Monday, March 5, 2012

Our Tandem Breastfeeding Journey (with thoughts on sleep transitions, nursing aversions, and more)

I’ve been thinking some lately about how tandem nursing has gone for us, and thought I’d share our breastfeeding journey. In hopes of encouraging other mamas- mamas who want to press through a hard season and keep going, mamas who’re enjoying a trouble-free breastfeeding relationship, mamas who need to wean. Because we’re all in different places in life…and we all need grace and encouragement wherever we’re at.

I’ve wanted to tandem nurse for a long time. Partially, perhaps, because it seemed like such the “attachment parenting” thing to do. I’m so glad we decided to do tandem; it’s been a blessing for all of us! But I’ve also learned there can be some really difficult aspects (different ones for each of us)…and I’ve learned that many babies self-wean during pregnancy…and I’ve discovered that there are days when I’d be all for encouraging weaning. :-)

Vivi was 8 ½ months old when I conceived Timothy (so 9 months when we found out). That put pregnancy coinciding with starting to offer her solids. Having heard too many “horror” stories of milk supply drying up during pregnancy, I focused as much as possible on introducing fats and proteins. Vivi was very texture-sensitive, so initially, cheese was one of the main forms of protein. I also focused (as much as I could with my picky stomach!) on lots of fats and proteins for me, in hopes that could help keep my supply up. I didn’t have any supply issues during the first trimester, and somewhere between 11 and 12 months, Viviana was eating three meals a day, and often snacks, receiving most of her nourishment from table foods. Nursing was just a comfort thing. She still did plenty of it, but she wasn’t relying on me for food.

I don’t recall if I had more pain issues in the 1st trimester than pre-pregnancy or not. I think some, but nothing major. Vivi nursed more than ever when I got pregnant…I think it was pretty much hourly most days, and she was nursing frequently at night. Sometimes only every few hours, sometimes (during teething, especially), every 45 minutes. Nursing so much during the day was helpful in getting through the morning sickness, since it was a quiet “activity” we could do together.

Sadly, my milk supply dried up in my 2nd trimester. (Two-thirds of women have milk supply dry up during pregnancy. If you fall in the one-third category- enjoy it!) Since Vivi was already fully on table foods I wasn’t worried about it, though, which was a blessing and huge relief. In spite of not getting (much of) anything, Vivi continued to nurse like nothing had changed, all the time. Breastfeeding became more painful, but we stuck with it, because I knew Vivi was in no way ready to wean. Plus, I was still eager to tandem nurse.

In the 3rd trimester, I came head-to-head with my first round of nursing aversion. It was awful, and I felt like such a terrible mother. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me and I just wanted to be normal. I was incredibly blessed when I learned I wasn’t the only one. What sweet relief to know that it was, in a sense, “normal”….and further more, hormonally controlled, and not something that indicated I was just a terrible mom. Later, I read about it in Adventures in Tandem Nursing, which was encouraging and helpful as well.

I only had aversion issues during our nighttime sessions, and basically, my skin would feel like it was crawling, I couldn’t stand for Vivi to touch me, and often just wanted to be as far away from her as possible. I even remember nights of wanting to throw her across the room rather than let her nurse. She loves to caress me while nursing- it’s part of the whole experience for her- and I couldn’t stand it. I felt so guilty and remorseful….but there we’d be the next night, going through all the same feelings, hissing at her to stop touching me if she wanted to nurse. And I’d cry myself to sleep, wishing I could just pull it together and be a good mom. And then we’d repeat. I knew something had to change…especially once I discovered that what I was going through was normal (and can have a tendency to occur sometimes during pregnancy or while tandem nursing), and not just a case of me needing to become a better mom. I was also exhausted from being up so often at night- every 45 minutes at that point. Some nights, my issues would stress Vivi out, making it difficult for her to fall back asleep. So we’d be awake for an hour or more, until I de-stressed and could fully soothe her.

I’m so thankful for Ben during that season! I’m not sure what we would’ve done without him, because I know I don’t have the heart to hold her while she’s crying to nurse, and refuse her. We decided it was time to transition her to being soothed by Ben when she woke at night…in other words, night-weaning her. Me taking care of her wasn’t helping anyone….our breastfeeding relationship wasn’t relaxed and special; it was a duty I did to get by. Breastfeeding during the day wasn’t even fun anymore because it was so painful from nursing around the clock.

That journey feels a bit vague now….it feels like it’s been so long! We ended up switching to Ben putting her to sleep at night as well, because she was having issues falling asleep with me and we thought maybe if she didn’t go to sleep nursing, she’d wake up less. All-in-all, that worked well, and it seemed like she quickly transitioned (within a few weeks or so) to being used to Ben getting up with her at night. We went gradual with every step, and if there was ever an evening when she wasn’t calming down with Ben and being soothed by him, or a nighttime waking where she just seemed to need me….we went with it. Next night, we resumed trying again. I did, and still do, nurse her before she went to bed.

The first week or so of it was really hard emotionally…Ben and I both absolutely dreaded bedtime. We wouldn’t let Vivi get hysterical, but we would let her cry with Ben, since he was there to hold and soothe her. And she did cry. Within a few days, she caught on to the routine and would start crying before they even got to the bedroom. It was hardest when we couldn’t tell why she was crying. Was it just because she wasn’t getting “her way”? Or did she really need me? It was always hard making the call of when to get me to take over. But, once we got through the first week or so, things quickly settled into a pattern and before long she actually enjoyed going to bed with Ben. And we were both totally confident that what we were doing was the best thing for everyone involved, as hard as it was….we knew her emotional needs were being met because Ben was there to soothe her, and we knew that continuing in our old pattern just wasn’t working anymore. I would encourage other parents- with a great dose of caution- going through, or considering going through, a similar stage, to stick with it as long as you feel confident it’s right for you and your baby. It’s hard making transitions- it feels really hard in the thick of it. But often after making one, we look back and think, “Well, that was way easier than we thought it would be!”

