by Kasey Stacey
If you would have told me ten years ago that this is the person I’d become, I’d never have believed you. Who is this natural birthing, cloth diapering, co-sleeping, Birkenstock wearing, organic food eating whacko? I used to make fun of those crunchy granola types. My roommates in my first year at UD were into that type of hippie weirdness and I thought they were ridiculous. If you had told me that I’d be breastfeeding a toddler and an infant at the same time, I would have laughed. I probably would have said something about not wanting to spoil my children and how I planned to be super strict as a parent. I probably would have thought it socially unacceptable to nurse a child beyond his infancy and I likely would have thought it too physically demanding to expect my body to nourish three out of the four members of my family. And if you would’ve said that I’d one day post a bunch of photos online with my boobs hanging out, I might’ve slapped you.
Hi, I’m Kasey Stacey, and I’m tandem nursing my two children. Here’s a picture of it:
When Vinny was four months old and our breastfeeding relationship had finally eased into a nice, predictable rhythm, I set a lofty goal. I couldn’t imagine wanting to wean when he turned one, or any time shortly thereafter, but I also knew that my husband and I hoped to have more children—lots of them—and that we’d need to have them closely spaced. So I was going to get pregnant sometime around Vinny’s first birthday and then I’d just go on nursing him until the new baby came along and then I’d just go on nursing them both. If you would have told me how hard that would be, I would’ve dismissed your cautions. Breastfeeding was finally easy! How could anything be more difficult than what I’d already endured?
Nursing through pregnancy was harder than what I had already endured. It felt next to impossible at times. I can’t say yet whether tandem nursing is a greater challenge than nursing during pregnancy. It’s also hard. Some days, it’s the last thing on earth I want to be doing.
I could’ve weaned him, you know. I think it would’ve been pretty easy. I had no milk. Vinny was nursing only twice a day: down for a nap and down for bedtime. We could’ve been done, and in the first few weeks of nursing both kids, I really regretted not weaning him when I had the chance.
“No,” he replied curtly. He knew there was nothing there.
“Really? Okay.” I had had a vision of nursing my two babes right there at The Birth Center, my children’s first encounter with one another being at my breast. I was disappointed, but I wasn’t going to force the issue.
Within 48 hours, Brigid brought my milk in almost single-handedly. Unlike Vinny’s initial refusal to latch, Brigid latched within the first hour after birth (with Katie’s hands-on assistance, for which I am immensely grateful). She nursed like a pro, surpassed her birthweight by her one-week check-up, and set the ball rolling for a long and beautiful breastfeeding relationship. Having no intention of waiting around this time, we also had her tongue and lip ties released on day three, which immediately improved her shallow latch and I’m sure prevented a repeat of the challenges I had when Vinny was a newborn.
I remember the first time Vinny nursed after my milk had returned; he had begun asking to nurse a bit more when he saw Brigid at my breast. For the first time in a really long time, he gazed into my eyes with a look filled with wonder; he had remembered that he was drinking in the purest love he could know on earth. I cried a hearty postpartum cry. This is what I had been waiting for! This is why I didn’t wean him. It was a beautiful moment, and I will cherish it forever.
But then, as I had anticipated might occur, Vinny started nursing non-stop, a major increase from his twice-daily sessions during my pregnancy. I might as well have been nursing newborn twins, because I constantly had both children at my breasts, either simultaneously or one right after the other. We had night weaned Vinny five months prior, but he began waking at night begging for milk again. Desperate for sleep and way too exhausted for the fight, a couple of times I acquiesced to his emphatic midnight demands. So were we night weaned anymore? I didn’t know.
Vinny nursed again with enthusiasm. He asked constantly for “num-a-num” and since my goal in tandem nursing was to abate his jealousy about Brigid’s arrival, I almost never said no. A week after Brigid’s birth, Vinny gorged himself on milk and then puked it all back up (along with the potato soup and bread that he had eaten), all over my bed. It’s funny now, but washing bedsheets was the last thing on my to-do list at one week postpartum. Actually, my husband had taken over all laundry tasks at that point, but it was also the last thing on his to-do list.
There have been so many challenges with tandem nursing. Coordinating nursing sessions is a nightmare. I’m constantly finding creative ways to position both kids so that each one can get a decent latch and so that all three of us can be comfortable. If I start nursing Brigid in a normal position, like cross-cradle, and Vinny decides he wants to join in, I have to unlatch and reposition her to make room for him. Of course, then she gets upset with me and I have to calm her down to get her to latch again.
