Ten things that happen when you’re tandem breastfeeding

Despite the universal-sounding title, this is just how it’s gone and is going for me, breastfeeding older and younger siblings at the same time. The first thing you learn when you start asking other tandem breastfeeding mothers about their experiences is that nothing is exactly the same for everyone. No one can predict how they’re going to feel or what they’re going to need to do. We can share ideas and offer solidarity but there’s no roadmap, no rulebook.

I tandem breastfed for sixteen months the first time around, until my eldest, Talitha, was four years old. Who knows how long we’ll get to this time but I’m now breastfeeding both three year old Ophelia and her nine month old baby sister, Delilah.

I know how crazy this sounds because, believe me, I never expected any of this. Until I met mothers who were tandem breastfeeding, I didn’t know it was possible. It’s not something I held up as an ideal or hoped to do, even when I fell pregnant the third time around. It just kind of happened. Each time, I had a toddler who still needed to be breastfed while also finding myself pregnant, which brings me to the first thing that happens when you’re tandem breastfeeding.

You discover it starts before the baby is even here.

The sore nipples. The disappearing milk. The sickness. The breastfeeding aversion. Already you are sharing yourself between the child at your breast and the one growing inside you. It happens sooner than you expect. Already they are in tandem.

It looks like it will happen. Like it won’t happen. Maybe it will happen.
I wrote a whole post about how I thought Talitha was weaning. I went through the range of emotions over this. She didn’t. And you know, I did it all again when it was Ophelia’s turn too. Except I really, really thought she’d wean in pregnancy. And I felt irrationally guilty because it felt too soon. But then she didn’t either!

You start to wrap your head around the possibility.

At some point, after wondering, “would we, wouldn’t we?”, it was evident that yes, this really was happening. I most likely was going to be breastfeeding my older and younger kids simultaneously. I borrowed and scoured the book Adventures in Tandem Nursing from Bristol La Leche League.

You have all. the. questions.
Is my nursing aversion normal? (Yup!) Will it go away when the new baby comes? (Certainly for the baby) Will I make enough milk? (All being straightforward, more demand = more production) Do I have to worry about the baby getting enough colostrum? (Nope! As long no issues on the baby’s side) Who feeds first? (Probably the baby but it doesn’t have to be a rule) What if one of them has a cold? (It’s good your milk’s going to get fighting it – they’re probably sharing the germs anyway) WHAT IS IT GOING TO BE LIKE? (Sorry, no one can help you there!)

You fumble with positions.
You see all these photos online of mothers peacefully breastfeeding their two together. I persevered a bit more with it with Talitha and Ophelia but it’s never really worked for me. I find the experience of breastfeeding two at literally the same time utterly overwhelming from a sensory point of view. It makes me want to throw things.

I saw a photo the other day of someone tandem breastfeeding on her side with her baby lying on top of her toddler. It looked so lovely. I might try that out of curiosity and because it would give all three of my kids the giggles but, realistically, we have a one at a time deal going here.

In the earliest days, I could never latch the baby well enough with the older one in the way or coach the older one on where to go without the baby slipping off so it was a no-go from that perspective too. I know breastfeeding together absolutely works for some but I’m not alone in finding it really tricky.

You hit a sweet spot.
The older one holds your breast to “feed the baby”. They hold hands while breastfeeding together. You reconnect after a difficult toddler day with a simple breastfeed. You find a way to get them both to sleep.

You hit a hard place.
Your older child finds it hard to share. Your nursing aversion, though not an issue with the baby, hasn’t gone away with your older nursling. You navigate impatience, theirs and yours.

I’ve had to insist that we reserve breastfeeding the older child to when I have another adult around, in case I need someone to hold the baby. This isn’t how it works for everyone but it’s something I find takes the pressure off the situation.

Sometimes it’s hilarious.

Breastfeeding has acquired a new dialogue these days. My older two sometimes give me a replay by laughingly pretending to breastfeed each other.
“OK, we’re going to need to stop now.”
“But I want MUH!”
“It has to be nice for both of us.”
They obviously find it amusing, which makes me feel better about needing to call the feed to an end most of the time.

