Tandem feeding without the tie-dye

There are tiny footsteps across the landing and a little hand that needs a lift into his mummy’s bed. In he climbs and they lie down, him in the crook of her arm, her smelling the Johnson’s Baby shampoo off his soft head, listening to the quiet buzz of the house. Quietly, he asks, “back?” and settles down to nurse. Back is his toddler pronunciation of ‘milk’. The baby starts snuffling and sucking her thumb in the basket. “Baby, back,” he says and so she’s lifted out and joins them in the crook of mummy’s other arm. He strokes her little fingers and her copious amount of hair … or pokes her in the eye saying “eyes, mummy!”

Stanley is now two years old and his sister Lucy is four months and I breastfeed them both. If you had talked to the 21 year old me I am sure that I would have had very different ideas and attitudes about tandem breastfeeding. To me, it was something that fitted a certain stereotype and one that I did not seem to fit. I haven’t suddenly gone vegan or started going around barefooted in floaty tie-dye fabrics with flowers in my hair doing yoga, which is what my younger self would have perhaps presumed tandem feeders look like. The younger me would have felt uncomfortable at the thought of breastfeeding for an extended period of time, let alone having two nurslings simultaneously. Tandem feeding was not something that I planned. Rather like a child would say when he’s smashed your favourite ornament: It just happened.

 As I lay in bed this morning I remembered how it was three years ago this week I was injecting drugs into my tummy which ended up in me conceiving Stanley. After the years of waiting to have a baby, I struggled to accept that I was pregnant; that my body would do what it was meant to do. I did know that I was determined to breastfeed. Who knows where my steely determination came from? Perhaps it was wanting to do the ‘natural’ thing after the unnatural conception, or maybe it was down to the fact I knew it would reduce my elevated risk of breast cancer. Whatever the reason, I was stubborn to the point of refusing to give up when the going got unbearably tough. At eight weeks old it was still agony. I suffered from bacterial infections, thrush and bleeding nipples with a baby who wanted feeding every two hours at best. Despite all that, we continued and it got easier. It got so easy that he would latch himself on when I dozed during the night. At six months he was found to be allergic to cows’ milk proteins. This only fuelled my determination to continue feeding him for as long as possible.

We breastfed happily into his second year. I was so incredibly proud that, despite all the challenges we’d faced, my body had grown and nurtured this boy for so long. I was happy to continue to breastfeed him for as long as he needed it and as long as we were both happy to carry on. Aware that he was becoming a toddler and that the baby days were fading, I continued to do what I’d always done: I breastfed my baby just like I had done every day since his birth.

It crossed my mind that if we wanted to have another baby then I would have to stop breastfeeding in order to maximise my chances of a frozen round of IVF being successful. However, we had no immediate plans to have another attempt and I hoped that it wouldn’t later be a choice between breastfeeding and trying to give Stanley a sibling.

One day when Stanley was 15 months old my well-used nipples became sore. I presumed Stanley had become a lazy-feeder or was growing yet more teeth. I was not prepared for the fact that it was because I had somehow rather miraculously become pregnant. After the shock had died down (actually, I still don’t think it has!), I began to wonder about how being pregnant would affect our breastfeeding relationship. I felt saddened at the thought that his breastfeeding may come to an unexpected end, forced by me – either willingly due to me encouraging him to wean, or unwilling due to pregnancy forcing him to self-wean. I decided to go with the flow and to take each day at a time, just as I’d always done. Part of me hoped that he’d self-wean and the decision would not be mine but the other part of me hoped he’d continue for his benefit (there are a number of benefits to longer term breastfeeding.)

He did continue and, as my pregnancy progressed, he became more interested in breastfeeding. At times this was challenging. I wanted to reassure him and allow him to make his own choices but breastfeeding in pregnancy was hard. It was uncomfortable at times, not to mention the bump getting in the way. Sometimes he wouldn’t have looked out of place at tumble tots with the amount of breastfeeding acrobatics that were occurring! However, despite the challenges, nursing him would often allow us to fall asleep together which was often a God-send in late pregnancy. In the last few weeks of my pregnancy we gradually introduced some ‘rules’ for breastfeeding, knowing that soon enough there’d be a newborn in the picture. Stanley readily accepted that he could breastfeed first thing upon waking in the morning and just before bed.

We’d just finished an early morning feed when my waters broke 8 days before my due date. I’ll always treasure that memory of his last feed before having to share with his sibling. Later that day I gave birth to his sister, Lucy, and unlike her brother, she latched on beautifully straight away. The first night we were home I ended up feeding them both at the same time. It was an incredible moment for me. We’d overcome so much just to have one baby and here I was, breastfeeding two!

