Three's a Crowd?
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 13 No. 4, July-August 1996, pp. 114-7
We provide articles from our publications from previous years for reference for our Leaders and members. Readers are cautioned to remember that research and medical information change over time.
"Toddler Tips" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents of toddlers. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's lifestyle. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.
I have a three-year-old daughter who is still nursing. I also have a nursing three-month-old. I thought that my toddler would wean during my pregnancy, since she was down to nursing only once in a while. But instead, she now nurses at least twice a day and even has begun to wake up again at night to nurse, which is something she outgrew quite some time ago. I love my oldest daughter dearly but do not want to tandem nurse. Because of this, I find myself getting short-tempered with her when she wants to nurse at the same time as her baby brother. Any suggestions?
Reading your situation brought back memories of when my son was born thirteen months ago, and my daughter was two-and-a-half. My daughter wanted to nurse every time she saw her brother nurse, which became very annoying to me. She seemed so big—and why did her sucking at my breast seem so strange? One day she asked to nurse ten times before 9:00 AM!
Here are some things I did that were helpful:
- I tried to keep on hand healthy snacks and a cup of water to quench her thirst.
- I tried to distract her while the baby was nursing by asking her to do little jobs or "count the birds outside the window," etc.
- I told her that I would save "this side" if she could wait until the baby had fallen asleep.
- I explained that if she could wait until it was time to nurse alone she could lie across my lap (where she was more comfortable).
- I said "It's almost lunchtime. You can have nummies after we eat." This way, she ate more food and asked to nurse less often.
At times I did nurse the two together. I didn't like the feel of double nipple stimulation, so I would let my daughter nurse for only a few minutes and then say "Okay, just a little bit more." She was usually fine with that little bit of nursing. Emotionally, it also got easier to nurse both of them together when my son's head got bigger—my daughter didn't seem so big anymore.
I try to think of the benefits, which include: my period has been delayed longer (thirteen months vs. eight months), both of my children are very healthy, and most importantly, I am hoping the children will be close friends. Our daughter says "I love you, Brother" often.
Our daughter continues to nurse but only when she wakes up, at rest time, and bedtime. Occasionally, she asks to nurse at other times but usually agrees to my suggestion to "save it for bedtime so there will be lots of milk." A year ago I wouldn't have believed she could see her brother nursing and be happy for him, but she is. She says "Nummies are good for you, Brother," then continues to play.
Wyemore NE USA
In spite of nipple soreness, I really enjoyed nursing during my second pregnancy. It was the easiest way for me to rest! I looked forward to tandem nursing, thinking it would help my children feel close to each other. I had no idea how quickly my feelings would change! By the end of my first week with two children, I dreaded each time Lisa, my two-year-old, asked to nurse. My milk came in quickly, and it seemed that Lisa wanted to nurse as often as Jackie did. Nursing both together made my skin crawl. I wanted to push Lisa away—this precious child who just weeks before had been at the center of my universe! I wasn't happy about the situation, but felt it was unfair to wean her at that point after allowing her to nurse through the pregnancy.
Jackie is now eight months old, and Lisa is nearly three-and-a-half. I feel I've come to terms with the idea that my preschooler is still breastfeeding, even though some feedings are difficult. The hardest part for me is the lack of support when both "babies" are crying at the same time. We do sometimes all lie down together to nurse and have had some great laughs as we try to get into a position that is comfortable for everyone! One moment that made it worthwhile was when I found Lisa lying on her bed nursing two dolls at the same time.
Reading MOTHERING YOUR NURSING TODDLER by Norma Jane Bumgarner, available through LLLI (No. 268), has been very helpful. The book includes a section on weaning, if that is what you decide to do. Lisa seems to want to nurse whenever the baby sleeps, nurses, or is fussy. She often asks to nurse for attention, so I try to spend some time just cuddling with her when the baby sleeps. If Jackie is awake, I sit on the floor to nurse Lisa, while Jackie plays nearby. I try to get my husband involved at bedtime, because when he puts Lisa to bed she seems to forget about nursing.
Remember to make your decision based on your own and your children's needs—not on pressure from others. Get help to care for one child whenever you can in order to have one-on-one time with the other child or a few minutes to yourself. Good luck to you.
Mary Ellen Gates
Richland WA USA
Tandem nursing can be an overwhelming prospect, especially when you expected that your older child would wean during your pregnancy. Before my second child was born, my almost two-year-old was nursing for only 10 to 20 seconds at bedtime only. When my milk came in he resumed with fervor. At times he was nursing more than the baby. I didn't mind, as I had expected to tandem nurse.
When I became pregnant the third time a year and a half later, I was still tandem nursing. Luckily, my oldest weaned during the second trimester. I had hopes of weaning my second child, too, as he was nursing only infrequently. But he also began to nurse more frequently when my milk came in. I struggled with feelings of anger and resentment, coupled with guilt. I was glad I had tandem nursed but did not want to do it again.
It is very hard to nurse an older child when your body and hormones all cry out "No!" You want to give yourself wholly to your infant. The nursing relationship involves not just the baby's but the mother's feelings as well. "Don't offer, don't refuse" doesn't always apply. Sometimes you have to say to your older child, "I'm sorry but you can't nurse right now. Let me know if you still want to nurse when the baby is finished." Or "Mommy's nee-nees are tired. You can put your cheek (if that is acceptable to you) on nee-nee if you want to." Don't feel guilty for not wanting to nurse an older child. Your feelings are valid, and they do count.