Your younger baby gets possessive.

Delilah isn’t there yet but I remember Ophelia hit a stage where she was absolutely unwilling to share me with Talitha. She would try to pull Talitha off me if I was breastfeeding her and needed to be distracted.

People ask when you’re going to wean your younger baby

You smile to yourself. Little do they know…

All of a sudden it’s over.
In a sense, Talitha’s weaning was a long time coming. Well, obviously, it was as she was four years old but I mean she was gradually breastfeeding less and less frequently. And then that was it. I wasn’t prepared. I hadn’t known the last time was the last time. That was that.

I also didn’t know I’d one day do it again.

More blog posts on this topic:
Tandem breastfeeding – the early months
Things I’ve learned while breastfeeding through pregnancy
How weaning happened – the end of our breastfeeding journey

Information on tandem breastfeeding:
Pregnant and breastfeeding? – an La Leche League Great Britain resource on breastfeeding while pregnant and tandem breastfeeding.

Things I’ve learned while breastfeeding through pregnancy

I’m 24 weeks pregnant and this is my second time breastfeeding while pregnant. Believe me when I say this is not something I imagined doing once, let alone twice.

Struggling for months to establish breastfeeding with Talitha (y’know, tongue tie, low milk production, the most stressful experience of my life), the idea of making it to a year seemed a vague “maybe”. So I couldn’t have expected that not only would age two find us still breastfeeding but that I’d fall pregnant around then and wind up breastfeeding her for two more years.

As I said before, baby number three wasn’t totally expected but we’d been talking a lot about having another. Somehow, in all that chat, I never considered about the possibility that I could be breastfeeding Ophelia while pregnant.

Even now that she’s two and we’re well beyond halfway through the pregnancy, I couldn’t place bets on whether or not I’ll go on to tandem breastfeed again when the new baby is born. The only certainty is that I’ve learned and am learning a lot through these less-discussed experiences. Here’s a little of what I’ve been reflecting on.

Every baby is different
This is obvious, isn’t it? Well, it should certainly be by now. From newborn days, Ophelia made it clear that she was not a carbon copy of her big sister. She breastfed differently, slept differently, learned to move differently, wanted different things and expressed those desires and needs in different ways.

Yet, my first child kind of laid my expectations for what would happen and when. I fell pregnant with Ophelia and night weaning was a relatively easy process. Laurence took over going to her in the night (at two, she’d just moved into her own bedroom) and she was upset about it at first but he stayed with her and within a couple of nights she accepted that this was the new arrangement. Soon after, she began to sleep through.

I have to say that this experience made me wonder when mothers said that their kids wouldn’t accept comfort from their partners whether it wasn’t simply a case of them needing to persist more. That’s because I hadn’t yet met Ophelia.

From the start, she has only wanted to know me. It took a long time for her to even let anyone else hold her and if she settled when I left the room, she would cry for me as soon as I re-entered it.

Unsurprisingly, when I fell pregnant again and discomfort kicked in, night weaning her was not an uncomplicated process. Rather, it took about three. bloody. months. Three months filled with a lot of waking for all of us and no sign of her willingly moving into her own bed either.

After repeatedly offering alternatives, reassuring and explaining the situation, she finally began to accept a quick cuddle to sleep when she woke. Gradually, she accepted this from Laurence instead of me. Now she’s starting to spend the odd night in her own bed but we really don’t mind having her in ours. She still wakes most nights but we’ve settled into a pattern that works for our family.

breastfeeding while pregnant-6

Every mother is different
Again, I should know this by now but the huge range of ways women experience breastfeeding in pregnancy still manages to surprise me. For me, pregnancy has quickly brought on nursing aversion and physical discomfort and it’s triggered my nausea in the first trimester both times. Other mums find it hurts but I’ve not had that as long as I’ve latched my toddler on carefully.

