Dr. Steph’s Adventures in Tandem Breastfeeding
Dr. Steph recently wrote an article for Pathways to Family Wellness magazine all about her journey through tandem breastfeeding both of her children.
By the time I got pregnant, I knew I wanted to breastfeed. I had read all the books, websites, and Pathways articles I could and became extremely interested in the benefits of breast milk. All of my reading led me to decide that I wanted to breastfeed for two years. That was my goal. If I made it 6 months at least, it would be okay. If I made it a year, fine. But if I made it two years, I’d feel accomplished. I’d feel like Super Mom.
My first child, Aubree, was born in a hospital after three long days of laboring at home. Thank goodness for the skilled midwives, who came with us to the hospital and helped us advocate to avoid a cesarean birth and create as gentle an experience as possible. A pain-medicated birth wasn’t what I wanted, but at the time it was what I needed. The epidural allowed me to get some rest and regain the energy to start again. I remember my husband, Dean, asking the doctor if he could catch the baby, something we had planned at home; the doctor looked at him like he had two heads. I struggled with my birth experience for a long time, but my midwife told me later how incredible it was that, even though we were at a high-risk hospital with doctors and nurses who had never met us, I was still able to position myself to my hands and knees after getting my epidural, and have a vaginal birth. It’s rare for doctors to allow a mother to move into any position other than on her back after an epidural.
Breastfeeding Aubree was great…at first. While I was reclined, Aubree scooted, pushed, and bobbed her head— and with little guidance, she latched beautifully. This is called a “breast crawl.” I was elated. What a relief! She’s going to be a champ! Things slowly got more challenging. Then it started to hurt. Really hurt. I knew this wasn’t right, and that I needed to seek out a solution.
My midwives helped with positioning tips to make everything more comfortable. Chiropractic care and craniosacral therapy were essential. After each visit, things got easier and easier. I went to breastfeeding support groups led by certified lactation consultants, and it felt so good to be together in a room with other mothers; we all gathered and bonded over our dedication to breastfeeding our babies. With all the support, we eventually found our rhythm.
A slow transition back to work allowed me time to adapt to breastfeeding and pumping. When Aubree was 14 or 15 months, Dean and I got pregnant again. I still had a goal of breastfeeding until Aubree was at least 2 years old, but I knew that being pregnant might make that impossible. I had heard other mothers say that their older child didn’t like the milk when they got pregnant, or their milk dried up, or they just didn’t like the feeling of breastfeeding while pregnant. I was ready for the challenge but also didn’t want to push it if one of us wasn’t happy.
Luckily, Aubree showed no signs of wanting to stop. I was happy to continue, so we did. About 30 weeks or so into the pregnancy, I felt like I’d “dried up,” and the milk was sparse. At that point I felt like I had made it that far, so why not just keep going? More milk would come soon. And at around 36 weeks, more milk started coming. By that time, we were really only nursing in the mornings, and maybe a few times during the day. But the look on Aubree’s face when the milk started flowing again was like a blissful shock. It was so cute to see her slightly confused, pointing to my breast as if to show me that things had changed. She was almost 2, and my belly was huge.
Dean and I planned another home birth. Labor began in the morning with mild contractions, I breastfed Aubree, which helped to stimulate contractions. She stayed with us for several hours. Labor picked up quickly, and after a few more hours we had a beautiful home birth. Dean caught our son alongside our midwives, and we were snuggling in our bed within five minutes. I had another opportunity to watch my newborn do the breast crawl, and he latched beautifully. When Aubree saw him get “milkies,” she wanted some too. It was an adorable bonding moment that she could be soothed and nourished alongside her new baby brother. It’s a moment I’ll never forget.
Continuing to breastfeed both Aubree and Roland proved to be beneficial in so many ways. If I was engorged, Aubree took care of it. If my let-down was too fast, she latched first. If she was having a tough toddler moment, milkies saved the day. I’m not sure if it was just the fact that Roland was a second baby, or that I was still breastfeeding Aubree, or having a successful home birth, or all of it combined but feeding Roland was so much easier. In any case, I didn’t have any pain with his latch, my supply regulated much faster, and everything was just much more comfortable. It’s pretty convenient that nature gave us two breasts.
We continued to tandem for another year. During that time, I decided to put a few boundaries up for nursing Aubree. We had a rocking chair in the living room, and we decided that would be our milkies chair when we were home. It allowed me to feed Roland when needed without jealousy or meltdowns. Boundaries allowed me to maintain my modesty and avoid being fully exposed in public. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for breastfeeding in public, and I’d still nurse each one in public— just not at the same time. I think it’s important, but I didn’t feel totally comfortable being completely topless. I just felt too exposed.
With Aubree’s third birthday approaching I started to feel increasingly ready to wean her. We would go days sometimes without nursing, and she wouldn’t even ask. I felt ready, and I felt that she was ready too. We would talk about her not having any more milkies once she turned three. She seemed to understand. The day before her birthday I said, “Okay, Aubree, your birthday is tomorrow. You’re going to be three. Would you like milkies today for the last time ever?” She said yes, so we nursed. I let her feed for as long as she wanted. I offered the other side. And when she was done she popped off and said, “All done.” Prior to that, ending a nursing session was often met with upset, but this time was different. She finished when she was ready.
The next day she was 3. She told everyone, “I’m three and when I’m three I don’t get any more milkies.” Since that day, she has only asked once. When I gently said, “No, sweetie, we stopped doing milkies when you turned three,” she adorably responded, “I’m not three, I’m a baby.” It’s funny how smart they are. We giggled, and I again explained how we were all done with milkies for her. That was the last time she asked. I still cherish our three years of nursing together. It was such a beautiful challenge.
I’m so grateful that both my babies allowed me to nourish them for so long. It fostered such a profound connection, deeper than I ever imagined. I know not everyone is so lucky. So many families struggle much more than we did. But if breastfeeding is important to you, please, find your tribe who will support you, whether in person or online. Support is vital to your journey. It definitely was important to mine.