When I became pregnant with my son, my daughter wasn't quite 2 and was still breastfeeding throughout the day and night. Nipple pain was my first symptom of pregnancy, with breastfeeding aversion soon following. It wasn't long after I found out I was pregnant with my second that the birth trauma from delivering my daughter rose to the surface. Flashbacks, panic attacks, and uncontrollable crying episodes became normal occurrences. Despite my mental health being where it was, I chose to not only continue to breastfeed my daughter throughout my pregnancy but to tandem feed, once my son was born. Even though it's common to hear about moms weaning for their mental health (which is completely valid!) I felt that continuing to breastfeed was important for my mental health!
Before I get into the reasons why I chose to tandem feed, I want to explain what tandem feeding is. Tandem feeding is breastfeeding 2 kids, who are not the same age, at the same time - although they do not have to be both feeding at the breast simultaneously during a feeding session. So that means that breastfeeding multiples (twins, triplets, etc...) are not considered "tandem feeding" - it's "breastfeeding multiples" (although the confusion is common!). As well, you can feed 2 children of different ages without having to feed them at the exact same time - sometimes this is a concern moms have, but it's not a requirement!
Now that we have that straightened, let's get into a few of the reasons why tandem feeding was important to me:
As I described above, my mental health was not great when I was pregnant with my son - and because of the traumatic delivery of my daughter, I was in a position where having a c-section was the best choice for delivering my son. This meant that it was hard to find times to connect with my daughter during the day, I was often not very present and struggled to just do the basics in my home without becoming a puddle on the floor. As well, once my son was born I was going to be unable to lift and carry my daughter for 6 weeks. These were big changes for her. Choosing to continue to breastfeed meant that we could preserve some "normal" for us and that we could find time together to connect and be in the moment, just us. Even though I was experiencing aversion, I still cherished the snuggles and holding her sweet little body while we breastfed.
There was another aspect of bonding that was important to me too. The bond between her and her little brother.
When breastfeeding, oxytocin is flowing in both the mom and the nursling(s). Oxytocin is the bonding hormone and I knew that the fact that they would both be experiencing it together while they breastfed was exciting to me. I watched them breastfeed, one on each breast, and gaze into each other's eyes, my sweet toddler's hand caressing her little newborn brother's fingers and cheek.
The next reason I chose to tandem feed was to mitigate engorgement. When my milk transitioned after my daughter was born I was MASSIVELY (and painfully) engorged. I could spray milk across the room by just touching my breast and I had to hold a towel over my chest for days while I walked the house or I would leave a trail of white splotches on the floor behind me. I did not want to go through that again. I had a hunch that my toddler would be able to take care of that oversupply for me without risking *increasing* production (which can occur if you begin pumping during that time). And... it worked. My toddler was able to pop over and take the edge off, happily and effectively, whenever I needed it. My milk came in beautifully and I didn't have any extra pain!
Another concern I had was my milk supply being able to be maintained if my son had difficulty latching. When my daughter was born she didn't latch for 3 days and she was both tongue and lip tied. I was nervous that my son might be in a similar situation, and as an LC I knew how important it was to maintain milk removal during breastfeeding difficulties to keep your milk flowing well. My son did have some trouble with latching and my daughter's breastfeeding was perfect stimulation and milk removal to keep my supply where it needed to be. This was such a weight off of my shoulders! While we worked on his latch and found support for the muscle tension in his body causing the trouble, I didn't have to worry about my supply, or pumping!
Toddlers get sick. Especially toddlers who are going to playgroups, and gymnastic classes at the local community center. My husband also did snow removal at the time, with long, unpredictable hours, and my son was born in the fall. I knew that there was a good chance that viruses were going to be spread around our home... and 5 months later when the first COVID lock-down happened, I was even happier with my choice to continue breastfeeding my daughter!
Having my daughter breastfeed meant that not only was she getting immune support from my milk, but that body was having the earliest alert to pathogens that might be entering our home by scanning the saliva it collected while she was nursing. And, my son would benefit from my body's earliest production of immune support as well. As it turned out when my son was 6 weeks old both he and my daughter got quite sick, and I was so grateful to be able to continue to provide them with both nutrition and immune support even when they struggled to keep solid foods down.
Easy Button Mom-tool
This was probably my biggest reason for continuing to breastfeed my daughter after my son was born. Breastfeeding could stop my daughter's meltdowns like nothing else could. She was prone to sensory overload and struggled more than other 2-year-olds to regulate her big feelings. Being home with her and a newborn meant that I felt like I was constantly calming a screaming child (or 2). Breastfeeding was the "easy button" in those moments. It saved my mental health. I was able to calm and reassure her before *I* became overstimulated. Looking back I am so grateful I decided that it was a tool worth keeping.
How about you?
I hear from pregnant moms all the time who feel they have to wean because they don't think that tandem feeding is right for them, or from moms who would love to tandem feed, but have never seen or heard of anyone else who has done it before. I was privileged to have had my background in lactation support me in the decision-making process - understanding breastfeeding physiology took a lot of the guesswork out of it for me. But, I still felt like it was something I couldn't talk about, or when I did, people thought I was crazy or treated me like I was a martyr. I most certainly was not. I chose to tandem feed FOR my mental health! So how about you, mama? Did any of these reasons resonate with you? Did you learn something new? Let me know in the comments!