Tandem nursing helped ease my sons into being big brothers.
The old wives' tale is wrong: You can get pregnant while breastfeeding. I've done it twice, and both times I decided to continue nursing, despite hyperemesis gravidum (uncontrolled vomiting — think Princess Kate, but without the royal medical teams).
I knew, both times, that pregnancy wasn't the end of our breastfeeding journey. My sons were both very young to quit nursing, and from what I'd read, tandem nursing (nursing two children at the same time) can help a mom ease her child into big brotherhood.
So today, I find myself with both a one-year-old and a three-year-old at the breast.
Mention nursing on the internet and the trolls come out. Mention extended breastfeeding (nursing past a year) and the trolls use the comment section to call you a child molester.
In America, nursing past one is seen as excessive, even though the World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding to two years of age or beyond. Katherine Dettwyler, anthropologist at the University of Delaware, calls nursing a three-year-old "normal, like a nine-month pregnancy is normal."
She argues that for reasons related to evolution, tooth eruption, physical maturation, and other factors, the normal age of human weaning is somewhere between four and seven years.
I believe in science. Moreover, they're MY boobs — and their primary biological function is to nurse babies. While they can be funbags, they're meant to be feedbags.
America, however, can't wrap its mind around their dual-function. However, my family manages to do that just fine. And as every nursing mother in the history of humankind can tell you, if the kid doesn't want to breastfeed, it ain't going to happen. So: a three-year-old and a one-year-old at the breast.
I could say I didn't plan it this way, but I did. Baby Bear was fifteen months old when I got pregnant with his little brother, Sunny. And Baby Bear is what they call a high-needs child. He doesn't adjust well to change.
He's the kid who cries every time he falls down, the one who weeps over playground tussles and dropped popsicles. Baby Bear requires lots of mothering. I knew he wouldn't adjust well to a sudden usurpation of Youngest Child status. He needed something to ease the transition and I knew mama milk could help.
I knew that because it had helped his older brother, Falcon. I nursed through the entirety of my pregnancy with Baby Bear, partly because Falcon was a boob monster and partly because we weren't ready to finish nursing. It wasn't pleasant.
Nursing while pregnant gives many women what doctors call agitation, and what mothers call the sudden urge to hurl your nursing toddler at the wall.
Nipple sensitivity can make breastfeeding uncomfortable at best, and painful at worst. But I kept it up because I knew Falcon would benefit once Baby Bear arrived.
And I was right. When the new baby came home, Falcon latched on right beside him. His special place was still right there, his special mama time still a part of our lives.
The baby didn't get the closeness he was denied, and that helped keep sibling rivalry to a minimum. Falcon nursed until he was three years and a few months, when we both decided to finish that chapter in our lives.
Baby Bear was still nursing ... and then I got pregnant.
The agitation meant we stopped breastfeeding through the night, but otherwise, Baby Bear and I kept going. It's a common misconception that nursing through pregnancy can be dangerous, but that isn't the case unless you're at serious risk for preterm labor.
Despite my crippling hyperemesis, my doctor gave the okay to keep nursing. The small uterine contractions caused by nipple stimulation aren't dangerous.
Your body nourishes the fetus first, the baby on the breast second, and you last. And while many women's milk dries up during early pregnancy, mine kept flowing. There were times when I had to grit my teeth to get through a nursing session, but Baby Bear kept asking for milk, and I kept saying yes.
When we brought Sunny home from the hospital, Baby Bear wasn't very impressed. That is, until he figured out that a new baby meant better-tasting milk in much more abundance.
Its awkward nursing two children at the same time; it involves practically taking your shirt off and unleashing both boobs upon the world.
One kid lies cradled in my lap; the other crams in however he can fit. It's not discreet; it's not super-comfy. Luckily, the dual suction doesn't bother me, though some women say they feel like a cow and get the same agitation they do while pregnant. I just try to wangle my phone around two kids and spend some quality time on Facebook.
I don't always nurse both at the same time, of course, and I don't do it in public. One-year-old Sunny nurses much more often than three-year-old Baby Bear, who's limited to morning milks only now.
But when Baby Bear does nurse, Sunny toddles over, jealous, and points to my breasts. Generally, I let him nurse, too. Baby Bear's a good sport, though; he prefers to nurse alone.
He's three-and-half years old by now and he's not ready to quit. I thought we might be finished after a recent vacation, when he went without nursing for over a week ... but no. Once life returned to normal, he asked for milk again.
It means so much to him, this special time curled in my lap. Nursing reminds him that even though he’s big in so many ways, he can still be small in others — just like his little brother, who totters over demanding milk himself.
Sunny's a possessive beast, but they share, mostly happily.
Nursing has helped Baby Bear negotiate the harsh world of big brotherdom: of waiting for mama to comfort him, of watching baby get so much attention, of being told baby gets things he doesn't. It's kept a special place for him.
My youngest still argue, of course, like small boys do. They have their tussles, their small battles, but Baby Bear feels them less because he's kept nursing. It's given him a touchstone when he needs it.
I'm glad I got pregnant while I was breastfeeding. I'm grateful to have a chance to nurse my sons at the same time.
Sometimes, one on each breast, they hold hands. Sometimes Sunny pushes Baby Bear away. But tandem nursing has helped our family negotiate three small boys at the same time.
I'm grateful I was able to keep nursing through my pregnancies, and happy it's helped ease the transition every new baby brings. Like every parenting choice, it's not for everyone.
It won't work for everyone, but it works for us.