Friday, May 31, 2013

To All the Nursing Mamas (Extended, Tandem, and Otherwise)

Someone once told me that tandem nursing is the definition of ambivalence. Sometimes I feel like this is absolutely true. Other times I don't.

But I guess that's why it's true. When I look at this picture I'm so grateful I have a nursing relationship with my girls and that it's something they can share. Other times I want to hide in the closet.
First time nursing the girls together in the hospital after E's Cesarean birth.
There are very few people with whom I feel comfortable discussing extended breastfeeding or tandem nursing. Most people who know me well know these things are part of our lives. For the most part I think people forget about it or ignore it or just write it off as one of my quirky hippie habits. Considering that even the people in my life who are supportive of breastfeeding think I'm a little crazy, I'm a little hesitant to talk about it. I don't necessarily hide it but I don't go out of my way to bring it up either. Even though I know many more people in our community now who are breastfeeding, it's still not the norm here.

I intended to write a post about extended breastfeeding while I was pregnant E but I never did it. Over the last six months I've sat down to write about my experience nursing during pregnancy and tandem nursing but I've struggled to get the words down.

Most of the time I feel like I'm the only person on the planet nursing a three-and-a-half-year-old, never mind tandem nursing a six-month-old as well. When I was pregnant with my first daughter I wanted to nurse for at least a year. We got off to a rough start and when we hit a year I figured we could go another year. I assumed she'd wean herself if I got pregnant again. She didn't. So we kept going. I never intended to practice extended breastfeeding (I hadn't even heard the term until we were already doing it) and I didn't even know there was such a thing as tandem nursing until I was trying to get pregnant a second time.

Every now and then I run across a blog post or a bio of a mom proudly sharing her tandem nursing story and I want to be their new best friend. It makes me realize I need to talk more about tandem nursing and extended breastfeeding. I question why I'm so reluctant to share my experience. I question why I feel the need to hide what I'm doing. I want other women to know they're not alone. I want to email them and ask questions and share strategies and hug them and cry with them. I want to talk about how amazing it is and I want to talk about how hard it is.

Because it's amazing. My girls are so happy when they nurse together. They hold hands. L will smooth E's hair down and pat her cheeks. They both smile and giggle until they unlatch themselves. And then they giggle some more. Most of the time I nurse them separately but it never fails to amaze me what a close connection they have when they nurse together. Even when they're not nursing. They snuggle together and smile and laugh. L is always wanting to make her sister happy. She's never shown any bit of anger or resentment toward her sister.*

But it's also really, incredibly hard. I'm tired. I'm hungry. I'm totally touched out. I'm a little desperate for my own space. It feels like there is always someone waiting for me. There are days when I go from one cranky child to the next and then back again until I cave and nurse them at the same time. I nurse them together until I'm too overwhelmed and have to stop. Then there are days when neither of them really want to nurse at all. Then I'm engorged and sore and have to pump in order to avoid clogged ducts and mastitis (which I've managed to get twice since E was born).

But then it's good again. We cuddle and nurse and snuggle and I can't get enough of the smiles and the little noises they make.

And then it's hard again.

Most times when you are having a hard time and you share your experience you get a supportive response. In my experience people are generally encouraging when I'm going through difficult times.

It'll be okay. Keep trying. It will be worth it in the long run. You'll get through this. One day at a time. 

With tandem nursing or extended breastfeeding the response is different.

The very supportive people say, I don't know how you do it, I couldn't. 

Everyone else says, Why don't you quit? Cut her off. She's had enough. If she's old enough to ask, she's too old to be nursing. If she's potty trained she shouldn't be nursing anymore. She doesn't need it anymore. She needs real food.  

I can't think of any other challenge I've had in my life where, when I seek out support or need to vent about how difficult it is, people suggest that I quit.

Everyone assumes that weaning L would makes things easier. And it might. Who knows? It would definitely cut back the actual amount of time I spend nursing.

But there are a million reasons I don't want to quit and a million more reasons why I think it would make things worse.

The main one being this: Every single time I've ever thought about quitting but didn't, I was glad we kept going. I've never regretted continuing to breastfeed. No matter how frustrated I might be at any given moment I'm always glad I still have a nursing relationship with both my girls.

In the grand scheme of things, nursing for a few years is a drop in the bucket. It's a very small portion of our lives. I don't think quitting would change things for the better. The moments I want to quit are when L is pulling on me and nagging and whining. In retrospect these are times when she's tired or doesn't feel good or I'm having a hard time pulling my attention away from something else much less important. These are the times when she needs my love and affection and closeness more than ever. She's still going to need those things (and more) when we're done nursing.

