WBW2017: Nursing through Pregnancy and Tandem Breastfeeding

As part of World Breastfeeding Week, Mother Sider Lyndsey has written us a fantastic post about nursing her oldest son, Thomas, through her second pregnancy and tandem feeding him alongside his little brother, Samuel. We hadn’t heard of tandem feeding before having our own babies, yet many women tandem feed twins or a toddler and baby alongside one another. Further, many women find themselves being told by healthcare professionals that feeding in pregnancy is ‘dangerous’. As a doctor herself, Lyndsey is keen to break down that outdated notion, and we’re delighted she’s agreed to write for us.

Over to Lyndsey…

When I fell pregnant with my first little boy, Thomas, I was a junior doctor and just beginning my training to become a GP. During those 9 months of pregnancy I rotated through both a paediatric and an Obstetric/gynaecology job and therefore spent most of my working days looking after young babies and new mums in a medicalised environment. I worked in a very pro-breastfeeding unit alongside some brilliant professionals and learnt loads about the benefits of breastfeeding a newborn. Sadly, as a doctor in a hospital environment I also met numerous new mums who struggled to establish breastfeeding for a variety of reasons on a near-daily basis. Consequently, I had quite a skewed impression of breastfeeding and therefore limited expectations of myself when it came to feeding my own baby. Whilst I knew I absolutely wanted to breastfeed I was actually expecting it to be horrendously difficult and fraught with complications that I thought I’d be happy just to get established and manage even a few weeks. I really didn’t consider beyond that point and presumed that mums and babies just stopped breastfeeding at about the time they were ready to wean onto solids. In those early days it didn’t even cross my mind that I might still be nursing my baby beyond his second birthday and I absolutely would never have believed I’d be feeding him and his newborn brother alongside each other. In fact, if I’m totally honest, back then I’d only ever seen very negative portrayals of women who nursed older/multiple children and thought it was quite a ‘far-out’ and frowned upon thing to do!

My first labour and delivery turned out to be quite a hectic one! After over 60 hours of labour Thomas was finally born by emergency caesarean section. I remember feeling more upset as the labour progressed and it became apparent I’d need a section as I was concerned this would further complicate establishing feeding. Once he was born I watched the minutes of that ‘golden hour’ tick by as I was being stitched back up and fretting that we were missing out on vital skin to skin time together. However, I finally got to cuddle my baby when he was 55 minutes old. The midwives helped lift him inside of my hospital gown and positioned along my chest and then he took right over. He latched on beautifully and knew just what to do – in retrospect its clear now that he’s always been a little booby monster!

I was an incredibly lucky new breastfeeding mummy – Thomas really was an expert and fed like a dream from day one and I loved nursing him. In those first few weeks I learnt more and more about the benefits of breastfeeding and also began to learn more about Attachment Parenting and Gentle Parenting techniques. I became more confident nursing in public and batting off all sorts of comments and questions about when I planned to stop or add in formula (Editor’s Note: See our past post ‘Things NOT to say to a Breastfeeding Mama’)

I loved that there wasn’t anything that nursing couldn’t fix for my little boy. It saw us through the winter bugs and temperatures, teething pains and countless accidents as he started to move about independently and was a blessing at nap times. I returned to work part-time when Thomas was nearly 10 months old and would still nurse him in the morning, at bedtime, a couple of times throughout the day and at night if he wanted/needed to. It was such a lovely experience for us both to sit down on the sofa and reconnect; breastfeeding undoubtedly made the huge change in our routine so much easier for us both to adapt to. It was also exhausting to be nursing a toddler and working a busy job but ‘booby’ was still so important to him and it still felt right to me, so we carried on.

As Thomas approached 12 months or so I felt increasingly aware that I ‘should’ be thinking of weaning him completely. I was also starting to plan another pregnancy and felt further pressure from various people and the media that this was another reason to stop nursing my firstborn. I felt really sad at the thought and knew that we just weren’t ready. (It doesn’t get much more obvious than having your small toddler shout at the top of his voice on a crowded train “booby mummy, want booby” how much it still meant to him!). In most aspects of parenting I am confident in believing that mums know best what works for their own family and to follow my own instincts but, for a period of time, I was a little nervous about this aspect – there are so many strong opinions voiced so openly that it felt unnerving to push past the comments I’d read and heard.