 I did come across some interesting view points and curious questions when I admitted to continuing breastfeeding in pregnancy. I was asked questions such as “but isn’t it risky in pregnancy?”, “but won’t Stanley take the baby’s milk?” and “how will your body make two different milks?“.

In answer to these questions, the body prioritises the baby in pregnancy and beyond. During pregnancy the breasts return to making colostrum, the antibody-rich first milk that a newborn needs. This means that when the baby is born, in tandem feeding, both baby and toddler receive this ‘liquid gold’ (it also makes for some interesting toddler nappies due to its laxative effects to rid a newborn’s body of meconium!).

I’m fairly open with folk about breastfeeding and I always have been. I’m not so loudly open about tandem feeding. Most people presume that I have long since finished feeding Stanley and I choose whether or not to correct them depending on circumstance. Most of the time I do admit to our continued breastfeeding because it makes me incredibly proud but there are times when I’m rather sheepish about it, after all, I know how I felt about tandem breastfeeding and breastfeeding toddlers before I found myself doing it! I’ve been faced with a range of reactions, mostly a surprised exclamation or expression closely followed by a question about it or a “wow, well done!“. People are naturally curious and I understand why. I guess most people want to know what it’s like.

What is it like?

The Good: It’s wonderful. Exhausting, tiring and tying yet wonderful. When I see their sleepy faces whilst feeding it makes my whole body fill with more love for them than I ever thought possible. I see my two-year-old son look over at his baby sister with curiosity and kindness. He takes her hand, and pats her on the head (he’s not yet mastered the skill of gentle touching just yet!). Sometimes I just wrap my arms around both of my nurslings and wonder how I got so lucky.

When I’m feeding Lucy and he’s playing he’ll often come over and look and smile and say “back” (he can’t say milk’) and “baby”. He doesn’t show any jealousy towards her. In fact, at times, he has told me to feed her when she’s crying! Sometimes he’ll sit next to me with a book about tractors and we’ll read together while she feeds. It is my experience that continuing to breastfeed Stanley has aided his bond with his sister. He’s already learning to share and this sharing of mummy is allowing him to still have that very close contact with me and also his sibling.

The Bad: Breastfeeding in pregnancy is hard. At times I experienced an intense irritation of it. I didn’t want to be touched and often felt a bit mauled (this breastfeeding aversion is common in in pregnancy and sometimes afterwards too). I rode the storm and it did go away. It was also sore and the bump got in the way. I also worried a little at the rather intense bashing the bump took during acrobatic breastfeeding sessions!

It can also be hard once the baby is there. Sometimes my bigger one sees me feeding my littler one and sometimes he wants milk too. Saying “no” to a toddler, whatever the reason, is often met with a tantrum! Distraction works well (often, ashamedly in the form of a biscuit here!).

The Future: Since we put Stanley into a big boy bed we also used it as an opportunity to stop the bed time feed which he readily accepted so he tends to just feed in the morning, usually at the crack of dawn as is his new getting-up time. In the morning I’m often engorged (Lucy’s an amazing sleeper of a baby!) and so Stanley feeding actually helps lessen the painful engorgement. I think it will be a while before he willingly gives up this feed. It is our moment together and is most certainly preferable to his very early wake ups! I look at him and I see the baby he still is but also the boy that he is becoming and it makes my heart swell. I know that these days where he is a babe in my arms nursing at my breast are limited and I intend to treasure these rare moments of peace where we’re back where we started and where we are meant to be. 

If you’re thinking about, or facing the prospect of tandem feeding, then there isn’t a vast array of obvious support available. It’s rare to find breastfed toddlers never mind tandem feeders! I was recommended a book “Adventures in Tandem Nursing” by Hilary Fowler though I have to say I haven’t actually read it myself. The best advice, though, comes from those who have been there. I was lucky enough to be able to find like-minded individuals through studying for a breastfeeding peer support course provided by my local infant nutrition team. Us tandem feeders are out there – you just need to look and ask! It won’t always be the tie-dye that gives us away.

 

Time goes so fast

I’m still nursing my 27mo daughter. Before she arrived, I hoped I would be able to breastfeed – my mum passed away before I got pregnant, but I know she breastfed me and my brothers and always spoke positively of it. However I didn’t want to set my heart on something I couldn’t guarantee would be possible.