Not to mention she's getting all the nutrients and antibodies and everything else wonderful in breast milk (did you read this one about breast milk killing cancer cells? And this one about how it impacts infant gut health?). Nursing doesn't stop being beneficial just because she's older. When the girls were sick earlier this year I'm convinced they both got well so quickly because they were both breastfeeding. Times were rough but it could have been worse. I was so grateful I was able to comfort them and cuddle them and keep them nourished and hydrated at the same time.

And L is very, very independent for a three-year-old. Despite the tales that children will be dependent forever if you spoil them with breastfeeding, I've found the opposite to be true.

Extended breastfeeding and tandem nursing does not mean having a lack of boundaries. I'm human and sometimes I need a break. Sometimes I have to feed myself before I can feed my kids.

It is challenging? Yes. Is it hard? Yes. Do I want to quit sometimes? Yes. Do I sometimes have to stop mid-nursing session and have some time to myself? Yes! Am I forever grateful that we were able to get through the initial challenges and breastfeed successfully? Yes!

That said, I want to say this to all the nursing mamas out there (tandem, extended and otherwise): 

Well done! Good job! Hang in there! Shut yourself in the bathroom for five minutes and have a cup of tea and a cookie! 

I know it's hard and I know you may have days when you want your space and you want your body back and you want to wear a shirt that hasn't been stretched beyond recognition by little hands while they nurse and some days you might even want to wear a dress that is completely not nursing friendly.

But it's worth it. I promise.

I know you miss getting dressed without taking into account how accessible your boobs are but these days will pass so quickly.

Keep going! One day at a time! You can do it! You're amazing! You're so strong!

Remember the good moments. The irritating moments will pass and there will be more good moments to take their place.

Before we know it they'll be headed off to university.

And so far as I know, no kid has ever actually nursed all the way through university. Although my husband is convinced L may be the first.

I realized I had a few more things to add/clarify after I published this post. Read the post script here

*All her anger and resentment regarding the new addition to our family has been directed at me. Lucky me. 

This post is part of the Tuesday Baby Link Up


  1. Great job! Opening yourself up is so hard, and I'm amazed at your willingness to share your experience with others. I struggle to allow that kind of vulnerability in myself. Go girl!

    1. Thank you Justine! It is hard and, as always, I worry that I share too much. But I know how much it helps me when I read other people's experiences!

  2. Yes! I was surprised at how hesitant I was to out myself (online or in real life) as a tandem nurser — there's something just a little more "out there" about it. And I found it hard to tell people how difficult it was for me to nurse during pregnancy and to nurse through the tandem aversions, because I was afraid of hearing all the voices telling me it was stupid even to try, that I was martyring myself for no good reason. When there was in fact a very good reason!

    I'm not currently tandeming anymore (though my older son still hints!), though I am still (again) firmly in the extended nursing camp with my 2-year-old. Just wanted to say thank you for sharing your own story, the good and the difficult, and letting others know they're not alone.

    1. You're welcome and thank you!! It is so nice to know I'm not alone!

  3. Love love love this. I posted about extended breastfeeding at Mommyish (here: and got the third degree. Not long after I wrote that post, I was finally able to wean my five years old (candy may or may not have been involved...I can neither confirm nor deny those allegations. ;) ). I'm really, really glad I nursed her as long as I did...and I'm really, really, REALLY glad to be done (although she still asks for it too! And occasionally I let her have a sip. Which totally doesn't count. She's still weaned. Right? ;) ).

    1. Way to go for sharing your story! Not many people know this but my own mother may or may not have given me my first barbie doll in exchange for weaning : ) I'm sorry you got the third degree L ( I love the point you made about how society is supportive of baby leading the way in terms of potty training and other developmental milestones but not breastfeeding. So true!

  4. I'm really proud to be a tandem nurser, probably because mamas like you have paved the way. I don't know anyone who has tandem nursed in "real life" (offline) - Not even close - but I do know a bunch online. I endured the hell that is breastfeeding through pregnancy because I so wanted to be in the tandem nursing club! And like you, I never regret the time I've spent breastfeeding. I want to wean sometimes *in the moment* but I never regret the experience as a whole.

    Currently, my youngest is just a wee week old. My older nursling is about 2 & 1/2 (He's 32 months) and while he mainly just nurses to sleep nowadays, that can be too much a lot of the time. The worst for me is probably my husband not getting it. It's his opinion that I should either nurse him [the oldest] as often and as long as he desires, or I should completely wean him. It's my body and while I'm happy to SHARE it with my children, it does not BELONG to them.

