I never anticipated what a hot-button topic breastfeeding would be before I was immersed in the world of nursing my own babies. Breastfeeding one baby can be trying, but I can tell you from experience that transitioning to tandem nursing can make you question your sanity. All that being said, I’m here to encourage you and tell you it’s not impossible.
Choosing to Breastfeed Through Pregnancy
My husband and I both grew up with siblings. When it came time for us to start a family of our own, we decided to pass along the gift of a built-in best friend and give our children siblings close in age. In theory, having two babies within two years sounds efficient and practical. In actuality, it’s tough (to say the least). When our son was two weeks away from turning one, I stood in our bathroom with a pregnancy test in my hand, unsure if I was actually seeing a second line or if I just really wanted to see it. Sure enough, I was pregnant again.
As we began to tell friends and family, one of the recurring questions I got was “Are you going to keep nursing through pregnancy?” I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I always answered vaguely, saying I was sure my son would start to lose interest on his own as time went on, and I would probably wean him before the second baby made their appearance. But, as the months went on, my son grew even more attached to the breast. I think he could sense his time alone with his mama was coming to a close. I decided around four months into my pregnancy that I wasn’t going to wean him. To me, the benefits of breastfeeding through pregnancy outweighed the risks and detriments.
Benefits of Breastfeeding Through Pregnancy
I will admit, I was a little sad when I looked at my little one-year-old knowing he was about to become a big brother. Continuing to nurse through my pregnancy kept the bond between us strong, and allowed several moments throughout the day for me to reflect on the growing belly underneath the toddler I was nursing and soaking in all the amazing blessings in my life. I felt less worried about his transition to big brother, and didn’t have to think twice about how I was going to make time for him during the day once the baby was taking up most of my attention. Regardless of how insane life with a newborn was, my son would have his time and his milk as consolation.
The physical benefits of breastfeeding through pregnancy deserve mention as well. Once I reached the third trimester, nursing triggered helpful and productive contractions that toned and prepped my uterus for labor. As long as my contractions never got too close together or too strong, my midwife praised the little workout my body was getting a few times a day. Thanks to my son’s relentless appetite for milk, my second labor was a mere five hours long.
Mental and Physical Strains of Breastfeeding Through Pregnancy
Don’t get me wrong, friends, pregnancy is anything but sunshine and rainbows. Add nursing in there and it can be a lot of monochromatic storm clouds.
The nausea, headaches, food aversions, fatigue (or straight up exhaustion, if we’re being honest), and mood swings are all commonly known early pregnancy symptoms. Nursing aversions can also flare up during the first trimester and there’s very little you can do to appease them. Unfortunately, toddlers don’t seem to care much about your personal needs and wishes.
If you choose to breastfeed through pregnancy, I highly recommend prioritizing alone time whenever you can in order to balance out those aversions. Your body autonomy is compromised, and teaching a one-year-old consent is nearly impossible. That being said, breastfeeding is a great teaching tool and I’m glad I was able to establish some rudimentary language surrounding it. When my breasts were sore from the raging early-pregnancy hormones and couldn’t stand a gust of wind, let alone a hungry toddler, I did my best to teach him phrases such as “not yet,” “be patient,” and, “no thank you.”
To be honest, I wanted to quit. I was so tempted to send my son away to his grandparents for the weekend and force him to wean. Deep down, though, I knew that was wrong.
Personally, I believe there’s a difference between quitting and weaning when it comes to breastfeeding. Quitting would have meant I was doing it selfishly. I didn’t want to give up on my goal to breastfeed for two years. My son wasn’t ready to be done getting breast milk, and I knew his needs were more important than my own. One day he’ll be ready to wean, and I’ll happily close that chapter of our life together.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
There were questions surrounding my sudden introduction into tandem nursing that I had to figure out. First of all, what did tandem nursing entail? Was I supposed to nurse both of my children simultaneously, one on each boob? Did I have to worry about my toddler “stealing” all the milk and leaving too little for my newborn? Was it okay for my toddler to drink the milk my body was making for a newborn? The list in my head started to become overwhelming.
It didn’t take long for me to figure it all out. Our bodies have an amazing way of communicating exactly what they need if you’re willing to listen. Having a hungry toddler around to alleviate engorgement was a huge help. After my first baby was born, I dealt with a pretty significant oversupply of breastmilk (which deserves an entirely separate post). This time around, I put far fewer miles on my breast pump thanks to my older son.
I tried nursing both of my children at the same time once or twice, but it wasn’t until my youngest was a little older and had stronger neck muscles that I was able to do that successfully. If I was ever worried about my toddler drinking “too much” milk and not leaving enough for his little brother, I made sure to nurse the baby first and allow him to get his fill. If you’re curious, colostrum (the type of milk produced during the first few days of a baby’s life) is packed full of healthy fats, nutrients, and immune boosting elixirs that are extremely beneficial to a toddler as well. On paper, tandem nursing looks awesome and proves to be beneficial.
That being said…have you seen that scene in Harry Potter where the big, ugly, looming dementor starts sucking the soul out of its victim? It sounds a little dramatic, but that’s how nursing two children at once can feel. There are still times I’m confined to one chair or couch cushion for the day, nursing constantly. As soon as the baby is done eating, the toddler climbs into my lap, ready to take his turn.
Mentally, breastfeeding two babies at once is exhausting. The past six months have been a test of my patience, resilience, and will to keep going. I have spent many days texting my friends and husband in tears, ready to quit, and daydreaming about running away to a beach reserved for tired moms. (If anyone knows where that beach is, DM me.)
Why I’ll Keep Going
At the end of the day, I love my children, and I know they love me. My toddler may not be able to verbally thank me for cutting his cucumbers into stars, but his smile and giggles every time he gets to snuggle up and nurse is so rewarding. The tiny baby coos and milk-drunk naps I get to experience every day more than make up for the frustration. I remind myself that the worst is behind me, and each day I learn more and become a better mother.
As a doula and childbirth educator, I also see my experience as an opportunity to teach others as I go along. The people I work with rely on me to give genuine advice. Being able to pull from what I’m going through is valuable.
I want women to feel empowered, educated, and confident in themselves. I found empowerment through trusting my body and using what I have (my boobs) to do what’s best for my children. Not every parenting experience is the same. I hope what I’ve shared here has been encouraging to anyone thinking about tandem nursing, breastfeeding through pregnancy, or currently going through a rough patch in their parenting journey. Just know that I’m right there with you.