I was lucky enough to have a very healthy baby who latched like a trooper immediately. After a few hurdles (regressing to a sloppy latch initially, two months of agonising nipple thrush, some oversupply issues), our BFing relationship became happily established and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I was lucky enough to be running my own business and so took her with me to work and fed her in the shop. She was a very relaxed and easy newborn.

Time ticked on and around 6 months my easy newborn ‘woke up’ and became much more challenging! She really, really suffered with teething (including an ear infection for nearly every tooth) and struggled to calm down when emotional and distressed. BFing soothed her so amazingly well that it never crossed my mind to stop, and soon 6 months turned into 9, then 12. Time goes so fast when you are dealing with the day to day of a small person. People kept asking if she had weaned yet as she hadn’t really taken to solids and suggested it was a factor but I just knew she wasn’t really ready. Sure enough a few months later she started eating solids like a trooper. She has always looked older than her actual age, so I went through a phase of feeling incredibly self-conscious and yes, embarrassed that I was still feeding my ‘big girl’. I didn’t really know any other mums extended (or longer-term, as I like to think) breastfeeding, but was fortunate enough to have several extremely supportive online groups who helped me trust my instinct that it was NOT a ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’ thing to do.

Canines and molars came along, sleep regressions came and went, and I struggled with late-onset PND. My cuddly baby was turning into a wildly independent, confident toddler who adored nursery and socialising and could hardly spare the time to hug me. Around 14 months we settled into a happy routine of one feed on waking and sometimes if she struggled to settle during the night.  As she got older and more independent, I started to treasure the moments of ‘booby cuddles’ we had together more and more, as I never knew when they would end, but assumed it would be soon.

When I got pregnant, the questions started again – was she weaned, wouldn’t it make her jealous of the new baby, etc? I felt under a lot of pressure to wean her especially during the intensely stressful and emotional times of 1st trimester, but it just didn’t feel right. I perfectly accept that it is not for everyone, but for me I cannot hold a child who is screaming in pain and tiredness from a molar cutting or a relentless cough (and yes, we do give her calpol etc too), and know I have something within my grasp that will sooth her better than anything else and not use it. For better or worse that is why we are still going at 27 months, with me 4 months pregnant. I feel like my milk has largely gone now, and her feeds are briefer and rarer than ever, but she still knows that if she needs it at night, she can snuggle down in my arms and have a quick feed.

I’m lucky that my husband and family are unquestioningly supportive (and if they don’t completely agree with it in principle, they keep that opinion to themselves). I don’t talk about longer-term breastfeeding openly among my extended group of friends because I felt some assumptions were made about me as a person who EBF and didn’t wean at the ‘standard’ 3-6 months (ie that I disapproved of FF, which has never been the case), and I feel it is such an emotive subject that everyone brings their own agendas to, I would rather not go there. However I do occasionally post the odd positive-about-longer-term-BFing blog or article in the hope that my friends who are in, or coming up to a similar point with their babies, know they can talk to me about it.

Infant feeding: the problem with calling it choice

Hands up who likes the term ‘feeding choice’?

I don’t.

Bottle feeding mums defend their ‘choices’ when in actual fact many would argue there wasn’t much choice in it at all. How they came to feed their little ones was more of a baby/life-led decision, made when they felt at their most broken; a series of events that called for a series of options when all the best laid plans had turned to shit, forever to be stereotyped because of their feeding outcome.

It doesn’t just work that way for the decanters either. There are those that feed their children beyond two years of age. They get pigeon-holed and stereotyped too. Just today, I read a comment from a mother whose GP had remarked it ‘odd’ she was still feeding her two year old. I have had someone comment on this blog about feeding children beyond a certain age increases the risk of autism because of the toxins in hooter juice. I have had friends being told they’re giving their children mental problems. We do that anyway, regardless of how long they boob-fed for.

So, let’s sum this up; if you bottle feed, you’re lazy, irresponsible, selfish, uneducated and your children will be fat, wheezy, thick and covered in warts and boils. If you breastfeed beyond two years of age, you’re lazy, irresponsible, selfish, uneducated and your children will be mentally deranged autistic perverts. No hope either way by my reckoning.

Over the next few blogs, I will be looking into the research surrounding feeding beyond two years of age and would like to share a couple stories with you; from mums that are boobing their kids beyond the age of two. Even if you think this isn’t a subject for you, please stick around because hopefully you’ll see it isn’t militant lactivists putting their narcissistic needs before their child’s. They are mothers being baby/life-led, just like everyone else.

