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My Adventures in Tandem Nursing

Stephanie Williams
High Point NC USA
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 23 No 4, July-August 2006, pp. 156-157.

I always knew that I would breastfeed my children. My mother was a La Leche League Leader and taught childbirth classes, and I inherited her love for natural childbirth and childrearing.

My first child, Ethan, was born during an unmedicated birth at the local birth center in August 2003. When he was a baby, he nursed often, sometimes every half hour. He was a big boy: nine pounds at birth and consistently in the 90th percentile for his height and weight for the first year of his life. Ethan needed to eat often to grow at the pace he was supposed to. I went back to work full-time when Ethan was four months old, but fortunately, my job is flexible enough to allow me to work from home two days per week. Pumping at the office and nursing on demand during the days I worked from home allowed me to keep up my milk supply so that Ethan never had formula. It took commitment and a lot of time (I had to add an extra pumping session every morning in order to keep up with the amount of milk Ethan drank on the days I was gone), but it was well worth it.

My plan for a family was to nurse Ethan until he self-weaned and then have a second child at about that time. But when Ethan was 11 months old, we were surprised to learn that I was pregnant again. It was never an option for me to wean Ethan. He had not even started on whole milk, and we both enjoyed our nursing sessions. Within a few weeks I quickly noticed that my milk supply diminished, so Ethan began to nurse less often. After he turned one year old, I stopped pumping at work as he then began drinking whole milk and I wasn't producing enough to need to pump. As my pregnancy progressed, I ended up with very little milk -- I could only express a few drops and stopped experiencing let-down. At that point, Ethan only nursed at naptime and bedtime. I began to wonder if he would wean himself before the baby was born, but he didn't.

As we began preparations for the new baby, I read Hilary Flower's book, ADVENTURES IN TANDEM NURSING, and found it tremendously helpful and encouraging. We remodeled our unused bedroom upstairs and moved Ethan into that room, accenting it with a sports décor that he loved. We explained that it would be his new room, and that the nursery would be baby Briana's room.

One day a few weeks before my due date while Ethan was nursing, I thought to myself, "You know, we've told Ethan all about the new baby coming soon, we've moved him out of his old room and into a new one, and he's been very accepting of all of it. But I've never told him that the baby will nurse!" So I told him right then. He didn't react; he just kept nursing. I brought it up again over the next few weeks and he never reacted. I eventually decided that he either didn't quite grasp what I meant or that he didn't care, so I stopped mentioning it.

We remained slightly apprehensive through the rest of the pregnancy, unsure of how Ethan would react in general to Briana's presence. Despite the fact that he never protested when we told him a new baby was in my tummy and coming out soon, he had always been very jealous of other babies and children. If we or our parents played with or held another child, he would often cry. We were concerned that he'd have a serious adjustment period getting used to the new baby.

In April 2005 when Ethan was almost 20 months old, Briana was born. I delivered in a hospital this time. Ethan was at home with my in-laws during the birth, so he came to see her for the first time after things had settled down. I was actually nursing Briana when he first saw her, and not only did he express no reaction, but he quickly became more interested in looking out the window at the cars in the parking lot. This helped me relax -- at least we didn't have a major incident right off the bat! The second time Ethan came into the room, he simply looked in wonder at Briana, as if he wasn't sure what to think of such a tiny little baby, and then he asked to nurse. I complied, and he only sucked for a minute, apparently contented just to know that he was allowed. He seemed to understand immediately that Briana belonged with us and was here to stay.

In the first few weeks after Briana's birth, things were a little hectic as we tried to work out nap and bedtime schedules so that each child could nurse as needed. Despite the fact that Briana nursed much less than Ethan had as a baby (every two to three hours, like "normal" babies are "supposed" to do), I often felt that I was doing nothing but nursing or changing diapers all day long. By the end of the day, I just wanted my body back to myself for a bit.

Things settled down after a couple months as I eventually figured out what worked best for us (which sometimes still changes from day to day). When I need to nurse them both at the same time, we've found that the position that usually works best is for me to sit on the sofa, cradle Briana and get her latched on, then to let Ethan settle in wherever he can -- usually either standing in front of the sofa or curled up beside me (sort of like the football position would be, except that I'm not holding anything but his head).

Briana is now seven months old. Ethan doesn't get jealous often and usually only nurses at naptime and bedtime. Sometimes when he sees Briana nursing, he asks to nurse, too. I base my answer on several things: 1) Is he just hungry and is it time for a snack or meal? If so, I tell him we're going to eat in just a few minutes and he can nurse after that if he still wants to. 2) Is he ready for a nap? If so, I'll tell him to wait until she is finished, and then we will go lie down in his bed so he can nurse to sleep. 3) Does he need some attention and love? If so, I usually let him nurse with Briana. Sometimes I'm sure he is asking to nurse just for a little extra comfort because he only sucks for a few seconds and then he is off to play again.

A bonus reward I have experienced from tandem nursing is that it has allowed me to donate my extra milk to a milk bank. It may seem strange to talk of extra milk when I'm already nursing two, but nursing Ethan has given me an increased milk supply. On the days I work in the office, I pump enough to feed Briana plus what Ethan would normally drink if I were with him. So far, I have donated 425 ounces. It gives me great satisfaction to know that my milk can help other babies, and that is something that I do not think I would have had the opportunity to experience without tandem nursing.

I don't make it a point to tell everyone that I am tandem nursing, but I am not shy about it if it comes up. Despite the fact that this is not how I initially planned my family, I have come to the conclusion that this was, for me, the perfect way to do it.

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