I spent my first two weeks postpartum living in fear of the day I’d have to manage both children on my own. My greatest fear was how I would get Vinny down for a nap. How would I position them both in bed in a way that was conducive to getting a toddler to sleep? I tried many different positions, and finally settled on a sort of double football hold. I set a long pillow on my lap and I position Brigid on my right side, resting her on the pillow and holding her in a traditional football hold. Then I have Vinny lie on my left side, his head next to his sister’s on the pillow and his body lying next to me. I slip my left arm under both breasts to prop them up; otherwise, both kids take shallow, uncomfortable latches. After Brigid falls asleep, I reposition everyone so that the babies are lying on either side of me in bed, Brigid sleeping next to me on the right and me side-lie nursing Vinny on the left until he falls totally asleep.
All of that sounds impossible, right? It feels impossible some days, too. It doesn’t always work. But it usually does, and when it does, mama gets to nap and snuggle her sweet babies. In those moments, the rewards are worth the struggles.
One reason that tandem nursing is working for us is that I make a ton of milk. I could have sworn that I was making enough for quadruplets when my milk came back in. I don’t have to worry about Vinny drinking too much and Brigid not getting her fair share. There’s more than enough for both of them. In fact, instead of always letting Brigid nurse first, I often have Vinny come take milk off the top so that Brigid can get the fattier milk and so that she can enjoy a calmer milk flow. But my oversupply is causing some difficulties, too, and tandem nursing is perpetuating them. Vinny has the ability to drain my breasts in a way that Brigid doesn’t. He can handle the high capacity and overactive letdown, whereas Brigid often overeats, gags on the firehose of milk squirting down her throat, and then vomits. She has some serious reflux; it often looks like she’s puked up a gallon of milk. But asking Vinny to drain my breasts doesn’t allow them to downregulate my supply. My body thinks that this tiny newborn is demanding a huge milk supply, and it’s overproducing. Still, I rely on Vinny the way some women rely on their pumps. I need him to drain my breasts. I feel like I am constantly asking my children to stay one step ahead of plugged ducts and mastitis. If Brigid sleeps through the night, I wake up with clogs that I need Vinny to remove. If I’m starting to get sore breasts, headaches, a fever, I know I need Vinny to come do some serious nursing. With two kids under two, I don’t have time in my life for mastitis.
All of this constant nursing is exhausting. Of course Brigid is nursing all the time; I expect her to and it doesn’t bother me that she is always cueing to eat. I enjoy looking into her eyes and watching her slowly become more attuned to her world. I love putting her to my breast and holding her close and just pouring all the love I can into her. But adding in a toddler means that I am relentlessly being touched, climbed on, and suckled. It’s driving me up the wall. The nursing aversion went away at first, but it’s back now. Not every time and not when Brigid is nursing alone, but when Vinny is nursing for a long session or when they are nursing together, the aversion can get really strong. I get touched out and angry. I want everyone to leave me the hell alone, just for a few minutes, just long enough for me to remember who I am and what I’m doing. And long enough for me to grab something to eat. My goodness, is it difficult to get in all the calories I need to make milk for two babies. If they’re not nursing, they need new diapers, or help falling asleep, or help finding some dear lost toy. It’s unending.
Tandem nursing is not as rosy as I thought it would be, and despite the image created by a woman nursing her two children, it’s not always the peaceful Earth Mother experience people might expect. It’s hard. Really. Freaking. Hard.
But you know what? It’s great. I do love this. I don’t love every moment, and I don’t have the overwhelming joy about breastfeeding that I did when Vinny was an infant. I’m too tired for that right now. But I am growing into this role I’ve developed for myself and I am enjoying tandem nursing. Sometimes, Vinny reaches over and grabs Brigid’s hand while they’re both latched on. I usually shed a tear or two. Sometimes they gaze into one another’s eyes, just for a moment, and I hope that at least Vinny gets to an age when he will remember this time. And sometimes Vinny swats at Brigid’s head, jealous of her despite my intention to use nursing to bring them together. We use those times to teach him that we don’t hit the people we love (or anyone, for that matter). We’re growing as a family, and we’re using breastfeeding to bring us together, to teach us about one another, to show love, and to set boundaries (Vinny has slowed down just slightly, and I’m saying “no” to his requests sometimes now, particularly overnight).
If you would have told me ten years ago how much love I could have for my babies, how much I’d be willing to sacrifice for them, how precious these fleeting years would be of their constant need to be at my breast and by my side, I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate it. But now I cherish it. I savor it when I can remind myself to do so. Who is this woman I’ve become? A tandem nurser, sure. A little bit of a crunchy granola type, I guess. A mother, though. That’s who I am now, and it is the hardest, best role I could ever hope to fill.