Monday, July 25, 2011

How Tandem Nursing Saves My Sanity!

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I remember the first time I saw a picture of a tandem nursing pair... I was pregnant with Gigi and I had gotten a free copy of Mothering magazine from my midwife. (That magazine changed my life in so many ways!) In the letters to the editor section, there was a picture of a mother nursing her 3 year old and her 3 week old, and I remember thinking "Wow! That's kind of crazy!! There's no way I could ever do that!!!" 

Even though I knew I wanted to let my little one wean on her own, it somehow never occurred to me someone might nurse both a toddler and a newborn. I guess I figured my little Gigi would wean herself before I even tried to get pregnant again. I really didn't think she'd nurse past two years. 

Of course, after she was born, it quickly became apparent how much she loved nursing and that it wouldn't be something she'd give up easily or early. That child nursed to sleep, nursed to wake up, nursed for comfort, nursed because she was bored, and nursed for any other reason you could think of!

When I found out I was pregnant with Emi Lou, Gigi was 22 months old. She was still nursing a minimum of four times a day (and often much more than that) and all thru the night. There was no way I could consider weaning her. I knew how much it meant to her and didn't want to force her to give up nursing before she was ready, so I started researching tandem nursing.

I was surprised to learn that many moms who intend to tandem nurse don't make it thru the pregnancy without the older child weaning for one reason or another.  Children often wean themselves when the mother becomes pregnant, due to changes in the taste and quantity of the breastmilk, and mothers often find they must wean because nursing becomes too painful when they're pregnant. 

Fortunately for us, Gigi didn't seem bothered by changes in the taste of the milk and she was happy to dry nurse when there was hardly anything there. And fortunately for me, I didn't experience too much discomfort nursing while pregnant.

I read Adventures in Tandem Nursing, and found it to be a very valuable resource. It taught me that it's ok to set limits with nurslings, which I hadn't done before then. Gigi is a "twiddler", and that's one thing that had to stop when I was pregnant because it was the one thing that seemed to hurt. There were also times during the second trimester, when I didn't have much milk, that I had to implement the "Count to 10" rule because I could only handle dry nursing for so long!

I have to say, I'm so thankful that Gigi was old enough to understand me when I explained the changes we had to make to continue nursing. And now, during those times when Emi Lou needs my undivided attention while nursing, I'm glad that Gigi is understanding and waits for her sister to finish. It's also helpful that she's old enough and mobile enough to figure out all sorts of creative positions that allow her to nurse at the same time as Emi Lou!

I can't imagine life as a new mom-to-two without tandem nursing. Many of my friends have told me the hardest thing about having a second baby is trying to keep a reign on the older sibbling while they're feeding the newborn.  Big brother/sister is either fighting for your attention or off getting into mischeif! That's never a problem for us because the minute I sit down to nurse Emi Lou, Gigi is right there to join in the fun! It's so nice and relaxing to be able to lay in bed, with a little one in each arm, and enjoy the feel-good hormones released as we nurse.

And having a toddler who's willing to nurse on demand is extremely helpful when you suffer with oversupply and plugged ducts! In the early weeks, I always had to have Gigi nurse a little bit before I nursed Emi Lou because my let-down reflex was so strong that Emi Lou was constantly choking and gagging.  And even now, I get a plugged duct at least once a week, but thanks to having two nurslings (and one with a really well-developed, intense suck) I'm usually able to work out the plug in less than a day.

I think one of the sweetest benefits of tandem nursing is the bonding it can promote between sibblings. I definitely think it's helped Gigi to bond with her sister. She likes to help her sister get latched on and to hold her hand or hug her while they nurse. It just melts my heart watching them! I feel like they'll always have a very special bond as a result of tandem nursing.

I know tandem nursing isn't for everyone, but I encourage any nursing mother who's pregnant (or thinking about it), to at least consider tandem nursing. It has saved my sanity in so many ways... from sparing me the stress of weaning my toddler before she was ready, to allowing me to pacify her when she has a typical two-year-old meltdown, to giving me time to just put my feet up and relax when I need to! 

I'm not gonna lie... there are times when it's a little draining to be nursing two, but I doubt there's a mom of two out there (or a mom of one, for that matter!) who doesn't feel drained from time to time for one reason or another!  There are so many benefits of tandem nursing, for mama and the nurslings, and it can be such a special experience. It's an experience I hope to enjoy for at least another year... or two... (most children wean before they're five, right?!)

Here are more post by the Breastfeeding Cafe Carnival participants! Check back because more will be added throughout the day.


Christina said...

Thank you for sharing your story and those pictures are gorgeous!

Natasha C. said...

Xela--We totally had the same tandem experience! and I couldn't agree more about the bonding, the help with any BF issues (plugged ducts) and being a BIG sanity saver!! And you and your girls are gorgeous!!

The Happy Hippie Homemaker said...

Thank you Natasha, you are so sweet! And gorgeous too!! I just discovered your blog a week or two ago when Sleepy Wrap shared your "Babywearing Myths and Misconceptions" on Facebook. I loved that post and just had to share it with all my FB friends :) I was so excited to see that you just posted part 2! I couldn't survive without baby/toddler wearing and I try to promote it whenever possible, so thanks for debunking those myths!!

Timbra said...

I'm with you, I just never fathomed that my first would still be nursing when my next came along (no matter how far or near they may be, since I only thought I'd be nursing til like six months :) What a crazy crazy journey, and even crazier that we're LOVING it and embracing it! It took me about as long as you to realize that I could EMBRACE the kind of mothering I wanted to give my kiddos. . . I think I became MORE bold about nursing in public, nursing a toddler, bed sharing, etc AFTER the 2 year mark, b/c I was finally comfortable with my own decision!


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