I have found that I absolutely cannot tolerate breastfeeding at night when pregnant, primarily because of nausea, and night weaning has been imperative for me. Other mothers manage not to night wean and even go on to breastfeed their toddler and baby at night.

Many highly motivated mothers find that they need to wean altogether. Others find the baby weans on their own, perhaps when supply dips or colostrum comes in. Yet others find that their milk never depletes at all.

I’m sure the older baby’s age can affect our experiences and choices in different ways but something breastfeeding while pregnant has taught me is that we can’t always predict what we’re going to do or how we’re going to feel.

Everything can’t be even
I think I’m a relatively easygoing person, happy to go with the flow on a lot of things. However, it’s upset my sense of order when I’ve realised that I can’t give my children the same things.

I fell pregnant with this baby when Ophelia was 20-months-old, my milk seemed to decrease more rapidly this time and I found myself offering her fewer opportunities to breastfeed during the day than I had with Talitha.

She’s always asked less than her sister did and so it’s unsurprising that we’ve breastfed less and less as the weeks have rolled by. Now most days she has just a feed before bedtime and maybe one at wakeup if I’m trying to convince her not to drag me out of bed just yet. Sometimes I have to initiate the end of the feed but most of the time now, she loses interest in moments, asks for a glass of water and a cuddle and just goes to sleep. So it’s not hard to imagine that she could possibly wean before the new baby comes.

The thought of her weaning so much earlier than her sister did makes me feel uneasy on one hand and relieved the next because if I’m completely honest with myself, I’m not certain that I want to tandem breastfeed again. There were a lot of pros. I really feel that it eased Talitha’s transition out of her position of “baby” in the family and it would be great to give Ophelia the same. Breastfeeding a toddler meant there was a plentiful milk supply for my newborn. In fact, Ophelia’s poo turned yellow on the day one, she never lost weight and I didn’t experience engorgement.

However, I never got the hang of latching them both on at once when the newborn needed so much support to stay in position and when I did, I felt hugely overwhelmed so it was only something I resorted to if desperate. That meant a lot of work in the early days helping Talitha to wait. Then again, waiting on a newborn is something older siblings must learn anyway and the early days are always challenging.

Breastfeeding while pregnant - what I learned

There’s a part of me that thinks the things that were difficult about breastfeeding two were simply things that are difficult about learning to parent two. As we all adjusted, it got easier and I really appreciated being able to maintain that bond with my older child, allowing her to move away in her own time, with some gentle encouragement, when she was ready.

I could lie awake at night stressing, measuring how long each one got breastfed. Yet I have almost as little control over this as I do the ability to go back in time and give Talitha the easy start to breastfeeding that Ophelia had.

I’m realising that, over the course of our lives, I will give them different things. That those things won’t always be “even” does not mean I don’t love them equally. If anything, this is just another reminder that love isn’t something we can measure.

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please consider voting for https://beautifultribe.co.uk to win “Best Pregnancy Blog”, “Best Schooldays Blog” or “Best Writer” in the MAD Blog Awards.

Support breastfeeding help for refugees

So many times this blog has been a place to talk about breastfeeding; about what it can mean for mothers and children, and about how we can protect it. As more and more Syrian refugees make their way to the Greek islands of Kos and Lesvos, we’re faced with a situation in which supporting breastfeeding is absolutely vital.

UNICEF states “artificial feeding with breast-milk substitutes in an emergency carries high risks of malnutrition, illness and death and is a last resort only when other safer options have first been fully explored and deemed unavailable.”

I think of the breastfeeding support I received when I struggled for months to get things going with Talitha. I can’t imagine hitting difficulty when the stakes are this high.

La Leche League Great Britain (LLLGB), is raising £5000 to help LLL Greece send accredited breastfeeding counselors (volunteers) to Kos and Lesvos to help refugee mothers with information, support and resources to feed their babies safely.

Please consider donating. I know many of us have been moved by what is happening across Europe as Syrian families try to find safety. This is one way we can genuinely help.

