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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