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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Tandem Nursing Rollercoaster

All is well--and busy--since bringing home Baby M. My birth story is still to come. Right now, I feel like I need to talk about the first month of tandem nursing before I forget the heartache and the challenges. That's right, because it's become something that is pretty normal at this point. We're smooth sailing. But if you asked me how it was a month ago, I would have burst into tears.

I gave birth to Baby M at 1:30 AM on January 19. Introducing him to the family was a whirlwind. We were in the hospital for a day and a half, and Baby T visited us a few times in the hospital. He was interested in the baby, but more interested in the toys that magically appeared when the baby came. When we got home Thursday afternoon, we were busy. My in-laws helped out by distracting Baby T for a few days.

And even though Baby T had been nursing up until I gave birth, he didn't ask to nurse when I brought Baby M home. I could even nurse Baby M in front of him and he didn't seem to notice. I thought he had weaned. And even though the thought of Baby T weaning had torn me apart a few days earlier, I was relieved. Having two kids is exponentially more stressful than dealing with just one. Not having to deal with a whiny 20-month old asking to nurse was fine with me. I was a little disappointed that I wouldn't get to tandem nurse, but I was so overwhelmed already. I didn't need to add another thing to my plate by trying to figure out tandem nursing.

And then Aunt K came over to visit Saturday night. Baby T was so distracted that I didn't think twice and pulled down my shirt to nurse Baby M. And at that instant, all hell broke loose. At least in Baby T's mind. He looked over at me, and the look on his face broke my heart. He realized I was nursing Baby M, and he freaked out. "Mommy milk! Mommy milk!" He wasn't yelling. He was bawling. He wasn't whiny or mad, he was just upset. I had never seen him so truly sad.

I still can't get Baby T's face at that moment out of my mind. So I racked my brain for what to do. Baby T was bawling and testing the limits of a temper tantrum. Big T was in the kitchen cooking dinner. I gave Aunt K a look of defeat, sighed, and pulled down the other side of my shirt to nurse Baby T. He instantly calmed down. And watching him watch Baby M, stroke his hair, and hold his hand was like nothing I'd ever seen. It was pure innocence and love.

But it felt unnatural. My boobs were being pulled in two directions, and I was uncomfortable with this much hanging out. Aunt K wasn't phased. She's used to me. But I knew this was something I would never do in public. I didn't know if I wanted to do it at all.

So the next few days, we would wake up, I would nurse Baby M in bed before seeing Baby T, and then I would go out and say good morning to Baby T, and he would ask to nurse. So I decided that would be our "rule": I would nurse Baby T in the morning, and then any time he asked to nurse for the rest of the day, I would tell him, "But you already had mommy's milk this morning. We're not going to have any more today."

You can guess just how well that went down.

That's not exactly the kind of logic a 20-month old works with. And I felt so guilty. I cried every day. I felt like I suddenly took this wonderful comfort away from my first baby. Not only did I take it away, I gave it to someone else. Right in front of him. But at the same time, I resented Baby T for still wanting to nurse. He felt like a giant. His head looked as big as mine, and he was heavy. His legs were too long, and his sneakers kicking my sides weren't cute anymore. And that resentment made me feel guilty.

I talked to Big T about it. I felt like I had to make ONE decision and stick with it. If there was going to be some kind of nursing "rule," I needed to be consistent with it. And at this point, Baby T was begging to nurse all day, every day, and I was getting upset limiting him. Big T made a good point. He said, "Baby T is still a baby. Why don't you let him nurse whenever he asks, but just don't nurse the two babies together." That sounded like a good idea. That way, Baby T knew I still loved him and wasn't suddenly keeping this very important form of comfort from him, but I wouldn't have to deal with him whining to nurse in public when I was nursing Baby M. Because that was a big fear of mine all of a sudden: If I nursed them at the same time at home, what if Baby T begged to tandem nurse in public?

Big T also reminded me that I didn't have to make a decision right now. We had just brought Baby M home. Things were going to take a while to settle down. Baby T was transitioning from being the only adored child in the house to having to share everything with someone else. We would figure this out. But a lot of the forums (like on and the book Adventures in Tandem Nursing made it seem like everyone limits the older nursling in some way. I wasn't sure why. Or if I should. Or what the reasoning was behind limiting. So I wasn't sure what to do.