How weaning happened – the end of our breastfeeding journey

I didn’t set out to breastfeed my older daughter as long as I did. I doubt anyone gazes into the face of their newborn and imagines breastfeeding them for four years.

Certainly, at the time, I felt like we’d be blessed to get to six months. When the difficulties with her tongue-tie and my low milk supply kicked in, my goal became to take it one feed at a time.

By the time her first birthday came into view (a landmark I was just relieved to make), I’d learned a lot more about breastfeeding, through reading, meeting other mothers and undergoing training to become a breastfeeding peer supporter. And I learned about benefits that stretched far beyond the first year.

Beyond that, it felt unnatural to wean her just then when she clearly derived so much comfort and enjoyment from it. Frankly, we both did. Breastfeeding was still an easy way to get her to sleep, it soothed her tears and fears and it left less to worry about with her fussy eating. I continued to breastfeed her because it made us happy and it felt respectful of her needs.

New challenges came as she grew older and I was glad to know other mothers who breastfed beyond infancy. There was that nursing strike when she was fifteen months, which turned out to be down to tonsillitis. We had nursing gymnastics, nipple twiddling and generally, breastfeeding manners that needed to be learned. Over time, it became natural to ask her to wait in certain situations. I learned to trust that we would find the right time to wean.

Then I found out I was pregnant with Ophelia. That’s when breastfeeding became more something I was doing for her, because I no longer enjoyed it most of the time. I’ve blogged candidly about breastfeeding through the first, second and third trimesters. At one point in the pregnancy, I thought she was weaning. I think it would have been just fine if I’d weaned her then but we’d have missed out on what came next.

When Ophelia was born, I found tandem breastfeeding a mixed experience but I could still see the value breastfeeding had for her. In many ways, it helped to smooth the almighty upheaval that adding a second child to our family was for all of us.

Her third birthday came and went and it seemed clear that breastfeeding was still in the picture. We’d have lighthearted chats by then about the fact that she would eventually stop breastfeeding, though I was open ended about when. I didn’t breastfeed her during the day anymore or outside the house. And she didn’t breastfeed that often. Sometimes days would pass before she’d remember she wanted a feed.

By then breastfeeding her had become quite comfortable. I’d fallen into a rhythm with both children and it was a mostly happy part of that. It even became a really important mothering tool for my preschooler.

She began to volunteer that she “would stop having milky” when she was four. I nodded, not paying it too much mind, telling her she could if she wanted to but that she didn’t have to. We know children older than that who are still breastfeeding so I don’t think she felt pressure in that respect.

Still, it felt like things were winding down. I can’t even put a finger on why. Maybe we were both ready. It wasn’t solely child-led, self weaning like I’d felt so strongly about when she was younger. I know that it was partially mother-led too. I know that when I put limits – shortening feeds, asking her to wait – all of that was me weaning her. And that’s felt fine. Breastfeeding truly has been a relationship.

I can’t remember a last feed. It would have been about a week before her fourth birthday, two months ago. She hasn’t breastfed since. She’s told me that she’s all grown up and doesn’t have it anymore. I feel content that she has moved on – maybe with a little sadness that she is losing all her babyness and this is another part of that.

I’m so grateful that I was able to breastfeed her at all. It’s shaped our family in so many ways. In a sense, it’s strange that something so hard fought for in the beginning and so influential over the years should end so quietly, so peacefully.

EDIT: I can’t believe I forgot to mention this when I originally wrote this post but, about a month after her last feed, Talitha asked for it again. I felt unsure about it (I think I had psychologically moved on) but I agreed. When she tried, she couldn’t do it anymore. She told me it wasn’t working. I explained that that was because she’d got bigger and didn’t need it anymore. She was a bit (just a bit) upset about this at first but she soon moved on. I thought she might want to make up for it by wanting to sleep in our bed for a bit or being more cuddly but that didn’t happen either. She asked again some time after that and I reminded her that it hadn’t worked last time. She just said, “Oh yeah.” It was as if she’d just remembered. That was that. She hasn’t asked since.

