Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Path of Least Resistance (or, 16 months of Tandem Nursing)

One of the most frequent searches that draws people to my blog is related to tandem nursing.  Sometimes it's "what is it like to tandem nurse" or "fed up with tandem nursing" or "tandem nursing older children".  For those of you interested in our family's journey with two nurselings (and I know that's not everyone who reads my blog and that's okay) I thought I'd share where we are at these days.  I wrote about how things were going at 4 months and then at 10 months and somehow six more months of life has happened and here we are again.  16 months of tandem nursing.  (Almost 17 now as I started this post awhile ago ... )

I wrote in a post on my word for the year, "capacity", that I'm planning to wean my older child (currently 34 months, aka 2 3/4) by the end of the year.  Hopefully.  When Saf was first born my plan was to nurse him until at least 18 months but maybe to 2, since that's what the World Health Organization recommends at minimum.  But the thought of nursing a running, shouting toddler freaked me out quite a bit.  I could handle a new baby I thought, but a boy speaking complete sentences?  That seemed pretty weird.  But as many parents who have gone before can testify, just as that baby grew and developed so did our nursing relationship.  It's been lots of things:  easy, bonding, annoying, tiresome, aggravating, special, healing, reconciling - but it's never been weird.

We finally  night-weaned Saf for real, for real and I am very pleased to share that for the past two months he has slept really, really well.  He is still parented to sleep each night by his dad who lays next to him in bed and tells him a story that becomes a story-song, which becomes a song and then some kind of hypnotizing hum (I'm guessing).  That routine takes anywhere from 5-30 minutes depending on how tired he is but my husband is sooo happy to no longer be bouncing/rocking/dancing our 35 pound son to sleep.  He will probably complain of his bad back everyday for the rest of his life anyway.  Sometimes I didn't think it was possible, but we now have a great sleeper who still shares a bed with us, but with rarely a wake up.  If you're a parent approaching sleep gently, be encouraged.  It may not be the quickest or most efficient road but you can get there.  It took us a long time, but a few good nights of sleep can erase years of rough ones pretty quickly.  [A slight update: we've been back from two months abroad for about a week and he has been somewhat wakeful but we are hoping it's an adjustment period.  Very, very hoping.  Please, God.  Amen.]

We've been in four countries in the past four months and just returned from SE Asia.  Transition is hard on toddlers generally and we have a sensitive one.  He's also a bit wild, so that is a noisy combination if not handled with care.  Like, you will feel ringing in at least one ear.  Nursing him when he asks nicely has been a very easy way to help him feel secure with all of the transition we've had recently.  I do set limits though and I've found that if he is very upset and demanding "nai-nai" then it's extremely aggravating for me to nurse him.  I have to wait until he can calm down and take a few deep breaths, or sometimes I'll just find another way to help him settle (holding him in my arms while walking around and singing usually works).  I also usually keep our nursing sessions fairly short, probably less than two minutes usually.  I almost always end the session before he wants to be done.  I would have thought by this age he would become bored and finish on his own, but no.  Almost never.  So he typically still nurses 4-6 times a day but it's for very short amounts of time and it's usually all that he needs to re-set himself and get on with life feeling safer.  I asked him once what my milk tastes like and he said, "It tastes like honey.  And peanut butter.  And vegemite!".  What a great combination.  No wonder he doesn't want to stop.

My younger nurseling, Jubee, is almost 17 months.  She probably gets half of her calories from table food and half from breast milk these days, although she is known to still go back to only milk for the day if no food inspires her palate.  She's a healthy size, about 24 pounds, a little bulldozer who can tackle boys and snatch toys with the best of them.  She still nurses 3-6 times a night, more if she is teething, but her night-waking has always been only momentary (nothing like my son who would wake for hours until we eliminated dairy from his diet).  She probably nurses at least 12 times a day.  That only seems like a lot to me some of the time.  Sometimes people, not knowing that I still nurse Saf, will ask me when I'm going wean her.  It has hardly even crossed my mind. 

When people see how close my kids are in age (17 months apart) they often ask if Saf is jealous of Jubee.  It's actually the opposite - Jubee is quite jealous of Saf, especially when he is having milk.  She often will start crying when she sees him nursing, or if she hears him asking me she'll run and jump in my lap and start asking for nai-nai too.  I rarely nurse them simultaneously anymore (although when I do they almost can't drink because they are smiling at each other so much).  I always count to ten with Saf when I'm ending the nursing session and recently Jubee started to come over if he is nursing and say "2 .... 2 .... 2....".   When I do start to count him down she will immediately stop crying and do the most triumphant smile.  Hilarious.  She's almost always the priority when it comes to milk and they both seem okay with that.

I have a week every month where I feel very sensitive and touched out and aggravated when nursing my older child.  I'm pretty sure it's hormonal and I have to trust it will pass (and it does) but it's a tough few days to get through.  It's pretty much severe PMS.  A friend just told me to try magnesium supplements and my husband was already googling to find out the maximum dose I can take as if he has some kind of vested interest in it. 

My good friend had to instantly wean her 13 month old daughter when she was admitted to the hospital recently.  Her story brought me to tears and made me so grateful for the opportunity I have to nurse my children with such ease.  As hard as it is sometimes I want to treasure this as long as I can knowing that there are many moms who have planned and dreamed to nurse and not been able to, or have had to stop nursing suddenly. 

It's still the good/hard that it was when I started but the good is heavier than my children are, at least most of the time.

If you're a tandem nursing mom, what has your experience been like?  If you're a nursing mom have you struggled with extreme mood swings and found anything that has helped?


  1. Oh I loved this post. Thanks so much for sharing your experience, Becca. I only have one nursling, but I found this post encouraging and inspiring. It helps me to not feel weird about nursing my 21-month-old as much as I do (at least 5 times a day and 1-3 times at night). I hardly know anyone who even nursed beyond 6 months, so it's comforting to remember there are lots of others out there. I'm feeling pressure lately from my family to wean, and it just doesn't feel right. I love what we have; why force a change?

    These last few months, I've TOTALLY experienced what you describe -- where, for a few days a month, I just don't want to be touched so much. I just want to be ALONE. Please, everybody; HANDS OFF. Mama needs some alone time. I don't, by any stretch, want my daughter to quit nursing; I just wish she didn't want it SO MUCH during that time. And then I get over it and we're fine again. :)

    Again, THANKS for sharing your story. I just find it so comforting. Especially this: "If you're a parent approaching sleep gently, be encouraged. It may not be the quickest or most efficient road but you can get there." Hooray! Oh, I'm so glad to hear from someone further along this road. Thank you! You're an inspiration.

    1. thanks for your comment kathleen ;)I've had a few people mention that 'get off of me' feelings around the same time every month so it must be a thing! i've also found that having a trusted friend who has nursed her kids until 3 1/2 and 4 has given me a place to go for advice, questions, etc and our local breastfeeding association has been a great place to connect with other full-term breastfeeding moms. love your blog and look forward to hearing more about your own parenting journey! -b

  2. For the most part, I have very much enjoyed our tandeming journey. The only thing I have struggled with are night times. My babies (12 months apart) seem to tag team me, so if I'm not feeding one, I'm feeding the other. It is exhausting, but so, so worth it. The bond that these two have is just beautiful. I adore watching them smile and giggle at one another across my chest.

  3. we had a long stretch of very bad nights and the 'rotisserie nursing' was a killer. but once you do get a good night's sleep you forget all the bad nights pretty quickly! (so great to meet you today!)