Let us start with this:

“I had a very bad start bringing my boy into the world. I suffered a huge haemorrhage and my heart stopped.  I underwent a lot of treatment resulting in memory loss, dislocated hips, the list goes on …

My partner, unknown to me, actually listened when I was pregnant. He spent the first 3 days of our son’s life battling with staff to not give him a bottle as I spent my time fighting in ICU to be his mummy.

An off duty nurse, who came from nowhere,  started holding my son to me, helping me feed him when I was not awake.  When I awoke, the first thing they did was take me to a room and latch him on again;  my arms and legs were elevated and in these strange contraptions that were blown up and down to help my circulation.  I had been given so much blood I looked like the Michelin man!

Anyway my son fed and kept feeding and loved it. Because of our start, I feel so blessed to have been able to breast feed and now he is going to be 2 in April! I have gotten to the point where I am just going to rely on talking to him about it when he understands a bit more; that it’s time to stop but for now it’s all that settles him… He doesn’t sleep through ever at all everrrrr! And the only thing that’s settles is the boob. I have tried everything believe me!

He doesn’t feed in the day, although he asks if he falls over or feels tired. It’s just a night night bedtime thing now.

Last week a friend of mine posted a picture of her breast feeding her newborn child on Instagram.  She is a very well known artist and has 100s of followers. She had nothing but likes and good wishes. I wrote a message saying that it was a beautiful picture and she was doing an amazing  job. She then replied to me tagging my name to the message and said what an amazing job I had done and she hopes she will be able to feed for as long as me …

I then received a horrid message under a photograph of my son on my Instagram from a complete stranger saying “omg jeez, you’re not seriously saying you still breastfeed a mature infant? That’s completely disgusting and vile and you shouldn’t be a parent” …. It gets worse …..

I got emails saying I am affecting my son mentally and I am vile woman, doing it only for myself and I need help.  Then I got this message, “breastfeeding is for nutrition and bonding, yes, but at two years old, a child would have and should have formed a bond already. I feel sorry for your child that is sucking on his mother’s breast when he’s a mature infant just to please your needs. He will develop complexes in later life. I find this really appalling.”

I reported and blocked them and have had just one email since.

It has completely affected me. It is like someone who has no idea who I am has completely shattered me .

I have always suffered with lack of confidence. Becoming a mother was terrifying for me as I don’t want my son to become anxious like me. I want him to be happy and confident and healthy. That’s all I ever want for him. He can do anything and I will always support him. But now I feel like everything I have done so far is because I have been selfish and because of our start, perhaps I haven’t been able to let go and everything that he struggles with now is in effect due to me not letting go? I have no idea what I am doing now.

I know my son is happy and healthy. He won’t drink from a bottle. He won’t even have my milk in a bottle or cup. Just wants to breast feed the whole way and I am ok with it. So why is that a problem I have no idea? I didn’t think I would breast feed at all let alone for 2 years.

It’s such a head job being a mum and everyone has different opinions and I just wish I had enough confidence to be strong in my own opinions.  I don’t know why I am still breast feeding. I don’t know why my child doesn’t sleep. But deep down, I feel my son is comforted by me and I him and we have a bond. He will make his own decision when the time is right for him .

I don’t want to be doing this when he’s 4 but I’d like to think all this hard work came to a lovely end when we both talked to each other about it and I want that to remain a constant throughout his entire life. I am his mum and his point of call for anything he needs.

If you are a longer-term boober and would like to offer support to this mummy, then please get in touch, either by commenting below or by emailing evidencebasedtitsandteeth@gmail.com.

If you have your own feeding stereotype-busting story you want to tell, then please get in touch.

My milk brings all the boys to the yard
My milk brings all the boys to the yard

 

19 months and counting…

I had always intended to breastfeed my baby. It wasn’t a conscious decision, it was just the way I thought things should be. I had planned a pool birth and would feed immediately. I was in shock at needing an emergency caesarean section and was exhausted after a 32.5 hour labour but my son and I had skin to skin once we got up to the ward about 2 hours after his birth and he latched straight away. He stayed that way for 2.5 hours! The midwife then dressed him and put him in the bassinet. We had a good first night, I can’t remember how much he fed but it wasn’t that much, maybe twice, and we both got some sleep.

The next day he was very sleepy and showing signs of jaundice so I was told to not let him sleep for longer than 6 hours without a feed. He also had urates in his nappy but the hospital weren’t too concerned about this.