I spent a bit of time reading around and was hugely reassured to come across groups on social media full of women who practised extended breastfeeding, nursing in pregnancy and tandem breastfeeding. They shared many related positive articles and beautiful photographs. I also chatted with my partner, my family and a small group of close friends who shared my feelings about attachment and gentle parenting techniques and then felt more confident to continue, and to let Thomas decide when he was ready to wean.

Delightedly, I fell pregnant with my second baby when Thomas was about 14 months old and still happily nursing two or three times a day (and once or twice at night time) with no intentions of stopping! I didn’t know very much about nursing through pregnancy but I told my midwife at booking and she was incredibly supportive so I was happy to continue. I was lucky in both my pregnancies not to suffer with sickness and nausea but did struggle with intense tiredness. I was able to gently drop Thomas’s bedtime and night time feeds with a bit of work and that helped immensely. In fact, over the next few weeks it looked as though Thomas would wean completely. He only asked for ‘booby’ once or twice a day and was only really interested for a few minutes. I suspect the milk was drying up. I continued to nurse him when he asked to begin with but then thought I’d aim to wean him completely if he wasn’t too bothered, simply because I thought it’d be easier all round and would take a bit of pressure off me. I didn’t struggle with sore nipples or a nursing aversion which I have come to realise can be common when pregnant.

And so it came to be that by about 6 months into my second pregnancy Thomas had gone almost 3 weeks without nursing at all and I thought our journey had finished. He would ask occasionally but was so easily distracted that I thought it was better this way. Then one weekend Thomas came down with a virus and had dreaded teeth coming through. He was so upset and slept terribly for nights on end. We were up in the early hours one morning cuddling trying to settle him when he asked and asked for booby. It was clear he knew what he wanted and so it felt like the best thing to do. Despite there being little, if any, milk, this poorly, cranky little boy relaxed so quickly and nursed himself off to sleep within minutes! I thought it might be a one off but over a few more days we fell back into a routine of having booby at nap times and whenever life just got too much for him. It was actually lovely to have that tool back in my parenting bag to settle him and sit and have some quiet time together again. As the third trimester arrived and progressed, the pregnancy exhaustion returned. Sitting and nursing would at least guarantee a few minutes of peace and quiet and a chance to rest! I realised that breastfeeding Thomas was going to continue for some time and so committed to giving tandem nursing a go after all. Once I’d decided I was happy with this, I relaxed much more and began to look forward to the experience.

My second little boy, Samuel, was born by elective section following a growth scan and some lengthy discussions with my medical team. It felt like a much quicker procedure this time and I was able to nurse Samuel for the first time within about 40 minutes. He, too, was a little booby monster and latched on beautifully straight away. Thomas came to visit that afternoon but had no idea what was going on, It was such an emotional day, I’d also been worried about how Thomas would cope with all the fuss and change and I’d missed him so much that morning that it was lovely to sit with him and cuddle and nurse him on his own initially whilst all my relatives cooed over the new baby…. It got a little more stressful later in the visit when it was Samuel’s turn to nurse and Thomas found it very overwhelming! He’d never had to share his mummy or booby before and didn’t understand who this new little person was and he did get upset.

I’d read lots of other women’s accounts of the first few days/weeks of tandem nursing on social media groups and blogs and was aware that whilst overall tandem nursing can help alleviate jealousy in the older sibling in the long run and encourage some lovely bonding opportunities, it can initially be difficult for the toddler and so was prepared that Thomas may want/need to breastfeed much more frequently than beforehand. I decided that, for the first few weeks, I would aim to just go with it and then wean him back down once or twice a day when the dust had settled. Whilst this is what I have been doing and I am loving the journey, it has not always been easy and I really wasn’t prepared for just how much more my toddler would want to breastfeed!

