Thursday, August 4, 2011

My experience tandem breastfeeding a newborn & preschooler

tandem nursing baby newborn alrik and m4yo mikko breastfeeding


I've been alternately eager and hesitant to write about my tandem nursing experiences so far. On the one hand, I want to share and vent. On the other, I'd hate to come across as the Discouraging Voice who tells everyone they'll be in agony when breastfeeding through pregnancy, will have terrible postpartum sex, and now will hate tandem nursing.

Because: Look, this is just one person's experience, at one time, a snapshot of a single period. For instance? Sex postpartum after this second birth has been going much, much better for me. Much. So don't let me keep you from trying out your own experiences and letting us know how it goes.

With that caveat: I hate tandem breastfeeding right now.

I used to read blog posts from others who were tandem nursing a baby and an older nursling (or more than one older nursling) and think it was odd that I detected a thread of dissatisfaction weaving through many of them. These mamas would talk about needing to set limits on their older nursling's sessions, correct latches, and night wean.

They (as well as those breastfeeding multiple newborns) would frequently say that they didn't much like literally nursing two at once — as in, one on one breast and one simultaneously on the other. For some reason, this surprised me most. Tandeming at the same time seemed so maternal, so very all-encompassing, as well as convenient (get it over with at once!).

And then I tried it. And I heartily dislike nursing both of my boys at once.

Because? It leaves you no hands free. It leaves you with nothing at all to do but sit and feel squished and stifled and like you're nursing an octopus. A heavy, squirmy octopus.

And it turns out it's very hard to get a newborn to latch properly when his much bigger brother is crowding him out at the plate. It's hard to find a place to put those long preschooler legs, and then curl the baby on top of them (and not the other way around!). I'm constantly having to break off Mikko's latch so I can wrest a hand free to guide Alrik's as the baby looks up in newborn confusion at the tangle of limbs and Mikko continues on in tenacious ignorance.

And despite my feelings toward tandeming-at-once, Mikko's are the precise opposite. He wants to do it that way exclusively. And he wants to nurse all.the.time.

Which is where those other elements come in: the limiting, the night weaning, the latch corrections. Oy.

As it turns out, I'm not experiencing a beatific glow in my new position as Fountain of Milk to All the Young. I am experiencing frustration, and a short temper, and a general feeling of being touched-out-already-oh-my-gosh-please-get-off-me!

Fortunately, Mikko's sleep has not been a problem now that the milk is back, baby, despite my references to night weaning, so I'll skip that one here. But if you do have a problem with the all-night cafe being entirely too open, see Dionna's excellent guest post on the subject.

But I am having to figure out ways, again, to limit nursing during the day from my eager preschooler — without making Alrik the bad guy in all of this. Whereas limiting Mikko's nursing sessions during pregnancy came more easily than I'd feared, now that the milk is here, Mikko can't figure out why on earth I'd want to hoard it. He'll ask point blank if my nummies are sore, to try to explain to himself why I'd want him to give it a rest, but they're not anymore — not to the extent they were when I was pregnant at any rate.

They still do get a little sore when he nurses, though — because his latch isn't fantastic anymore. Fortunately, with a four-year-old, I was able to talk him through it a bit and do some corrections. "Big mouth!" "No teeth!" (Yes, I saw teeth marks on my breast. Agh.) It's helped, but…

I think the term "nursing aversion" applies here. I've heard other people use it, and lately discuss it openly, so I'm going to do the same. Very, very fortunately, I do not feel this when I nurse Alrik, since he needs to eat, often. I suspect this aversion is an evolutionary trait, to encourage a mother to wean the older and protect the younger. (That might be just speculation, but it makes me feel better.) When Mikko latches on, I have to distract myself. It gives me the heebie-jeebies, as Dionna put it. It makes my genitals clench, as Arwyn discussed, and that repulses me. I just — don't like it.

But Mikko is still, as I look at his pudgy face, a little guy. He doesn't know what's going on in my head and my psychology and with my hormones. He just knows he had free rein with the mama milk until this usurper came along and I became all short and cranky with him. So I try to put myself in his shoes. I try to honor his requests (his need) to continue nursing. I think about the benefits: better nutrition for a picky eater (I swear his cheeks have gotten bigger since we started nursing again!), faster weight loss for me (hasn't happened, at all, but a girl can hope), a smoothing of the sibling transition (Mikko does love him some Alrik). It's exhausting me, mostly emotionally, but I'm trying to work through it and see if I can't take care of my own baggage instead of giving him more of his own.

