Tandem Nursing: Amazing or Craziness?

Warning: This post contains words like breast, breastfeeding, boob, nipple, and nursing. If this terminology makes you uncomfortable, you probably want to stop reading now. Come back and visit again another day, when the subject matter is more to your liking. If you’re not disturbed by this topic, then by all means, read on!

The choice to breastfeed was an easy one for me. My mom breastfed all four of her children—at least for several months up to almost a year—supplementing with formula when her body and work schedule made it so she could go no more. In addition, her oldest sister, my godmother, was something like the High Chieftanness of the local La Leche League chapter in her town. She passed her wisdom onto my mom, and my mom, in turn, passed it on to me.

I nursed my firstborn until she was twenty months old and I was four-and-a-half-months pregnant with my second child. I considered trying to extend the time, but I just couldn’t imagine nursing both a toddler and an infant. This seemed overwhelming and stressful, and I wanted no part of it. More importantly, at this point in my pregnancy, the hormones associated with preparing for the new baby created heightened nipple sensitivity levels the likes of which I’d never known before. Nursing had become an extremely painful event—an extreme sport, if you will, to be avoided at all costs. There may have even been some tears involved.

So, with much sadness, I decided to stop. It was gradual, of course, cutting out a session here and there until the end. I very much remember that night, the last time, with vivid fondness and heartache. That experience in and of itself could be the topic for another post.

Nora was also sad about it all at the time. She was frustrated and disappointed too. Gratefully, this only lasted a few days for her. After that time, with a lot of support, intervention, and distraction from Liam, she seemed to forget breastfeeding was something we both once so enjoyed.

I did not get over things as quickly or as easily as she did. I remember about a week or so after I completely stopped breastfeeding, I gently squeezed my boob in the shower, curious to see if anything would happen. When a couple droplets of milk escaped, I erupted into tears. Dripping wet, in just a towel, and choking back sobs, I tried to explain to Liam how my body was still making milk for our baby, and who was I to tell it to stop?

Liam offered comfort and helped to reassure me that I had made the right choice for me, for Nora, and the new baby. And, when I thought back on how the pain had made me enjoy the act less and less with every passing day, I was able to move on, comfortable, yet still sad, with the decision I’d made.

So here I am now, breastfeeding my second child, and slightly more than seven months into pregnancy #3. (I should mention that this time around I’ve been heavily influenced and motivated by a neighborhood friend, who also happens to be our beloved babysitter—a woman who chose to continue nursing her older child through her entire second pregnancy and beyond the birth of her baby—this is known as tandem nursing).

I encountered the same pain and discomfort during the same part of this pregnancy as I did before—the third and fourth months were the absolute worst. This time, though, with a renewed, hopeful spirit, I decided to stick it out. The pain subsided beginning in month five, and since then we’ve suffered painful setbacks only every time new tooth has erupted (which unfortunately, has been fairly often). Each time I tell myself the discomfort  and pain will only last a few days and that it will all be worth it to push through. Oh, and another strategy I employ is to cut back on the number and length of nursing sessions, much to the dissatisfaction of my littlest.

Franny and I are indeed going through a rough patch now. She has a fang trying to bust through her top gum and so she considers my nipples a chew toy meant to massage her sore mouth and relieve her of her pain. What about my pain? I ask! She doesn’t get it. When she’s not gumming the hell out of my nipple, she’s going into super-suck-overdrive. Why is this? I can’t say for sure. I’ve had a much diminished milk supply since month five of this pregnancy. Is she overly thirsty? Hungry? Does that fang require something extra to make it descend? These questions I can’t answer. I just know that after a few minutes of this nonsense, I have to disengage and break the suction—switch sides. Distract. Anything to end the madness. This often results in copious amounts of crying, begging, and whining. Noyse, peez! Moy? Peez, mama! (Nurse, please! More? Please, mama!). It’s heartbreaking, really. But I must deny my child for fear that she will ruin my breasts for posterity, more than they’ve already been damaged by years of overuse and mistreatment from little nurslings (yes, this is the correct La Leche terminology for the little breast-suckers).

So, with all of the horror I’ve described, why do I persist? I love breastfeeding. For me, the joy of the experience far outweighs all of the negatives. I love that my children love and have loved it too. I see it as mutually beneficial for so many reasons. And, right now, I appreciate it so much, because it is sometimes the only thing that will stop me in my tracks, take me away from all the hustle and bustle—everything I feel like I must be doing, or else—and force me to sit on the couch, or lie down in bed, and just breathe. I can snuggle and nuzzle close to my baby, knowing I’m providing her nourishment and comfort. How can I say no to the giddiness she shows every time she or I suggest nursing and she knows she’s just moments away from one of her all-time favorite activites? I can’t. At least, not yet.

And so, I’m remaining open to tandem nursing. I’m still nine weeks away from having to make a decision, and I’d like to do some more reading about it. I recently asked a former colleague to return a breastfeeding book I loaned her last year when she had her baby. I told her I was considering nursing Frances alongside the new baby. She responded that she thought I was amazing. I countered with: amazing, or crazy? The answer to this I don’t yet know. I’ll try to keep you updated as the results come in.

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