When it’s hard getting breastfeeding started

I had a hard time establishing breastfeeding with my first baby, Talitha. From the start something didn’t seem right but we didn’t suspect a tongue tie until a lactation consultant suggested it at six weeks in. It was confirmed and cut by the infant feeding midwife at our local hospital when Talitha was eight weeks (it had to be cut again at twelve). By that time, my milk supply was damaged.

I wasn’t making enough milk, my baby was literally attached to my breasts from morning until night (and I mean “literally” in the conventional sense of the word). Her weight gain was static. I would see others lay their babies down for a moment and wonder how their baby allowed it. Mine didn’t often seem content, whether in arms or not. And she never pooed very much from well before the six-week mark where breastfed babies’ nappies often change.

At the time, I felt like there were two routes breastfeeding could take. You either took to it naturally and that was that, or you struggled and ended up formula feeding. I scoured the Internet for stories of mothers overcoming breastfeeding problems but they were in short supply (I’ve since found many more and am so glad they’re out there). Armed with information from the lactation consultant (I was paying to see April Whincop of Believe in Breastfeeding – I’d recommend her any time), I started the plan to increase my milk production while feeding my hungry baby.

It involved things I never expected to be doing. I supplemented with a dosage of formula we’d worked out, administering it with a supplemental nursing system (SNS) attached my breast. When my baby took the nipple into her mouth, she also took a tube, which supplied her with the extra milk. As much as I could, I added expressed breastmilk to the SNS. I was pumping after every feed and between feeds if she would unattach.

I was also on a dosage of domperidone to stimulate milk production and I found it remarkably effective. It was difficult getting doctors to prescribe it for me as its a medication used for other purposes and I wanted to use its side effect. It also carries risks found in studies done on elderly patients but hasn’t been studied for lactation by women of childbearing age. However, I saw different GPs and eventually found one who would prescribe it because he’d already done research for another breastfeeding patient.

Whenever I breastfed, I positioned and attached my baby as carefully as possible, holding her firmly so she didn’t slip off as she was prone to do. I gently squeezed my breasts while she fed, doing breast compressions to increase the flow. We spent a lot of time in bed together.

I look back on that time and I’m not sure how or why we managed to keep going. There’s a part of me that just felt like I couldn’t stop. It was the most stressful time of my life. In fact stress doesn’t fully describe the toxic blend of despair, grief and shame I felt at the time. I was triggered by seeing other women breastfeeding their babies seemingly with no problems. I felt like my body had failed to do pregnancy and birth gracefully and now was on a long, torturous journey to ending something that should have come so naturally.

when establishing breastfeeding is difficult-2

But why did I continue? I think, actually, it could have gone either way. I was blessed to have come from a background where breastfeeding was utterly normal. My husband was completely supportive, taking such good care of us, taking her in the sling so I could rest, sorting the house and cleaning and assembling the SNS many a time. I’d say, “The milk will all run out eventually.” He’d say, “You could continue until it does.” He didn’t flinch at paying for a lactation consultant, buying the pump, the SNS or the formula. I never felt he pressured me either way. He just wanted the baby and I to be healthy and happy. I know that if I’d stopped, he would have respected that too.

I had access to a lactation consultant. I was friendly with the breastfeeding helplines. I had a local breastfeeding group where I knew what I was doing was supported, though I stopped going for a while because it was all too much. I took her to an osteopath since it was suggested that might help.

I had this blog and many kind comments from readers who’d breastfed, mixed fed or formula fed. It was space in which to work out my messy feelings.

It was the thing I mostly prayed about and asked others to pray with me about. I learned to take it one feed at a time, one day at a time.

I was motivated and supported. But even so, I often felt like I couldn’t do it. I had to visualise one feed at a time, taking one day at a time.

When Talitha was five months old, i realised I actually didn’t need to do any of it anymore. I didn’t need to supplement or take domperidone. In fact, I probably could have stopped sooner than I did but my confidence in breastfeeding was shot.

