The Logistics and Worries of Tandem Nursing

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I have a lot of trust these days.

Mothers in our culture are told she should wean her older child when she’s pregnant (“or else you’ll miscarry!”); that the older one will take all the important nutrients away from the new baby if they tandem nurse; that the older kid should be eating “real” food so nursing is no longer a “need” (as if breastfeeding is alone defined by its nutritional profile); that the older child will never wean on his own.

I was forced to confront the truth-to-myth ratio in these things I really had no idea about. I wondered if I’m doing things right, I consulted with my intuition (and my children because they’re wiser than we give them credit for — and, I’ll admit, online forums and a Tarot deck more than once).

I realized tandem nursing just happens however it does, despite any careful planning or controlling I may have preferred. On a deeper, more trusting level, I know this is happening as its meant to.

I know my almost four-year-old MaiTai isn’t going to bogart all the milk that my newly four-month-old Julep needs. I know it’s okay for me to nurse my older kid in public. I know I’m not the first or last mother to tandem nurse children aged several years apart.

But the logistics of it all… the logistics! There’s no map for this.

What if my older kid drinks all the milk?

When baby Julep wakes up for the day, he wants to eat. Within minutes, his older brother wakes up and wants nanoo, too. He’s got his spiel down to an art form.

“Mommy! I want nanoo, please. I need nanoo. And no, I don’t want water, I don’t want yum-yums, I don’t want breakfast, I don’t want peanut butter or strawberries, I don’t want a cup or a spoon, and no I don’t want to watch The Vegan Zombie first. Just nanoo.”

(Of course, after nanoo he suddenly has an appetite for all the aforementioned, but I won’t dare psychoanalyze an almost four-year-old).

So here’s the thing. There is no end to the milk. As long as the milk is consistently removed, more will come. Actually, I’d have less milk if my Hoover-mouthed older kid wasn’t still nursing. I have to reassure myself of this fact constantly.

If MaiTai happens to have a nursing session right before Julep, all will be well.

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What if I get a foremilk/hindmilk imbalance?

MaiTai prefers the more watery foremilk, which means when baby Julep gets MaiTai’s ‘leftovers’ he’s mostly filling his belly with the higher-calorie stuff.

I’ve found myself confused on many occasions, though.

MaiTai  asks, “Which side should I have, Mommy?”

I pause to have thoughts for about thirty seconds before I realize I’m afflicted with Breastfeeding Brain (I just wrote “I pause to have thoughts,” didn’t I?) and cannot capably make such a committed assessment.

Which side did I nurse on last? Who nursed on it last? Should MaiTai have his thirst quenched with a fuller breast right now or should I save that one for Julep?

Analyze once, analyze twice, three times and you’ve been over-analyzing from the start. Any kind of breastfeeding (perhaps especially tandem breastfeeding) works best when spared from the tendency to nitpick, overplan, and hyper-regulate.

(Breathe in)

The first thing to remember is there is no such thing as two kinds of milk. Foremilk and hindmilk are the same thing… they’re both milk! Ahhh…

(and breathe out).

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Does my older kid only love me for my breast milk?

I like to think my young baby sees me, his mother, as his home planet. He gravitates toward my body, exhales a satisfied sigh of relieved homesickness with simple physical reconnect, grazes upon the goods of my body’s Earth, reflects the shine of my Sunny smile with his own gummy grin, and so on. A baby’s mother habitat fulfills his most basic and primal needs.

So to my baby, I’m as functional as I am magical. He’s still as much a part of me as he was in my womb (though every day he gains more awareness of his identity as a separate, orbiting entity around his home planet). For the time being, he loves me because I care for him. Because I nurse him, among other things. Totally understandable.

But my older kid, well, I thought maybe he’d have gathered some other reasons to love me by now.

“Mommy, I love you because you have nanoo.”

“Oh, is that the only reason you love me?” I replied coyly.

“Yes.”

“Oh. Well, you realize one day I won’t have nanoo anymore, right? I won’t have nanoo forever.”

After an awkwardly long pause, he confirmed it.

“Yeah, no, then I won’t love you anymore.”

Jeez kid. Guess who’s getting Lunchables the day I dry up…

I’m kidding! I’ll get some organic Lunchables and I might even put it on a non-paper plate.

Nah, I’m really kidding. Unless they really do start selling organic Lunchables…

It’s okay, I’m sure he loves me for other things too. Like letting him wear nothing but underpants for three(+) days straight. (At their best, four-year-olds are easy to please!).

