Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Double Milk Love~On Breastfeeding Two (and then some)

Some women tandem nurse (breastfeed more than one child at once) for an extended period of time.  Go mommas!  Women are great.  I only tandem breastfed for 7.5 months, but I wanted to write a bit about my experience before it fades.  Tandem nursing was like one of those weird things you hear about but not many women you know actually do... Or maybe just not that many women you know actually do in front of you... Because older toddlers and preschool aged kids who breastfeed don't nurse that often, and sometimes mommas prefer to shy away from criticism and just avoid nursing them in public.
I didn't shy away from breastfeeding Riley in public, but I did censor it for some extended family members.  One day shortly after Amarys was born my sister in law came to visit and Riley collapsed in a heap of jumbled, new-sister-in-the-house emotions, and the kindest thing to do for him right then was to breastfeed him.  So I did.  My sister in law was kind enough to keep her eyeballs up off the floor but I know she had no idea I was still breastfeeding him until that moment.
Ah, life.  SO FUNNY!  She didn't say anything.

Anyways, some few things about tandem breastfeeding that I noted...

First, the best best best thing about breastfeeding two in the first week was that Riley could help me when my breasts were too full and Amarys wasn't hungry.  To combat my tendency towards breastmilk oversupply, I 'block fed' Amarys from day one.  Block feeding is when you feed a baby more than one time in a row on the same breast.  So for example I would feed her at one o'clock until she was full and happy and fell asleep, and then when she woke up at two o'clock to feed again, I would feed her on that same breast again until she was full and happy and fell asleep again.  Every woman is different but I find that my supply in the first six months after my baby is born is best controlled with two or three block feeds in a row before switching sides.  For most women, this will significantly decrease their milk supply so this technique is really only for women who are sure they have too much milk.  Well, it worked really well to do it from birth this time; my previous babies I didn't start block feeding until well into the first month or two and I had way too much milk, forceful letdown, vomity, gassy, unhappy babies, pain for me, and very rapid infant weight gain.  This time I managed to avoid much of that, but it meant my first week was miserable.  I have never felt the excruciating pain of engorgement quite like I did when block feeding that first week after Amarys was born.  It felt like broken glass was inside my breasts every time I moved them, cutting me up from the inside.  Ohhhh, the pain.  Riley was handy.  He would nurse and take the edge off my engorgement if I needed some relief.  Also, those first days when engorgement happens it is really difficult for a newborn to latch on; my boobs were enormous and hard, and the areola impossible to stuff deep into her mouth like it should be to create an effective latch.  Riley was happy to help me out there, too, and empty them out a bit so Amarys could latch better.  WOW was that awesome.

It was also really nice to be able to comfort Riley in a really tangible, skin to skin, cuddly, nurturing way as he adjusted to life as no-longer-the-youngest.  I really think he had little jealousy because I was still breastfeeding him.  I didn't limit him much those first weeks because he needed the extra cuddles.  The only thing I really didn't like doing was actually nursing them both at the exact same time, so that didn't happen in the early days.  It also takes a fair amount of work to get a newborn to latch and stay latched effectively for an entire feed, and they are floppy so they need more support.  My breasts are ginormosauruses so they need support in the early days, too.  Supporting a breast, a newborn, AND making room for a preschooler on my lap was a bit too tall an order for me.  I think I tried once or twice and wound up a sticky, sweaty, disheveled mess, with a two crying kids on my hands and no milk in anybody.  So, while I breastfed Riley largely on demand those first weeks, I didn't always say yes, because sometimes (often) I was breastfeeding his sister.  She obviously needed it more.  =)  But nursing him when he wanted allowed him to reconnect on a deep level and avoid jealousy for the most part.  And it was his reward for sticking it out with breastfeeding through pregnancy, to have scads of milk on tap again.  I'm so, so glad we made it all the way through my pregnancy without weaning.  I treasured that relationship and wanted to end on a positive note, and he really still seemed to still need it.