Initially, whenever Thomas saw Samuel feeding he would instantly want to nurse to and would get very upset if I asked him to wait or tried to distract him with something else. Furthermore, he wanted to nurse a lot even when Samuel was not and it did feel very demanding. He soon coined his own little phrases – he’d ask for ‘everybody booby’ when he wanted to join Samuel or ‘just Thomas booby’ when he found the opportunity for some one on one nursing time! Without a doubt there are some very lovely moments during ‘everybody booby’ time. Thomas will often stroke Samuel’s hair and hold his hand and it has helped him accept the new arrival and sharing his mummy more quickly. Equally I really enjoy the opportunity to nurse each of the boys on their own and enjoy that unique bonding experience that nursing allows but there are also times when I have felt incredibly overwhelmed by it all! There are days when Thomas is almost insatiable; I imagine its been such a novelty that there is suddenly so much milk available again and he has wanted booby multiple times a day and often in place of real food. He has struggled as I’ve tried to set boundaries wean him back down to a more manageable amount and it has been a slow and sometimes stressful process but we’re getting there. These insatiable days are often, typically, interspersed amongst Samuel’s growth spurts and developmental leaps when he too needs to cluster feed and so I can feel incredibly ‘touched out’ and as though I am never not nursing for more than a few minutes at a time! I suppose on these days I try to ensure I make some time to have by myself when possible and remember they’re phases that will pass. It’s reassuring to hear from other mums who also have these days and to know its normal to feel that way. It’s nice to share experiences and to read about they manage the tough days and be reassured that their babies are all doing fine too.

Furthermore, my milk came in so much sooner this time and in copious quantities. It took a good two weeks for the engorgement to settle and longer still for me to suss out how to help the little one cope with a very fast let down and milk flow (especially one handed as the other was occupied cuddling the toddler!). On the other hand it has been a blessing to have a ‘seasoned breastfeeder’ in the house on the days my breasts have been too full and uncomfortable, Thomas is much more efficient at emptying the milk than any pump and was a lifesaver during my one and only experience of mastitis when Samuel was a few weeks old.

Overall, I’ve cherished these 3 months of tandem nursing and continue to learn more and more about breastfeeding and my own body as time passes. In the first few days of tandem nursing I had to ‘re-learn’ how to nurse a newborn as well as how to juggle nursing two children at once. Unlike Thomas, who can (and regularly does) pretty much do acrobatic stunts whilst nursing, Samuel needed specific positioning and support whilst he latched and fed. We have found ourselves in a variety of different positions and on different surfaces around the house working out what suits us best. Mostly Samuel will nurse across my body in the ‘traditional’ hold and Thomas will sit next to me on whichever side is free. I have simply had to accept that if they are both nursing together its nigh on impossible to be discreet and if there is anybody else at home they’re pretty much guaranteed to cop an eyeful of my chest for the duration! I also now know to ensure I’m well prepared and have everything close by that I may need for a nursing session, i.e. a cup of tea, phone/remote control or a book and that I’ve been to the loo because its very difficult to disturb two little nurslings once they’re settled. Most days I can even arrange for a post-lunch feed with them both that results in a coordinated afternoon nap of up to 2 hours!

Whilst there are often moments that I still feel surprised at myself to be breastfeeding two a baby and a toddler, I suspect I shall be nursing my two boys concurrently for several months to come yet. I feel confident that, as Thomas  begins to understand more, he’ll wean when he’s ready and Samuel too, in the future. In the meantime I am happy that I’m able to provide the nutrition and comfort that both my babies continue to need, as well as ensuring the long term health benefits for all three of us. I’m grateful to have been able to breastfeed successfully when so many ladies struggle despite their best efforts and intend to enjoy it as much as possible.

Lyndsey, writing for The Mother Side x

Useful sites for information on feeding through pregnancy, tandem feeding and extended feeding:

Tandem Breastfeeding Moms (closed FB group)
Breastfeeding Older Babies and Beyond (closed FB group)
La Leche League International (also search for the US, UK and regional pages). Lyndsey read the personal accounts, rather than any specific books or articles and made her own choices based upon those.
– Dr Amy Brown at Breastfeeding Uncovered (website: breastfeedinguncovered.co.uk)

Useful resources for Attachment and Gentle Parenting:
Attachment Parenting UK
Gentle Parenting UK
– Sarah Ockwell-Smith’s The Gentle Parenting Book and corresponding Facebook Page.

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