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Why do I sometimes hesitate before nursing my older kid in public?

So, tandem nursing different ages in public can get a little … je ne sais quoi … let’s say, non-ideal?

I don’t want to feel judged by denizens of the public ‘scape when my older kid tugs on my shirt, enthusiastically asking (alright, demanding-ish), “Nanoo, please, Mommy!” (hey, at least he said please, right? Here’s to you, Daniel Tiger).

I’m an experienced breastfeeding mother (whatever that means), and I’m confident in my capacity (nay, obligation) to breastfeed whenever and wherever I need to and can. That doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally feel weird doing it.

Sometimes I get a nagging vibe that I’m being watched, or I get a little paranoid that a camera phone is being pointed at us, or that the nearby wait staff’s stares and smirks are aghast instead of adoring. Maybe it’s all in my head. But I do brace myself for ‘a situation’ because my top priority is to protect my children.

How sad that I feel concern for my children’s safety when I feed and comfort them at my breast, where they’re meant to be fed and comforted, just because they’re both beyond the national average age of weaning.

Thankfully, we’ve had no issues nursing in public with the little one or the big one. Still, though I’m an experienced breastfeeding mother, I haven’t fully let go of the fear of judgment because ‘a situation’ would affect my involved children.

The last thing I want is for an ignorant jerk to stare, comment, or audibly whisper to his company about my older child wanting to nurse in public, and my allowing of it. No one’s going to hurt my feelings, but what about my kids’ feelings?

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Can’t he wait?

Yes, and he does wait, but he doesn’t always understand why he has to. After all, his baby brother never has to wait.

I find myself regularly telling MaiTai know it’s not “his turn” because our exculsively-breastfed, non-bottlefed baby’s hunger usually takes precedence. And many times my sanity comes first, too.

When MaiTai has to wait, I explain how baby Julep “cannot eat big boy foods yet, he can only eat and drink nanoo.” He gets this. He often eats his meals in front of Julep “to teach him how one day he can eat this watermelon/carrot/tortilla/etc.”

MaiTai likes to ask for nanoo when his little brother is nursing. When I need to avoid nursing two kids in my lap at once, I communicate (and often repeat) the desired boundaries. As gently as I can, even if it’s through gritted teeth, because he’s a sensitive kid — not unlike every other preschool-aged kid.

I explain how I’m too tired to nurse him after his brother, or that I need space for a bit. He’s able to respect personal boundaries, but he doesn’t really get what aversion or feeling ‘all-touched-out’ means. In a way, I kind of hope he never does.

Sometimes when I need a break from nursing, I tell MaiTai I need more water first so I can make more nanoo (though I know that’s not actually how it works. If The Designated Dad is around, MaiTai suggests he fetch me a glass of water. 😀 ). Or I say we have to wait until Julep is napping for us to be able to nurse uninterrupted. And I reiterate our household rule: only two people to a chair (most of the time that’s an adult plus the baby).

Whether or not he understands why I can’t maintain a breastfeeding free-for-all, I still worry. I don’t want him to feel like he’s being second-ranked. (Oh, bad mother guilt. When does that stop, again? Sometime soon?).

Despite the agitation, the turn-taking, the occasional chaos… I do love nursing my older kid as much as I love nursing my baby. When it’s peaceful, there’s simply nothing else that comes close to replicating this peace.

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Where’s the fun in this?

When they nurse separately, we can do fun things that help me ignore the aversion if it’s one of those days. (Lately we’ve been watching episodes of The Vegan Zombie or I’ll read math and language flash cards out loud).

Thankfully, sometimes MaiTai’s satisfied just watching the milk spew out from the sides of Julep’s mouth because he thinks it looks like spiderwebs.

“Look Mommy! He’s shooting your spiderwebs like Spider-Man! He ate your webs!”

I mean really, you just can’t make this stuff up.

The best part about tandem nursing two children aged several years apart? The reason I’m a willing participant in this journey highlighted by many hours scrunched up on couches, tethered by my breasts, always damp with milk, juggling a mess of limbs that aren’t mine?

The interaction between these kids when they nurse together, or when they watch the other nursing separately, eyes shining with adoration for the other, two brothers in this life-giving milk covenant.

Given their age difference, it’s one of the primary ways they can bond so intimately.

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