It seemed a miracle to come through it and be breastfeeding. It still does. I went on to breastfeed that baby for four years. I’ll be telling her weaning story in a few days for breastfeeding week.

When I ask how and I why we continued when things were so difficult, I still don’t really know. Maybe it was fortune, maybe it was answered prayer. Maybe it was God, maybe it was chance.

What I learned is that there are many reasons why I woman feels she can’t breastfeed that may not be physical but are still valid. Breastfeeding beyond difficulty is not a decision that can be made by anyone else. But it’s also an option that needs to be held open, with information and support, for any woman who wants it.

ARDO Breastpump videos I made

I don’t often mention work on this blog but I recently made a couple of videos which are pretty relevant so I thought I’d share them here. ARDO, manufacturer of top quality breast pumps, is a company whose ethos and products inspire me and so it was a real pleasure to work with them in putting together videos for their YouTube channel. The videos demonstrate their hospital-grade hire breast pump, the Carum, and their double electric breast pump, the Calypso. I was really impressed with both. Let me know what you think and do pop over to “like” the videos (if you do like them).

Mothering my nursing 3.5-year-old

“I can’t stop crying,” Talitha wailed. There was a look of panic on her face. She had literally lost control of her big emotions. She was pleading with me to help her, to restore the peace.

We’d had a trying afternoon. Ophelia has been ill for the past couple of days and, well, now, I guess Talitha wasn’t feeling too hot either.

Without going into detail, it was one of those sessions where the sentiment “They are not giving me a hard time; they are having a hard time” would not have gone amiss.

Really without going into detail, I was impatient, disrespectful and unkind in the way that I parented them through this unsettled time. It was an afternoon where I needed to get a grip but the grip was not fully got until they’d gone to sleep.

The moment she said “I can’t stop crying”, I regretted that I hadn’t seen it sooner, that she was not testing me. She needed me.

Instinctively, I offered her “milky”, suggesting that it might help her stop crying. I couldn’t have known back when she was Ophelia’s age that, at 3.5-years-old, breastfeeding would still be the most natural comfort to offer her.

I half expected her to turn me down, though, because more often than not, it isn’t the solution she chooses these days. Some days she doesn’t breastfeed at all. Others, she’s insistent on that one nursing in the morning, even if it is only for seconds.

She even stopped for the two whole weeks we were in Trinidad. It was as if from the moment we left home she just forgot about it. I thought that was it. The journey was done. I began to compose her weaning story in my head as a way of making sense of this sudden end.

Breastfeeding my 3.5-year-old-2

She asked the day we got back, though. I’m sure I could have brought things to a gentle close by telling her we didn’t do that anymore and distracting her, but in that moment, I had no concrete reason to say, “No more”, and, actually, I still don’t.

Breastfeeding is mostly a non-issue. Sometimes I find it uncomfortable but, more than not, it’s such a natural part of our lives, small and big at the same time.

As I say, she doesn’t nurse very often. And the word “nurse” feels more appropriate now than “feed” as it is sometimes so short, a quick checking-in.

If it’s longer, it’s usually because something is going on, like it was yesterday. I took her into my bed and because Laurence wasn’t home yet, I latched them both on. I don’t often breastfeed them in tandem because I usually find it uncomfortable but it was surprisingly fine that time.

I make a point of really focusing on Talitha when she nurses now because I know we will soon close this chapter of our lives. With two of them there, I locked into my heart the image of them holding hands across my lap.

I sometimes wonder what it would have been like to breastfeed Talitha to weaning as a single child; whether the changes that came with her little sister would have come anyway.

I can’t think of either of them in isolation, though. They are so much a part of each other, so much a part of me. Never is this clearer than when I am breastfeeding them.

Realising she was drifting off to sleep, Talitha unlatched and turned over on her pillow, scooting backwards to make sure she was touching me.

Ophelia unlatched too – and tried to grab her sister’s hair!