Sunday, January 03, 2010


Everything is better is twos. Sipping champagne. Sightseeing in Paris. Nature walks. Breastfeeding is on that list too. Believe it or not.

Most people are amazed that I have been nursing my newborn, who is now six-months-old, and my toddler at the same time. Mothers who have nursed think that my stamina--both physical and emotional--must be somehow superhuman. Those who haven't nursed find the endeavor odd and not suitable for dinner discussion. As if nursing is akin to other bodily secretions that might upset the appetite. Fine, do it, just don't talk about it (or do it in front of me), they seem to say.

Not that I am eager to discuss the issue over canapes, mind you. When I have the opportunity to share adult discussion, I am eager to leave the realm of poop and milk too (though not always successful in doing so).

And yet, here in my blogspace, I thought I would try to write about my experiences with tandem nursing. If you fear the topic, turn back. I want to write about it because I am sure that my mama amnesia will set in and I will forget what it is like to handle two babies at the breast.

Soon after becoming pregnant with baby # 2 when my daughter was about eight-months-old, I realized that I may have the opportunity to nurse both of them. My daughter nursed throughout the pregnancy despite lowered milk supply caused by pregnancy hormones. She normally only nursed first thing in the morning and before going to sleep at naptime and bedtime. My water broke while I was nursing her to sleep. When I saw her the next morning with baby Leo in my arms, the first thing she wanted to do was "hammy," (pronounced hummy) her word for nursing. A few days later my new milk came in and she was in milk heaven. So, two babies nursing. One so tiny. One not so tiny.

Miss Iza, who at seventeen months was still not walking, was used to being nursed to sleep at naptime. In fact she had been napping on my pregnant lap while we rocked for the past several months. She happily nursed to sleep and was placed in a crib at night and she had given up night nursings. During the day, however, she would only nap in my arms at my breast. I was pregnant and tired. This arrangement made it possible for me to nap with her. So I didn't try to change the pattern. This dedicated nurser, however, had to learn how to nap without her mama.

The first week I tried to put them to sleep together in one bed. I would lie on my side with Leo nursing on the breast closest to the bed. Iza would kneel and lean over my back to nurse on the breast topside. Talk about gymnastics. Leo was happy, of course. Iza, not so much. Eventually she would drop from exhaustion and nap fitfully by my side. The arrangement was not a success. Not to mention very tough on my back.

At naptime and bedtime I started to take Leo with me into Iza's room. We would all sit in the rocking chair. If Leo was content, he could hang out in the bassinet. More often than not he joined Iza at the breast. Iza would nurse cuddled in my lap. I would lay Leo on top of her at the other breast. When she was ready to go to sleep, I put Leo down in the bassinet and then put her in the crib. Often he would fuss, but not always. Almost immediately she accepted that she needed to go to sleep on her own because mama had to tend to the baby.

After a few weeks (months?) I would nurse Leo in the rocking chair while Iza was having her bath with her father or nanny. When Iza came to me, we would do a baby exchange. And Tata would take the baby downstairs for cuddles until I could come. Iza soon learned this too. And she would tell Tata, "Tata baby." Meaning, "Tata, you take care of the baby now while mama nurses me." A very reliable baby-soothing technique in our house is the bouncy ball. As we exchanged babies, Iza would very seriously tell Tata, "Baby, ball." As in take this tiny fussy person and bounce him into oblivion!

Iza soon recognized that wherever mama was, the baby was there too. If she saw me without the baby, she would ask, "Baby?" After a few months she learned that if baby was not in mama's arms, the better question to ask was, "Hammy?"

In the first months, Leo nursed almost constantly and Iza jumped in there whenever my arms were open. She definitely wanted to nurse as much as possible, more than before Leo was born. Often they nursed at the same time. This called for invention. Our "favorite" position for a while entailed me sitting in a child-sized chair. Iza would stand and nurse while I held Leo across my lap. This allowed Iza to come and go as she wished. (Of course this only developed after she learned to walk on her own. Leo was born June 30th, and Iza walked by herself on July 4th).