Nursing during the day became fun again, and I was so grateful. I really wanted it to be an enjoyable bonding experience! After having the whole night to myself, I was always so eager for her to wake up and nurse in the morning, which was quite a change. It didn’t hurt as much with the nighttime break, either. Things continued status quo, pretty much, till Timothy was born. I nursed her varying amounts during the day, and still nursed her to sleep at naps. I nursed while I was in labor with Timothy….the last time being 3 or 4 hours before he was born (I did it in the pool :-)).

Enter Timothy. The tandem adventure began. I have many, many sweet memories of our journey- it’s been a lot of fun. I nursed them together for the first time during the first day of Timothy’s life, which was a rather special mommy moment. Tandem nursing was a life saver (along with tandem wearing) during the first couple months. It was a great way to meet everyone’s needs at the same time. Usually, nursing solved everyone’s problems, and it forced me to sit down and refocus.

During those first couple months, I often nursed Vivi 6-8 times a day. It worked. For all of us. It helped life to transition, it helped her to know she wasn’t ousted, it met her emotional needs….all while meeting Timothy’s needs. Breastfeeding didn’t hurt nearly as much as it did during pregnancy, either, which was fun.

After that, things started slowing down. And somewhere in there, I started having nursing aversion issues again. I gradually started to encourage Vivi to nurse less, and now she only nurses when she wakes up and before nap and bed, each for 5-10 minutes. Sometimes, at her request, I’ll throw in another feeding or two, but typically it’s just the three. Some would say that isn’t totally baby-led weaning. But it’s what works for us. I want breastfeeding to be pleasurable for both of us- a time of bonding and snuggling. If it isn’t that, we need to find other ways to enjoy each other.

Back to the nursing aversion issues. I want to share, not because I want to scare moms who’re considering tandem nursing. Not because I want to be made out to be a martyr. Not because I want to complain. Not because I want to be criticized for not getting through it better. But because it truly was more refreshing than I can describe to discover I’m not the only one. And I imagine that’s the case for another mama out there. So I hope, in reading, you get to inhale a breath of fresh air, too. I hope you cry tears of joy and relief and know that you really aren’t a terrible mom. Because that’s how I felt, thanks to one mom’s honesty.

My nursing aversion really hasn’t been a huge part of our breastfeeding journey. Most of it has been totally fine, without incident. And sometimes the aversion “symptoms” aren’t a big deal. It’s always been worth fighting through (to a certain degree- along with finding ways to help, like cutting out certain sessions), and we’ve always gotten to see the other side. I wouldn’t trade tandem nursing for a moment, and I think it’s played a key role in helping Vivi adjust to life’s changes.

When I started having issues again- same “symptoms” as before- I was devastated. I just wished I could be normal. I felt like I so badly want to meet my babies’ needs- why won’t my body just cooperate? Why can’t I just break past it and get over myself? But once again, I searched for ways to lessen it without weaning all together. I found it was helpful to shorten (or have the ability to shorten without drama) our nursing sessions when I needed to. The biggest one for that was nap- it was stressful to lay there, feeling all the terrible feelings mounting, but feel like I couldn’t stop nursing or I’d forfeit her nap. It’s only been in the past month that she’s started falling asleep at nap without nursing (and we still have napless days- thanks to trying to work with two babies who each have unique sleep issues/needs)…prior to that, we just got along the best we could.

Now, I stop nursing when I need to, whether that’s 5 minutes in or 10 or something else. And Vivi’s pretty good about not minding. It enables us to continue snuggling or do something fun together- accomplishing what’s really at the heart of extended breastfeeding.

I rarely tandem nurse the babies together anymore, since Vivi mostly nurses when Timothy’s asleep. But sometimes, when I’m nursing Timothy and he latches off, Vivi swiftly leans in for a mouthful. :-) I know I’ll laugh over the memory in future years- she looks so funny twisting herself into whatever position she has to in order to take advantage of the uncovered breast!

I don’t see fully-weaning Viviana anytime soon- nor do I see her self-weaning in the near future. I’m not sure yet about nursing multiples while pregnant or triandem nursing…..I guess we’ll cross that bridge when/if we get there!

P.S. Besides the link I mentioned above, check out Dulce's other post on ideas for dealing with aversions. For that matter, read all her stuff. Her blog is incredibly encouraging if you're into non-mainstream (and even non-typical-Christian) stuff!


  1. Thank you for this.. I'm 37 weeks pregnant & thought I'd gotten through the worst of my aversion issues that crept up in the 2nd trimester. With labor coming forward, it's coming back. I feel like such a failure & with my husband working most nights it's just us girls (me and my toddler) crying & holding each other until we both fall asleep. I can't let her without feeling just -wrong- & it kills me to tel her no, but I have to for my own sanity.

    1. I'm sorry, because that's so HARD. But it's not's not you being a bad mom. It's making the better choice between chucking her across the room or snuggling. :-) I'll be thinking about and praying for you two as you work through it, and as you embrace another little one. Hopefully it'll get much better for you after birth- I know it's different for every woman, but for me, it was night-and-day difference immediately. For a while at least....I still have issues, but she's old enough that the 5-10 minutes of nursing is plenty for her, and I have that long before hormones start to kick in. It's never gone back to being as bad as it was while pregnant.

      It's really, really encouraging to know there are other mamas out there going through the same thing- that it isn't just you. It's hard enough as it is, it's really bad to feel like the worst mama, when instead you're a compassionate, loving mom doing your utmost to meet the needs of your little girl. Keep going, mama- I'm sure you're doing great!