Also, none of the forums or books (book, really--Adventures in Tandem Nursing is pretty much the only one out there) talked about what an emotional roller coaster tandem nursing could be. I was completely unprepared for the way Baby T felt when he saw me nursing Baby M. Maybe it's just something that can't be explained until you experience it yourself.

Nursing Baby T whenever he asked made me feel much better. My guilt was dissipating, and he seemed much more satisfied and content. There were a few other advantages, too:

1. Baby M had a lazy latch, and even though I told the nurses at the hospital that I didn't need Lansinoh (Geez, I was still nursing my toddler, for pete's sake. I was a pro!) my right nipple was insanely sore and I cringed every time Baby M latched on. I didn't want to nurse Baby M on that side as much, but I didn't want to cause problems with my supply, and I felt like I was getting a plugged duct on that side. Baby T to the rescue. Baby T's latch didn't hurt me, and he helped relieve the pressure on that side, moving the milk and preventing a plugged duct. Nursing only Baby T on that side helped the nipple heal within a week.

2. Engorgement: In the mornings, when I would be leaking everywhere, drowning Baby M, who couldn't handle all the milk, and my boobs would be killing me from the pressure, Baby T would nurse and the engorgement was instantly relieved. This was amazing. My boobs felt so much more normal this time around than the first time, when they were insanely huge for an insanely long period of time. Now they get emptied regularly. And I don't have to pull out the pump. It was a huge relief.

3. Baby T was sick the first week I had Baby M home. Horribly, whiningly, screamingly, pathetically sick. He ran a super high fever and would either snuggle against me, completely lethargic, or scream for hours. Nursing helped calm him. It also helped me feel better about having a sick kid around my newborn. I felt like it was the best thing I could do to help the sickness pass more quickly. I even read that some research suggests that if you are nursing more than one child, the sick child's nursing creates antibodies for that specific sickness in your milk more quickly than if you were not nursing that child and just had the antibodies build up by simply being around the child. And those antibodies helped Baby M NOT get sick.

4. Baby T is a picky eater. Since he is nursing quite a bit and my milk is back, I feel more comfortable when he doesn't eat much dinner.

So--ok--this tandem nursing thing was getting smoother. And trying not to nurse them at the same time didn't last very long. It was just easier to nurse them together. If I was nursing Baby M and Baby T wanted to nurse, he would tug on Baby M and say, "No, Mason!" or "Tieren's milk, Mason!" And these were the only times that Baby T ever tried to hit Baby M. The rest of the time, Baby T was so sweet with Baby M and never showed any aggression toward him. So I nursed them together.

I was still nervous about having to tell Baby T that I couldn't nurse them together in public, though. One of my friends made a good suggestion: that I talk to Baby T about it (duh). Although Baby T isn't quite two years old yet, he's a bright kid. He gets stuff. So I've been talking to him over and over about how nice it is to have mommy's milk when we're at home and only at home. I bring it up in the car, when we're at home nursing, and when he asks to nurse when we're out and about. And if he asks to nurse when we're out of the house, and I explain this to him, he still gets whiny, but he's manageable. He knows.

Which brings me to another issue: he is definitely nursing more for comfort than for nourishment (although I do feel like he's had a growth spurt lately). Something else he does (which was cute before but now drives me crazy) is demand that we hold him. He'll walk at our feet with his arms up, yelling, "Hold you! Hold you!" Lately, I notice that when he gets tired or overwhelmed, he'll just whine, "Mommy's milk! Hold you!" but not really be paying attention to what he's saying. It's like he's used to asking for those things as a security blanket, but he doesn't always want them. Sometimes, he asks for "mommy's milk! Leche bottle!" And when he does that, I know he just wants the comfort of something familiar. And his sippy cup works in those situations.

I don't really know where I'm going with this. I guess he always nurses for comfort. He nurses first thing in the morning (again, it's so's more a routine than a need or desire). And he asks to nurse when he sees me nurse Baby M, but sometimes he distracts himself with a toy, and other times he nurses quickly and then goes off to do something else. But what I found is that if I let him nurse, he is in a much better mood afterward. Instead of dealing with a tantrum, I get a moment of peace while I nurse the boys, and then I get a moment of independent play from Baby T, which is definitely not the norm.

And seeing your toddler hold your baby's hand while they are both snuggling with their mama is the sweetest thing I've ever seen.
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