One problem is that it's never enough. As soon as I nurse Mikko, he's asking when the next time will be. He has to have both sides at every feeding. If I tell him I'm saving one of the sides for Alrik (who, for example, seems to be stirring out of sleep or is starting to fuss), he'll ask why and complain. Answering him logically doesn't solve anything. I've long ago recognized that arguing logic with a preschooler is a losing battle. While he mostly understands that Alrik needs first crack at the nummies (because he's currently screaming, or because he can't eat anything else, or because I'm in the middle of dinner, or because I'm not wanting to nurse them both in public, or because I'm trying to get both of us to sleep), he fails to understand why that means he can't have nummies all the rest of the time when Alrik isn't. As soon as he nurses, he's asking "how many minutes" till the next time. I have to admit my responses are typically somewhat short of patient…

I'm trying to remind myself: It's been only a couple months. It's a big change for all of us, particularly a four-year-old. Well, heck, I'm not going to exclude myself from that "particularly." It's been hard to transition from one nursling to two.

So I'm trying to work through my own feelings, honor my own needs as I honor theirs, and think about what I want from this nursing relationship with both boys going forward.

Stay tuned for an article that's the culmination of that: a list of tips for fellow or future tandem nursers.

Have you nursed through pregnancy or gone through tandem breastfeeding? Have you experienced any of the above?



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You can, too — link up your breastfeeding posts from August 1-7 in the linky below, and enjoy reading, commenting on, and sharing the posts collected here and on Natural Parents Network.

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17 comments:

Isil said...

Lauren,I have been tandem nursing for 19 months now, it will get better. I know it's so difficult in the beginning when you are trying to be 4, your son adjusting to baby and sharing mom, you being tired. My daughter was a very avid nurser (still is at 4 y 7 months) and when baby was born she was anxious no milk would be left for her.She used to say, don't give him this breast, givem this one which annoyed me. Then a wise mum told me to be playful about it. And I did, when she said I'll drink all the milk, I repeated it jokingly and exaggerating, we used to laugh and she relaxed. I don't feed them at once unless I really need to, as you say I feel touched out. My daughter now only feeds in the mornings and a quick feed after school and before bed. That morning session is quite long though (not easy when you have fed the baby all night),I distract myself by reading. Hope this helps xxx

I'm a full-time mummy said...

Oh wow, thanks for sharing this post. My BM stopped when I was in my 5th month of pregnancy but that doesn't make any difference to my toddler (he's 29 mths now!) as he still continues dry nursing me, especially prior to his daytime nap and bedtime.

I really hope I could make tandem nursing works.. I'm due in 1 mths time.

~ Jenny ( http://www.imafulltimemummy.com/ )

SarahK said...

Great information- thanks! I'm pregnant with my second and my 14 month old is down to one or two sessions a day but it's getting more difficult. I like being able to nurse and want to continue as long as it works for us. That's how we've handled everything- when things are logistically really hard or we're losing sleep, getting aggravated at each other, etc, I try to figure out how we can feng shui it- to make it more natural. And if not- move on!

I look forward to coming back to this post when the babe is born.

Cheers to you!

Swimming-duck said...

I read more than I comment, but I feel in some ways that we're living parallel lives right now. Our newest little one is 3 1/2 weeks old and our big guy is just 4 (he turned 4 the day our baby was born - what are the odds?). Anyways, I've been feeling exactly the same way. Seriously - every feeling you wrote about. I'm touched out. I've even yelled at my older one to "Get off!" when I can't take it anymore. :( Luckily, he doesn't insist on nursing everytime our baby does, but I've also turned him down quite a few times, so maybe that has something to do with it. I often tell him "We have to save it for baby," which isn't always the case, but it helps. But in the evening I let him have it because that's our cuddle/comfort time. But seriously, this is hard. I was envisioning it being this sweet wonderful thing that siblings share and thought I'd feel all lovey dovey about it, but now I just want my older DS to stop. :( And now I feel like a terrible person for even having typed that. Ah - mommy guilt!

Dionna @ Code Name: Mama said...

Oy - you are the second mama I've heard from in the past week who told me that the heebie jeebies do not go away after the baby is born - I was *really* hoping for that. Seriously, I just nursed Kieran down for his nap, and I sat there clenching a teddy bear the whole.time. It's just so aggravating. I'm about 90% sure he's lost his latch - or, maybe, the ability to effectively use his tongue muscle - because sometimes it feels like he's just licking my nipple. OMG it makes me want to SCREAM!
At any rate - the other mama who said that the nursing aversion lasted, also said that she managed to tandem nurse for a year and that she did find ways to deal with it. So I'm hoping that you (and me?) feel better soon.
Thank you for the honest post!

Sara said...

Oh thank goodness! Sometimes I think you and Dionna are so amazing that I can never possibly live up to either of you, it's nice to hear that you are also human. I haven't blogged about weaning my twins at 22 months because... I was ashamed. I should have stuck it out until they were at least 2 right? What kind of lactivist am I anyway? A human one, apparently. I've been there (albeit with two the same age, not a newborn). It was out of control. Maybe I'll write about it soon. I needed some distance from the emotions before I could do it. But I think you've given me the courage to talk about it. Thank you for your honesty! :)

Laura @ our messy messy life. said...