For the first four months or so I would nurse Iza and put her sleep around 7:30 while Leo was in the care of his father or the nanny. Then I would come downstairs and hang out with Leo until he was ready to sleep again. I would put the little one in a Moses basket and take him upstairs to our room when I was ready to go to bed myself. Usually around three hours later he would wake for the first time. I would then take the basket and move into his room where I would sleep with him the rest of the night on a queen-sized mattress on the floor.

Around five months or so I started putting Leo in the bath with his sister. I wanted to start a nighttime ritual for the both of them. This mostly involved plunking him down for just a few minutes before taking him for pijamas and nursing him to sleep in his own room. He now loves the bath and splashes like a madman. Iza likes to wash him with a washcloth.

By about six months or so we had established a pattern that looks like this: dinner at 6, bath 6:45, then Leo off to nurse to sleep while Iza plays and reads stories. Both babies asleep by 7:30. Okay, it looks something like that. In theory. That is the plan. The reality, of course, is much more "entertaining." This pattern requires two people. Minimum. There has been one night that I did the evening ritual alone. It was not pretty.

Little Leo wakes up to nurse several times a night. I wanted him to nurse at night because his sister was still nursing during the day. Happily he has gained weight like a champion and I am no longer concerned that he is getting enough milk. So it would be convenient if he didn't nurse as much at night. Yet at this point I am happy to nurse him as much as he wants at night. I am dealing okay with my decreased sleep, so far. Izabella effectively weaned herself at night by about 9 months. She just started sleeping longer and longer stretches without waking. So far Leo is not heading in that direction. We'll see how it goes. In the meantime, it is fantastic to sleep next to his warm little body. Some nights I could swear that I can see him literally growing in front of my eyes.

All this nursing requires support. Tandem nursing is possible for me because I have a supportive husband and a nanny who does housework. I know that mothers do it without such help. But I don't know how.

I have also learned to listen to my own body and limits. Sometimes I just can't nurse Iza. I need a hammy break. But I can't explain that to her. So I silently count backward from 100 for each breast and then end the session. Or we do a "quick" nursing where I count aloud back from 10. She has learned this game and even laughs and tries to jump back before I get to 1. Or I offer her a book or a cuddle or goat cheese instead.

All this begs the question, why do I do it? Why put myself through the intense commitment when there are other options? I don't have a clear answer to this worked out just yet. I suppose I tandem nurse because I can. I can afford to stay at home. I can afford to hire someone to help me with the house. And I enjoy it. I enjoy the intensity. I enjoy the physical connection. It is not easy, but it is pleasurable. I want to forge this physical intimacy with my children when I can. Later they won't need me in this way. But hopefully somewhere deep in their skin and hidden in their brains will pulse the knowledge that love does not require language. Love can be purely a physical presence, a touch. A closeness that needs no explanation or justification. A love that is possible because that is how our bodies are configured. Simple. Perhaps it can be the beginning of a narrative about love that does not involve the drama of star-crossed lovers, the fiction of white dresses, or the delusion of white picket fences. Love is touch. It is presence. It is physical closeness. If love is created in this way, it can be sustained over long distances, and over time.

Izabella and Leo are siblings. They are nurslings. It feels like a good start.

(Ultimately I can't know if tandem nursing is good for my children. But I am interested in the idea that my experience as a mother who tandem nurses is perhaps an even more crucial part of the equation. Parenting should change us. It should. How? I'm not sure about that. But we shouldn't be able to cruise through our children's infancy without some encounter with what it means to be human, to be alive on this planet. I am thinking a lot lately about how our culture has set up parenting such that parents are no longer needed. Baby tending has been outsourced. The feeding, the touching, the being touched. How would our society be different if our legislators had nursed their babies at home for one year or longer? More on this later....)

I wax, or wane. Or whatever.

Leo wakes.


RĂ©ka Albert said...

I am happy to hear that tandem nursing is going so well. You are doing a great thing for your babies! I am sure they will remember it, as they will remember their relationship as nurslings as well as siblings.

natalie said...

I loved reading this... found you through a search while looking for info on tandem nursing. I've been tandem nursing for 9 months... my two are 21 months and 9 months. It has been tough at times but is also a beautiful thing and I do love the bond that the three of us have. I think nursing is truly a gift we give to these little ones, and I love that my two are getting to share it with each other.