When Amarys was able to hold her head up for extended periods I got so that I *could* nurse them tandem, but I hated it.  The only time I resorted to true tandem breastfeeding was when Brent was working nights and I put all four kids to bed on my own.  Amarys would be tired and hungry and overstimulated and attack me like a leech and Riley would be wailing for milk to fall asleep to, so I would lie on his bed and nurse him lying down, and prop Amarys up across me 'standing up,' supporting her with my underneath arm and my breast with my top arm.  I may have needed a few chiropractic adjustments just from those nights alone!  Sweaty, disheveling, but not impossible.  Milk in two kids: mission accomplished.  Riley got stepped on, kicked, and puked on more than once.

I far preferred curling up with one or the other of them and nursing them alone.  This worked beautifully when Amarys slept ten to twelve hours at night without waking (remember that?  Me, too.  She doesn't really do that anymore).  But whenever she didn't (she went through phases), it was an all night snack bar in my bed.  Some nights when Amarys was around six months old, I got only two or three hours of sleep total.  Interrupted.  Up, down, and sideways.  So I night weaned Riley, who is freaking stubborn about only two or three things in life and I'm one of those things.  Although I night weaned him he was still up in my face eleven billion times a night, asking for milk or to hold my hand or for help going pee...
Mainly, though, those weeks were fewer than the weeks of happy snuggling.  And eventually I worked out a system of sleeping and waking and feeding and not feeding that ensured sleep for me and milk in tummies at the right times.  It helped that I'm an experienced mom.  And experienced nurser.  I know that each phase passes so much quicker than it feels like it ever could when you are new to it, so even the most interminable nights didn't seem so awful.  And I had all kinds of tricks up my sleeve from having other babies and hearing other moms talk about their tricks, so I weathered it okay.  My amazing hubs helped tons, too.  Some days I just said, "I gotta go!" and walked out of the house for an hour and Brent would cheerily wave goodbye and look after all four kids and ask if I had enough of a break when I got back.  He's a weird sock matcher but he's got his good side.  =)   And never, never, NEVER once in all my years of breastfeeding did he ever suggest I do anything but exactly what I felt was best.  Breastfeed more, less, older, younger, in public, in private, in front of his family, at night, during the day, two at once, or none at all.  He supported me one hundred percent.  He's a miracle.  I didn't find him of my own merit; God dropped him in my lap and said,
ENOUGH ALREADY.  You're a terrible mate selector.  CHOOSE THIS.
Oh, so much wiser than I.

I eventually asked Riley to stop breastfeeding.  We had been talking about it in an abstract way for several months, discussing how old he might be when he stopped having milkies, and how that might feel, and how much he loved it and had enjoyed milkies since the day he was born.  He was totally willing to talk about weaning; some days he would say he would probably breastfeed until he was four, and other days until he was eight (grossing Ayden out, being eight himself), but he wasn't really taking any leaps towards actually stopping the milkies.  I told him how much I liked cuddling with him when he had milk, but that his mouth and teeth were getting big and that his teeth often hurt me, which they did despite lots of work on his latch.  And I said sometime soon maybe we should stop.  He wasn't keen on the idea but I emphasized the positive things about growing up and being big (while choking back tears that he was actually old enough to have this conversation with; what happened to my 10 lb 2 oz chubby baby??!!).  Like going to Strong Start, watching Dora, riding his bike, playing at the park, and traveling to Victoria with his Nana.  He liked that.  And he tolerated it when one morning after a particularly painful morning nursing session with me grinding my teeth in frustration, I told him, I think that after today we won't have milkies anymore.  He asked for about a week, but I reminded him of the joys of being a big boy, and empathized with how nice it was to have milk and how he missed it, and he perked up.  We warmed him up some milk in a sippy cup for the first few nights, just so he had something similar to help him settle in, but after awhile he didn't want it anymore, and he stopped asking to nurse.

I miss it, but I don't.  I have another baby to breastfeed and it is nice to focus solely on her (I just recently stopped donating milk for Brayden as well, which I'm going to write about in another post, so it really is, finally, just her).  I felt very good about what I was able to accomplish with three plus years of breastfeeding Riley, and think we weaned at exactly the right time for us.  In a pretty gentle way.  ♥

1 comment:

melissa said...

Okay, now I'm all smiley and excited for the tandem nursing days to come. You're such an awesome mama, and I really admire the way you honor your children while staying in tune with yourself and your own needs. It's a beautiful thing!