On night 2 my son latched and must have stayed that way for 12 hours! He screamed when I put him down to even use the toilet. The midwife assured me this was normal newborn behaviour for night 2. I managed to doze on and off but it was exhausting.

By 2 weeks all the jaundice had gone, but my nipples were in shreds and I had a searing pain on let down. It was so bad I had to bite my finger to stop me screaming out in pain. We had moved on to visits by the health visitor now. My son had regained his birth weight and more and she assured me the let down pain would be gone by 6 weeks. She was very supportive of breastfeeding.

At 3 weeks my nipples were still bleeding. If my son vomited it was pink! I also still had the let down pain and was exhausted. One night I was in so much pain I decided I couldn’t continue. It was a Sunday night and we had no bottles of formula in, so I had to continue until morning. Of course in the morning I kept going. I felt breastfeeding was best for my baby as I have allergies and asthma and I wanted to give him the best possible chance of avoiding these things.

By 6 weeks my nipples had more or less healed, the let down pain had gone, I was attending a weekly breastfeeding group, and my son was sleeping for longer at night. I thought we had it solved!

At around 9 weeks my son developed what appeared to be severe eczema. By 14 weeks he was covered in it and waking lots at night. It took until he was 5 months and many, many trips to the GP and dermatologist to work out he was allergic to cow’s milk and was reacting to it in my breastmilk. This is the simplified story, it was a very long and upsetting process. Despite my GP telling me that me having cow’s milk wouldn’t affect my baby, I knew it was and decided to eliminate dairy from my diet. At this point I was also given prescription formula. I did try to give it to my son but he refused it, so I had no choice but to continue breastfeeding.

Within a couple of months my son’s skin was better and he was sleeping better at night, only waking for 1 or 2 feeds.

Of course there were the usual growth spurts along the way. I haven’t included specifics of them in my story as I can’t remember! They were tough, I remember that! After 6 weeks old my son only gained 2-3oz a weeks and did the rest of his growing during growth spurts. (He dropped from the 75th centile to the 25th but luckily the health visitor who runs our local breastfeeding group wasn’t concerned and never suggested I needed to top up.) I was already feeding about 12 times in 24 hours and this increased during the dreaded growth spurts. I was tired. It was horrible. I took it one feed at a time and we got through it. Guilt also kept me feeding. In my mind I had failed to give birth to my son properly by needing an emergency caesarean section, the least I could do was breast feed him. (Of course having a section of any kind isn’t failing, but in my mind this is what I thought).

I was lucky that I found it very easy to express and my husband gave our son an expressed bottle once a week from about 6 weeks old, so I have had a bit of freedom to go out for a few hours without him, but I rarely did! It is only now at nearly 19 months I feel comfortable leaving him for a few hours!  My son was reluctant to drink from a bottle so there was always some excess which I kept in the freezer. At around 9 months my son started refusing a bottle altogether, so at 10 months my husband started offering him soya milk from a beaker the one evening a week I was out. I continued to express for a few more weeks and froze it. I had about 35oz of expressed milk in the freezer and realised my son was never going to drink it. I didn’t want to throw it away after all that work to express it. I found out about Human Milk 4 Human babies through a friend in Canada and found the Facebook page for for the UK group. I posted that I had frozen milk to offer. A lovely lady contacted me to ask for it for her daughter. She asked me various questions about my health and lifestyle which I answered honestly. I was happy to provide her with any information she required about me. We then arranged to meet at a local shopping centre one Saturday afternoon. I had the milk frozen in special storage bags of various sizes. I packed them all into an insulated bag and set off. It was very odd looking for a stranger at a shopping centre with a bag full of milk! I easily found her thanks to her description of wearing her daughter in a green sling. We chatted for a while and I handed over the milk. She thanked me then we said goodbye. I have messaged her since to see how her daughter is getting on. They are doing well and she said her daughter was very settled whilst drinking my milk.

My milk supply has settled now so I can no longer express any milk. If I could, I would be happy to still donate it to babies in need.

At 19 months I am now so glad I stuck with breastfeeding (sometimes against what I thought I wanted). It is so easy and quick. My son is very rarely ill and I love those special cuddles with him. 30% of my antenatal group were still breastfeeding at 1+, and I know this helps to make it feel normal when our society seems to think feeding over 1’s isn’t right.

I’m not sure how long I’ll continue. I never intended to be feeding a 19 month old! I did have a wobble and think about stopping around my son’s 1st birthday but it didn’t feel right as I don’t think it was the right time for us. I thought 6 months would be my limit. I have 2 years in my mind now, but we’ll see.