not been interested in solid food yet.  I think she's getting to the point of eating to satisfy hunger (maybe) and that means she will eventually start taking less milk when she nurses.  She has taken a pacifier (soother/dummy) since 12 weeks to help with persistent evening vomiting (it helped a lot) so she hasn't nursed for comfort nearly as much as Saf but she does more and more these days.  I'm trying to keep her using the pacifier until we return from our 8 week trip to North America, mostly for the flights and car rides or if Chris and I go .... on ... a.... date.  (Shhh, please don't tell the children.  They will be furious.)

Safran is 15 kgs/ 33lbs and people that hear he is still nursing ask sometimes if he eats solid food.  Yes, very much so.  He is a decent eater although he has his moments of being picky or disinterested which I don't worry too much as he is getting lots of nutrition from my milk.  If he doesn't eat any vegetables one day I don't stress about it or force the issue at all.  Safran still asks for 'nai-nai' 8-10 times a day if we are mostly at home.  If we are out he will ask much less often.  I probably let him nurse 4-8 times a day.

It's not always easy having a 33 pound nursling.  Sometimes I'm overwhelmed by his need for me and he is extremely persistent when asking.  If I'm redirecting him, the best alternative is to hear a story about 'when dad was a little boy'.  Sometimes I'll let him nurse for a few minutes and then do the slow count to ten (in English, Spanish, French or Arabic).  If he's very unhappy to be finished I'll relent with 'one more' and he will be content with another minute.  I have moments where I have an aversion to nursing Saf - I think it's related to hormones and also my frustration level.  During those moments/days I really have to limit his nursing and then rely on Chris (or stories about Chris) to do the job.  Sometimes that means letting him cry in my arms, explaining that I need a break.

On the other hand, nothing ends a meltdown like nursing.  If I've set a limit that Saf is very unhappy with he will definitely protest, usually standing at the door crying to go see Dad and at work.  I usually sit on the couch (nearby) and say that I understand he's upset/frustrated/sad and that I'm here if he wants a cuddle.  I don't want to distract him from his emotions but I also don't want him to feel abandoned.  After a few minutes he'll usually come over, still crying, and ask for nai-nai.  I understand that as his way of reconnecting with me and comforting himself in a healthy way.  I really believe that as I meet that need with him for comfort that he will eventually learn to replicate those feelings himself in good ways.  I usually cuddle him first and help him practice taking deep breaths.

Our nights have been getting better.  I wrote a series when he was about 20 months, "On Sleep (and how we try to get some of it)" about our struggle, but commitment, to gently parenting our children in the night.  When Safran hit about 24 months he started to nurse much less in the night on his own.  I had read on a forum that toddlers are often nearly impossible to night-wean from 18-24 months, but will often almost night-wean on their own between 24-26 months as their need to suck naturally decreases.  He's nowhere near night-weaned, but he does wake and nurse less, usually 1-2 times a night.  We do, however, still have rough nights with 6+ wake ups usually when he is sick with a cough or snotty nose.  That's tough, but we survive.  When we return from our holiday he will be 2 1/2 and I would like to give active night-weaning another shot.  Nursing two children in the night isn't ideal, but one great benefit is the suppression of ovulation, which is already 4 months longer than when I was only nursing Safran.

I would have imagined tandem nursing would keep our family extremely healthy through the winter season.  It did not.  My children seemed to catch everything that went around, from colds to croup to stomach bugs.  And the only thing I can think to comfort myself is that, without the immunoglobin laden milk, it would have been worse.  Nursing was definitely a source of comfort and re-hydration during the sicknesses even if it didn't prevent my kids from catching the illnesses. 

nursing my son at our home.  just kidding.  at the public swimming pool.

In the early days of tandem nursing I would nurse the children simultaneously quite often, as emotions were high and life seemed to demand it.  Now they usually nurse separately, but if Jubilee is grumpy and she spots Saf having milk she makes a beeline for us (army crawling at top speed), crying.  It's quite sad and funny and we let her join.  They hold hands, she'll pull his hair and he won't keep his hand on his own side and I wonder if they'll remember any of this sharing of milk, space and intimacy.  The explicit memories may not remain, but I'm pretty sure the joy and comfort they experience together is etching itself deep on their hearts and will hopefully shape their friendship for the rest of life.  That could be my optimism speaking, but I guess we will see.

** I'll write my thoughts on weaning another time (hopefully by then I'll know what I think), but in the middle of processing some of my nursing frustrations with Chris, he told me to read this blog post, Still Dulce de Leche:  On Choosing not to Wean, Again. **


  1. i for one find this very fascinating and beautiful. since breast-feeding was never an option for us, and it looks like no more bio babies, i do feel like i missed out on so much. so it is a pleasure to hear healthy, in-process stories of alternatives to the western way of doing things. keep up the updates! i think it helps us all become a supportive community.

    ps. you are coming to america? what part?????

    1. thanks for the feedback DL. it's important to me that my writing on breastfeeding isn't offensive to moms who weren't able to, for whatever reason. without nursing as a resource i'm sure your mom-muscles are ripped in different places. nursing is definitely the easy way when it comes to parenting toddlers.

      yes, we will be in Vancouver, BC and central Pennsylvania. So excited. Kristina is coming to visit us in Vancouver while we are there - have you connected with her yet?

  2. Aww, this is so sweet! Thanks for sharing! I've always thought I would never tandem, but really, who knows. (I still only have one, but she's 15 months old and nurses like a newborn. So . . . ).

    Yes, breastfeeding needs to be normalized! Thanks for what you're doing!

    1. thanks for stopping over Kathleen! i think each family needs to decide what's best for them in terms of tandem nursing - for us having two close together and the older one being quite high needs, we needed to tandem nurse to survive. and i'm glad we are doing it. i have a good friend who was hoping to tandem nurse but her son weaned during the pregnancy (he was about 22 months) because he thought her colostrum was 'yucky'. we'll see if he starts nursing again now that baby is here!