It’s World Breastfeeding Week again, and as I have been meaning to write about the continuation of our breastfeeding journey for a while, now seems like the perfect time to do so. Number two has weaned and I am back to breastfeeding one child for the first time in three years, so I feel I can really talk about tandem and triandem nursing, how it worked for us, and the obstacles I felt I had to climb over the past year.
Triandem nursing: now that it’s over it feels like a dream. (For those who haven’t heard this expression any more, it means nursing three children). Five years ago, around the time I found out I was pregnant with my first, I would never have believed you if you told me that I would be nursing three children of different ages a few years later. I don’t think anyone sets out on their journey into motherhood assuming that they will breastfeed multiple children, but it happens more often than one would think. You wouldn’t really know it if you did a google search though: when I was pregnant with my third and still nursing my first two I couldn’t find much literature about nursing three. I received a curt response from Kellymom when I inquired, directing me to the tandem nursing page which did not contain any information on triandem nursing at that time (I doubt whoever responded actually even read my email). Luckily for me, La Leche League published an article I wrote, and through them I was directed to a few online tandem and triandem nursing groups, which really gave me a boost of confidence. Triandem nursing isn’t that rare, but it is quite unusual, especially in the US.
When I was pregnant with our second I had some aversions while nursing our first, but they disappeared as soon as I gave birth. Tandem nursing came completely naturally, and we moved into a routine that worked for everyone. Of course it really helped that our second slept well at night and adapted well to the more tumultuous schedule of her older sister. They are only 16 months apart, and their schedules fell quite naturally into place together, which made my life a lot easier than it could have been. Of course, there were tantrums when both demanded to nurse at the same time (something that was never comfortable to me), and we had to establish some rules, but all in all it was an easy enough journey, and one that I didn’t put a cap on. The plan was to let them self-wean as and when they were ready.
When I discovered I was pregnant with our third, our eldest, Luna, was two and a half, and her sister, Aurora, 15 months old. I nursed both of them through the entire pregnancy, and while the aversions started earlier this time, neither child was ready to give up, even when I limited nursing time to a few minutes unless it was before naps or bed at night. They rarely nursed during night at that point anyway, most of the time OK with a cuddle and a kiss. When Ludo was born, Luna was three years old and Aurora a month shy of her second birthday. I had 24 hours of alone time in the hospital to get our nursing schedule established, and then came home to our first night as a family of 5, although I had to do bedtime alone as Cesar was at work.
I honestly had no idea how I was going to do it. All I knew was that 5 or 6 times a week I would be doing bed time alone, so I had to establish a routine fast, otherwise it would end in tears and frustration for everyone. Somehow that first night everyone was asleep in their (our) bed or crib by 9pm. And while it wasn’t like that every night, most nights were a success. I even got some alone time in to write in the evening! They would have their bath around 6, 7 at the very latest, and then the girls would watch some cartoons, or play with their toys while I would nurse Ludo to sleep. Then I would nurse the girls one after another to sleep in the bed, and they would usually be out for a few hours, sometimes all night if I was really lucky. Ludo would wake up every few hours, a lot more like Luna was her first year than Aurora.
The aversions didn’t miraculously disappear this time though. We hear a lot about extended nursing, about how easy it is, but not so much about the loss of latch, especially after you have nursed through a pregnancy or two. I spent a lot of time trying to correct Luna’s latch, and then, a few months later, Aurora’s too. Also, when you are nursing multiple children on demand throughout the day and night there is a tendency towards oversupply, and I definitely had that. I had mastitis three times during the first four months, something that I had never had before. At the same time, nursing three also helps get rid of clogged ducts, so it never got too bad, just painful, and very frustrating.
Luna is also a very anxious child and nursing had become a controlling behavior rather than a comfort or necessity at that point. When Ludo was about 5 months old we started a therapy program due to her issues with anxiety, and one of my tasks was to count how often she nursed. We were at 9 or 10 times a day (and that wasn’t including the times she asked to nurse). Sometimes she nursed more than the baby, and she would still wake up several times at night demanding to nurse. Obviously this started to take a toll on me, as I wasn’t getting any sleep at all. So we worked on a weaning strategy, and by February of this year Luna had her last nursing session, although I don’t think either of us realized that it was the last until a few days later when she didn’t ask for it again. It was time, and while I did feel guilty that I had made the decision, Luna started to sleep through the night in her own bed for the first time in her life.