My nursling turns 1 this Sunday and we are seriously talking about #2. My goal has been to let her self-wean, hopefully not until after she is 2. But, the more and more I read about tandem nursing, it seems like the mama gets the short end of the stick and I've yet to read anything about a mama who just loves tandem nursing. I am a firm believer in the two-way relationship of breastfeeding....and while I'm not pregnant yet and I'm not trying to see into my breastfeeding future, I'm very curious to see how it all plays out in my own life.

Thank you for sharing this and I'm looking forward to the accompanying post :)

Mary Michael said...

Lauren-
Like Dionna, I was hoping that the touched out feeling would go away, too. If you flip through a book like Adventure in Tandem Nursing, all the mamas look so serene and happy. I really appreciate your honest reflections!

Momma Jorje said...

Wow. I'm so sorry its been rough going for you. That is one adorable photo, though, I hope it doesn't make you think anything buy happy thoughts when YOU see it.

And teeth marks... I get those, often. Should I be worried? Sasha uses her tongue to nurse, of course, but she rests her top teeth against my breast.

I'm going to keep hoping for the best. My nipples get tender pretty quickly nursing at this point (I'm in the 5th month), but I'm managing alright so far.

I look forward to your post tomorrow!

Just Like June said...

Thank you so much for your honesty Lauren, as always. I'm newly pregnant and still nursing my 18 month old. I've always been an advocate of child-led weaning. That is until I got pregnant. The nursing aversion that I'm experiencing goes beyond heebie-jeebies. It's down right unfiltered anger. Nursing is NOT an enjoyable thing anymore. I'd become so angry and hostile about it that my son was picking up on that and our relationship was suffering. I've started don't offer, don't refuse even though it's something I said I've never do. Our relationship has really blossomed over the past week. My anger has gone down and his desire to nurse has gone down too. I think I was actually starting to avoid him so I could avoid nursing. Not healthy. I'm hoping that he'll wean before the baby is born because I don't want to tandem. Yeah, I said it. I have nursing aversion so badly with one and the anger I feel isnt healthy. I think it would be horrid with two and as much as I was all about tandeming in theory, theory never really matches reality for me.

Michelle said...

Lauren, it does get better as time goes on. You will find what works for you. My older one was only 2 when my second was born, and I did not get the nursing aversion until he was older. He is 4 now and I limit him to 2 nursing per day, and they are usually about 10 seconds long. I would like to completely wean him soon because I don't particularly like nursing him anymore. In the beginning, he was only 2 and I didn't feel the need to limit him, but as he got older, I did.

Hyacynth said...

Lauren, I can totally identify with being touched out and just needing space. I wish you the best as you continue in your tandem nursing journey. Thanks for sharing this. My second is a serial nurser, and we're thinking about having a third soon ... I don't know that E will willingly give us nursing even if my milk does run dry again during another pregnancy, so I've been trying to read more about what tandem nursing has been like.

Molly A. said...

Thank you so much for writing so candidly about this (and your pregnancy nursing and your post-partum sex). You and Dionna are such role models (to myself and I bet lots of other women), that it really helps to hear you speaking so openly and honestly about this kind of challenge.

I, too, got the horrible heebi-jeebies when I was still nursing my 3 and a half year old during this pregnancy. It was so bad that it was all I could do to keep from running screaming from the room. She ended up stopping on her own, but I wonder how much of that was due to her reading my tension and responding to my snappiness. I'm at the point where I can't stand to be touched there even by my husband!

I really hope these feelings go away when the new baby is born.

Anonymous said...

The idea that discomfort with tandem nursong is evolutionary makes a lot of sense- during most of history very few women had the calories to spare to support two babies, especially if one was a good bit older than the other. The newborn needs what little there would have been more so you get nursing heebie-jeebies/resentment as a discouragement. I guess the only thing you can do is recognise that its not your fault and work on ways to improve things for both of you.

Cassie said...

This is SO me.
I love the tandem nursing because it has made an incredible bond between my two year old son and my new baby daughter. It makes up for all the discomfort.
But, then, like you, I have those moments where I just want to scream. I don't really like nursing them both at once because I get that hibee gebee thing like you. I usually only do it when my husband is at work and I have to distract myself from the craziness on my breasts. lol. My husband is so supportive, he says just wait 6 months and it will be so different, that maybe my older will get over the newness of the baby and go back to not nursing AS much. And by then baby will be nursing less. I hope he's right... I think he is.
Thanks for sharing this. It helps knowing someone else is in the same boat!

Sara said...

I just wanted to stop back and tell you that I did indeed get up the courage to write about my weaning experience after reading this post. Would love if you wanted to come by and check it out sometime. Take care!
http://familyorganic.blogspot.com/2011/08/weaning-twins.html

julie said...

I DO remember that my two-year-old always wanted to nurse when the baby nursed. My favorite memory is the time that I was sitting on the couch, minding my own business nursing baby Sydney, when Willow walked by, also intent on her own business. She spotted me, stopped in her tracks, said, "Sydney nursin'? WILLOW nursin'!!!", and over she came to nurse!

Take lots of photos of nursing your two babes--you'll treasure them later!

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