At the same time, it is very difficult to be displaced as the baby in the family "Where do I fit in now that I am no longer 'the baby'?" most toddlers must ask themselves. Nursing can be a comfort when shifting to a new place in the family is an earth-shattering experience.
What helped me to accept tandem nursing was to think of my older child's feelings and needs. A friend suggested I look at Matthew's baby pictures. It helped me to realize that he is still a baby and that nursing was meeting a need for him. Attitude is the key. Accepting and anticipating that he would ask to nurse helped me not to get so angry when he did ask.
During our Area Conference in October, I attended a small group discussion of tandem nursing. When I heard that other women also experienced less than loving feelings for their older nursling, I was relieved. To my amazement, out of the group of twelve or so, only two to three of the women usually nursed both children at the same time (I was one of them).
I've learned to tell my son that he cannot nurse at certain times, but give him a time when he can. I avoid sitting in the recliner (a popular nursing spot) if I don't want to nurse two. Other times, I sit in the recliner, prop the baby with a pillow on one side and Matthew gets his own pillow. Then I grab a book or the cordless phone and enjoy some peace and quiet. When it gets to be more than I can bear, I remind myself "this too shall pass." Babies don't keep. Good luck.
Pottstown PA USA
When I was pregnant with my second child, nursing my two-and-a- half-year-old became physically uncomfortable. Before my pregnancy I couldn't imagine not wanting to nurse him or not enjoying that part of our relationship. By the time I had the new baby, my older child was asking to nurse only once a week or so. I had thought once my milk came in and I was more comfortable physically that I wouldn't mind tandem nursing. I wasn't prepared for the strong emotions I had after the baby was born. I simply did not want my three-year-old nursing. But he, like your daughter, started asking several times a day. I was also getting upset and short-tempered with him, and he responded with anger to any attempt on my part to delay or refuse his requests. I really did not want to end our nursing relationship on such a negative note.
The first step to improving our situation was a compromise about when he could nurse. We agreed he could nurse in the morning when he woke up. Although my son did not wake up at night like your daughter, I think he would have accepted the explanation that he needed to wait until the sun was up. Perhaps during the day you can discuss alternate comfort measures for helping your daughter get back to sleep at night. I found I needed to have lots of discussion when we were both rational.
My attitude improved immensely when I could get my son to accept nursing to the count of ten on each side. This also seemed to decrease the amount of physically irritating sensations I was experiencing. Over the following months, my son gradually cut back on his requests without further pressure from me. By age four, he was back to nursing very infrequently. On his four-and-a-half year birthday, we had a weaning party to officially mark the end of that chapter in our lives.
I wish you luck making it through an emotional and sometimes difficult time for your family. I had many conflicting and ambivalent feelings during that time, and I'm sure my son did also. As with so many other phases with our children, it now seems so long ago!
Capistrano Beach CA USA
If your child is old enough to understand the basic idea—not necessarily counting, but the general thought—tell her that you'll nurse until you count to twenty. On good days, you can count slowly. On other days, you can count more quickly. Many children are agreeable to this because it gives them warning. There's no sudden "OK, time to stop." It worked for me!
Madison AL USA
My experience is that nursing two siblings as you juggle the needs of both is difficult at best. I have tandem nursed twice. One duo was three years apart, and the other twenty months apart. While I never tried to wean the older baby/toddler while I was pregnant, I did hope it would happen.
The most difficult times for me were at night when the older child would wake at the precise moment the newborn latched on. In both cases, this maddening "coincidence" slowly diminished over time. The most helpful thing I did was to be clear about what I could give physically, mentally, and emotionally and still be cheerful.
For the two who were three years apart, this meant that I explained my limits clearly and stuck to them. My three-year-old was given "Sacred Nursing Times." These were times she could look forward to that she would not be denied for any reason—delayed maybe, but never denied. During these times I made sure I was positive about nursing, telling her how much I loved her, how much fun she was, and how much I liked to cuddle with her.
Nursing was then a source of security and a place of trust she could count on. The other helpful things I can pass along are: 1) nurse the baby in a sling while you are standing up (it will be less noticeable to your toddler that you are nursing); 2) make baby's naptimes a special opportunity for projects, games, and outings in the backyard with your older child; and 3) enlist your husband's help for fun, adventure and comfort—day and especially night. Also, get help and support for household duties from friends and family, let go of high expectations, and survive the best you can. This intense period soon passes, and all the hassles and joys are a memory.
Seattle WA USA
The most important element for me during tandem nursing was the support of another tandem nursing mother. No one else can fully understand what you are experiencing. If you don't know anyone in your area who is tandem nursing, perhaps your LLL Leader can connect you with a pen/phone pal. If there are other tandem nursing mothers nearby, go to the park together, request a special meeting if your Leader's schedule allows, form a playgroup, or just talk on the phone on those difficult days. Share the joys, also. My boys used to fight over which side they would get to nurse on, because they claimed one side had "kitty milk," or "elephant milk," etc. I didn't really appreciate this until another mother (who had previously tandem nursed) burst out laughing when my boys were doing this at a Series Meeting. Her perspective helped me laugh myself—something that I believe all parents should do often!
Fresno CA USA