By May of this year Aurora had completely lost her latch, and nursing her became a chore. I was constantly clenching my jaw in case she bit me, and she was aggressive, demanding “milk” and refusing to unlatch. I knew that it was time, and went through the same process as I had done with Luna, but it happened a lot faster with a lot less redirection and tears. She weaned naturally about a month ago. While she refuses to sleep until she literally cannot hold her eyes open anymore at night, I know that this will change soon, and she will go to bed earlier like her sister now does.
Ludo is now one, and continues to nurse on demand, usually before his morning nap, before his afternoon nap, before bed, and then 3 or 4 or 5 times during the night. He still sleeps next to me, so at least that means I don’t have to get out of bed, but I also know that he most likely won’t sleep through the night completely until he is weaned. I’m OK with this. I know now that sleeping through the night is in no shape or form a requirement, and some children are better at it than others. We lucked out with Aurora, but that has now come back to bite us in the behind, as she is now the one who is up the latest and awake the earliest!
Over the past 4 years or so I have learnt how to breastfeed, nursed through one pregnancy, tandem nursed, tandem nursed through a pregnancy, triandem nursed for nearly 8 months, and helped two children wean. I’ve advised friends through their own breastfeeding questions and issues, written countless articles and online answers on breastfeeding questions, and have looked into becoming a breastfeeding counselor at some point. I obviously am a staunch breastfeeding ally, but at the same time I also believe in the right to choose how we feed our children. Every child, every relationship is unique, and it is one that a parent enjoys with their child, not something that is up for discussion with a bunch of strangers. Breastfeeding can be a huge struggle, some women may not be able to breastfeed, some don’t have the initial help they may need post birth, and some may come across too much backlash from those surrounding them. Some women may not have any interest in breastfeeding, and that is their choice too.
I’m a very lucky person as I have the health and strength of a shire horse, even after these past 5 years, and I hope that I have passed some of that amazing immune system on to my kids. But at the same time, it wasn’t always easy. I have never been able to pass the baby off to my partner for a night time feed, and I still don’t get to sleep more than 2 or 3 hours until the baby wakes me up. Sleep deprivation has become the norm for me, and I do know how badly it can affect your everyday life. It’s just a small price to pay for these wonderful little beings that we are raising, and I am very happy that my body has helped not only grow them but also sustain them so far. But I do daydream about a full 8 hours sleep and how amazing that will feel when it happens again though!
Extended nursing comes with its own pros and cons. Last October I was at a rock festival with my partner and kids, and late in the afternoon all three kids wanted to nurse. The baby went first, then the girls one after another, and I was so sure people were staring at me. When the last kid had finished a woman behind me tapped me on the shoulder and told me how amazing it was that I was breastfeeding them all, and it made me feel so much more confident about our choices. Sometimes it’s a little hard not to let society’s rules get to you. Where my partner comes from it is totally normal to breastfeed your kids until they are 3 or 4, but not so much where I come from, although my mother did breastfeed me and my siblings. I have found that attitudes are changing, and while formula was pushed on me when I had my first child, I was more than encouraged to establish breastfeeding with my last. And as attitudes are changing hopefully there will be less stigma around nursing in public, as well as extended breastfeeding. I am personally very happy that I always stuck to my guns despite some eye rolling even from people close to me, as well as some push back from medical professionals in the beginning. But now I am more than ready to nurse just one child again, and enjoy the last year or so in my breastfeeding life.
This year’s World Breastfeeding Week slogan is “Foundation of Life”, and there are tons of amazing stories, campaigns, and activities that you can read, promote, and participate in. Follow #WBW2018 on your favorite social media channels or check out the website for more information on the foundations, pledges, and missions of the organization. And share your own story, difficulties and celebrations, because they all need to be told. Little by little we are chipping away at the ridiculous stigma that surrounds breastfeeding in the US, and the more stories that are shared, the more we make this stigma disappear!
If you have any questions about tandem nursing, triandem nursing, nursing through a pregnancy, or just breastfeeding in general please comment below and I will be more than happy to share my thoughts!