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Tandem Nursing

By Lora Reynolds
Trafford PA USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 17 No. 6, pp. 201-202

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

"You'll wreck your body," the doctor said, when I told her I was nursing both my children. I looked down at my body. There were varicose veins, a stretched out tummy, and wayward breasts. I recalled two pregnancies, complete with months of bed rest, hospital stays, medications (which recently included insulin shots twice a day), and cesarean surgeries. The effects on my body of continuing to nurse my three-year-old daughter alongside my three-month-old seemed rather benign in comparison to the effects of my pregnancies.

My doctor probably thought that my decision to continue breastfeeding my older child was not carefully thought out, but she was wrong. For our family, tandem nursing does not mean that my children both breastfeed every time they want to. We have developed rules for nursing that help make it work for all of us. Elizabeth, my older daughter, is usually restricted to right-side nursing (this is the side she sleeps on). Virginia, my youngest, has free access to both sides. I try to make sure that my toddler doesn't nurse out of boredom, but I try to nurse for other reasons, such as weariness, anxiety, injuries, or naps. I try to nurse each of my daughters alone at some point in the day to help meet their needs for one-on-one attention. I also offer my attention to my children in other ways, such as reading, massage, or telling stories. I take care of myself by eating well, drinking enough water, and getting as much rest as possible. Over all, I try to be patient, savor the time I have with them, and express my love for them. Looking over my guidelines for tandem nursing, I see that all we need now is a mission statement for our family!

Tandem nursing is not for everybody. By that, I don't mean, "weak people need not apply." I mean it isn't best for every situation, so give it lots of thought before embracing it. On the other hand, it works well for some families.

We decided to try tandem nursing because it was best for our daughter, Elizabeth. As I consider her needs, I see a girl who is three years old, three-and-a-half feet tall, weighs over 40 pounds, and is well on her way to making her own peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Nutritionally speaking, she could survive without breastfeeding, but I know she'll continue to do it. It is the single most important thing to her. It is at the center of her heart, what gets her to sleep at night, what comforts and warms her. Is this anything for me to meddle with?

Some people have advocated replacing her "nummies" with an inanimate object. Objects have their place. They can be useful. However, I believe they should not be used to substitute for something valuable that is already in place.

Sometimes the "object"' that interferes with people and their relationships is cultural expectation. Breastfeeding an older child is often seen as unnecessary or even wrong, but this cultural expectation clashes with what I know to be true of my child. To wean her, I would have to take from her what she most values. I would have to ignore her need for it, dismiss her pleas, demonstrate emotional distancing from her, and distrust the validity of her feelings. I would have to hurt her. I would also have to expend incredible time and energy dealing with her unhappiness, all for someone else 's cultural expectations.

Even the emotional downs I experience from time to time are not a reason for me to stop. I am committed. I struggle with their restlessness, impatience, and fatigue. I especially struggle with my own. At times, it can be comical. Other times I am rewarded when tandem nursing again proves itself to be sweetly loving. When my firstborn started "nursing" her doll, I recognized the responsibility of my example. When she recently began nursing two dolls at the same time, I was shaken by the power of my influence. When she has her own children, I'll reassure her that she needs to make her own choices about how to mother her children.

My children are of the highest value - above dirty dishes, above outside pressures. Elizabeth and Virginia are thriving. They share in a precious and fleeting relationship. With both children spilling out of my lap, holding hands as they exchange looks and smiles, I know this is the right choice for us, even through the difficult times.

Tandem nursing is not some required course for motherhood, so to speak. It is a special course designed for families in special circumstances (in our case that would be Elizabeth's intense personality and need for nursing). It takes balance to meet the needs of each member in any family, and like any mother, I am not proud of every word, deed, or day. But I can usually balance social mores with my children's individuality and we can be happy. I believe we are happier because of tandem nursing.

If tandem nursing takes a toll on my body, so be it. I don't expect to keep looking, feeling, or acting as I did when I was 20 years old. At 36, that would not only be unrealistic of me, it would be ungrateful. However mature I may or may not be I am grateful. I'm grateful to be 36, at home with two small children - stronger, healthier, and more at peace with myself than I ever was before. Thank you, Elizabeth and Virginia.

Last updated 11/16/06 by jlm.
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