    I need to do some updated posts on extended nursing. My older posts are:


    1. Thank you for sharing your links! Congrats on your new nursling (and your older one too)! My husband struggles with the tandem nursing at times as well. I think it's because he's the only one I've had to vent to when he comes home from work so he sees more of my frustration than my joy...I'm trying to work on that. I love your point about the boundaries. I totally agree : ) I talk to my older daughter about that when she gets upset with me for saying no...It is my body and I love nursing her but sometimes I need my personal space!

  5. You rock! As you know, I'm still nursing my nearly 3 1/2 year old, and loving it most of the time. I'd like to think that I'd be tandem nursing if I had a new little one, but I don't know the logistics of nursing two kids or what would happen to my milk supply if I were to get pregnant now. I do know that you and I are very much on the same page about breastfeeding, and despite the difficult times, you'll be glad that you're nursing both of your girls as long as they need or want to share that relationship with you. It really is so special, and is probably the thing I'll miss most about the time I've had with my baby when she finally decides to stop.

    1. Thanks Lesa : ) I know you two will know when the time is right to stop...but until then enjoy that sweet girl of yours!

  6. I found you through The Minimalist Mom, and just wanted to thank you for writing this. It's so wonderful to read about other women tandem- and extended-nursing, since they seem to be so few and far between. I only tandem nursed for four or five months (I weaned my oldest a little after - or before, I forget! - he turned three), but I look back on that time with the two of them so fondly. My littlest is six months old now and I'm looking forward to a long, lovely nursing relationship with her, too. And this line: "I know you miss getting dressed without taking into account how accessible your boobs are." So true, it made me grin!

    1. So glad you found me and appreciated the post. It's always nice to know there are other moms out there tandem nursing!

  7. I LOVE it! I'm currently nursing my three year old, and the only reason I didn't tandem nurse when she was born is because my (then) three year old did wean while I was pregnant. Could not agree more with every single thing you said.

  8. Thank you so much for your honesty! I will be starting my tandem nursing journey when baby #2 arrives in about 8 weeks. I'm excited and happy for the opportunity, but I know it won't always be easy. It's so nice to know I'm not alone, and both feelings are ok! Thanks for linking up with the Tuesday Baby Link Up!

  9. I have honestly never heard of tandem nursing, only extended. I've been nursing my baby for only five months so I'm no where near this point, but I find it extremely fascinating. I love that you put yourself out there, especially for people like me who had never really thought about it. Thank you!

  10. Thank you for sharing! I'm the only one I know personally who tandem nursed (though I was relieved when my 2 1/2 year old weaned herself shortly after her sister was born), and my family thought I was nuts. I am still nursing my now-3 year old, which I never expected to happen! I'm pleased for both of us, but no one else seems to get it. It is so hard when others look at you cross-eyed when they learn you are still nursing a 3 year old. This is, therefore, something I try to hide, though I realize the only way to improve understanding is to get the story out more often. Thank you for doing so!

  11. Thank you for your post. Finding information on Tandem Nursing and Extended Breastfeeding is a little difficult. I am 12 weeks pregnant and have a 28 month old that is still a frequent nurser. I am 12 weeks pregnant with baby #2 and have been horribly sick and tired so far. Pregnancy and nursing is tough stuff, especially while trying to work full time. I am not planning on weaning my little guy, but I am trying to get him to a manageable number of nursing sessions in a day. It seems like 6-10 times a day is too many for his age, and I really want him to eat more food. He does well with food when I am not around, but on the weekends getting him to eat is a chore, unless it is his favorite foods...well favorite after Milk. I imagine I will be tandem nursing, at least for a little while when baby is born, and appreciate your willingness to talk about it and share your story. It is sad that people are so judgmental about a mother's relationship with their child. I am also unwilling to speak to anyone I know about this for both fear of being judged and not feeling like I need to defend this wonderful choice I am making for my child/children. Thanks for Sharing your story and I am glad it has been successful for you and your little angels.

  12. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I'm book marking this post. Nursing daughter, 26 mos, son 7 weeks, I have felt like I've needed so much support and too, have felt "afraid" of the remarks that it's just because she is nursing as well. Thank you for being a voice of courage to us!

  13. I was so happy to read this. I am pregnant with my second, and literally everyone but my husband has told me that I need to wean my 16-month-old immediately. Even my pediatrician. But I set out to breastfeed my first until he was two, and that's what I want to do. People keep asking me when I'm going to wean him and when I say that I'm not planning on it, they exclaim, "But you HAVE to!" It makes me feel so judged and want to cry sometimes, but I know that it will be worth it. A lot of extended breastfeeding moms I see online have similar-minded friends, etc., so it's nice to know there are people out there who are dealing with the same type of thing that I am.



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