Today marks five years and ten months of breastfeeding for me. At this point, I have no shame or embarrassment whatsoever about anything related to lactation. However, our culture leaves many women caught between not actually seeing extended nursing/tandeming/etc. in the examples of women around them, yet feeling a little embarrassed about asking questions or commenting on another woman's choices for feeding her children.
So, I'm making it easy on you. I'm writing this post in a Q&A format based off of questions I've been asked on message boards and in private chats with my closest friends and family. I'm choosing to be completely candid. If there is a question that wasn't addressed, leave a comment, and I'll try to respond (unless you are some weirdo-pervert, in which case it will simply be deleted).
I heard that breastfeeding during pregnancy can cause a miscarriage. Is it safe?
Yes. There is solid research that shows that as long as orgasm is safe, so is breastfeeding. It is true that the hormones released during breastfeeding can cause contractions, but the same is true for sex. In some high-risk pregnancies, woman are advised to wean around 20 weeks, just as a precaution. However, in general, it is perfectly safe. My own OB was very happy to hear that I was nursing two during my last pregnancy, and my midwife for this pregnancy was totally fine with it, too. For more information, check out www.kellymom.com.
What about taking nutrients away from the fetus? What about the colostrum? And, do your kids eat regular food or do they just breastfeed? How often do they nurse, anyway? I'm getting this weird mental picture of a four-year-old who doesn't know how to eat real food...
I know, that was a bunch of questions tied in together. Consider the last few bonus questions ;) It is important for the mom to eat well and enough just so that she doesn't get her own nutritional stores depleted, but the baby and nursling will both be fine. Colostrum is produced just like in any other pregnancy, generally appearing in the last trimester and the first few days after birth. It can cause very loose, yellowish stools in the nursling (not diarrhea), but is full of antibodies. Your nursling will not drink it all up from the newborn. It is possible that the mature milk will come in a little faster than before.
Regarding the last few questions, even our youngest, who didn't begin solids until after a year, eats a normal amount of regular grown-up food. All of the kidlets have a good appetite and none are picky eaters. At this point, our 17-month old is nursing about four or five times during the day and a few times at night. She loves to drink water. If she follows the pattern of the other two, she'll night-wean herself by the third trimester as my supply diminishes, then go back to frequent nursing for a couple of months after the baby is born. She'll drop more and more sessions as she goes along. My three-year-old only nurses once or twice a day, and may choose to wean as the milk changes.
So, how does milk change during pregnancy?
It depends on the woman. My milk supply generally drops pretty drastically around the end of the first trimester. Then, it changes to colostrum sometime around the end of the second trimester. Ariana weaned during my last pregnancy because she hated the taste of colostrum.
Doesn't all that breastfeeding interfere with more romantic functions of breasts?
Nope. My mouth is used for lots of things, including talking and eating, and that has never gotten in the way of kissing. My body parts have many talents :)
Do you set limits on nursing?
Absolutely. This is a two-way relationship, and nursing manners are important to me. In the newborn stage, I offer anytime they seem interested. As they get older, they can wait a few minutes if I am busy. At their current ages when they eat plenty of solids, if I feel very uncomfortable I cut a nursing session short or skip it. They know that, and are very respectful of my body.
How does nursing them together affect sibling relationships, jealousy, etc?
It is hard to say for sure, but I believe it helps smooth the transition a great deal. For one thing, the birth brings a ton of milk. For my kidlets, this was like a waterfall after a drought. They were so delighted with the milk that the baby brought that it ensured very positive feelings from the beginning. It is reassuring for them to know that the baby doesn't take away from their own special closeness with nursing times. Even the American Academy of Pediatrics site states that tandem nursing may reduce jealousy and promote sibling bonding. Seeing the older child gently stroke the baby's hand or face as they share milk is one of my favorite memories of those early days.
How does it actually work? Do they both nurse at the same time? How do you get them positioned?
Different things work for different people. Having the two different sucking patterns felt weird to me, so I prefer to have them nurse separately most of the time. However, there are several ways to work out the logistics if you are comfortable with both nursing simultaneously. Hilary Flower's book Adventures in Tandem Nursing has tons of helpful, real-life advice.
How much did the kids want to nurse after the baby was born?
A lot. More than I would have imagined. At first, both Ariana and Joel nursed more than their newborn siblings. Ariana basically went back to exclusive nursing for over three months after Joelito was born, and she gained four pounds! Some moms limit it a lot. I chose to just ride it out, and after a few months they cut back considerably.
Does your body make enough milk? I'm afraid that the baby won't get enough...
Ha, ha and double ha. Sorry--I don't mean to be insensitive, it is just that I struggled with the opposite problem. It is all about supply and demand. Unless you schedule feedings or otherwise limit access to the breast, your body will generally make as much milk as your baby will drink. How did women with twins manage before formula? The first time around, I didn't know to reserve his-and-hers breasts. My body must have thought it was feeding quads! I had a horrible over-supply. I was constantly leaking, on the edge of engorgement, and had an over-active let-down that nearly drowned poor Joelito each time he latched on! The second time through, I made sure that we didn't alternate so much, and my supply adjusted much more quickly. While I realize that supply issues are real for some women, the vast majority of those I know who have tandem-nursed have found that over-supply is much more common.
Does it cause dental problems in the older nursling?
There is pretty conclusive research that breastfeeding does not cause cavities. It isn't a bottle and it isn't formula. It doesn't pool behind the teeth, and the composition is entirely different. In fact, statistically, the longer you breastfeed, the less likely your child is to have an overbite or need braces later on! As always, good dental hygiene is important, of course.
Is breastfeeding just about you? I mean, why on earth would you want to breastfeed for so long, anyway?
When I hear this, I laugh and laugh. I can usually stop before they edge away and start mentioning soothing drinks. The truth is, of all the women I know with older nurslings, most are eager for the day their children will wean. Sure, there are moments where there is the misty, Mother-Mary-halo and you enjoy the peace of a child cuddled up. When Joelito grins his most adorable smile and tells me that leche is better than ice-cream, or when Elena chortles with delight and chants "leche, leche" over and over as she giggles and grabs my shirt, it is so sweet that I am really glad to be nursing. Both younger ones are little tornadoes, and sitting down to nurse is one of the quietest, most peaceful moments of their day, and a much needed break for all of us.
The rest of the time? My breasts get tender and sore during pregnancy, and a vigorous suck or messy latch hurts. They learn very quickly to latch well every time and be gentle. Dry-nursing (if no milk is coming out) gives me the creepy-crawlies, as if a million ants were crawling all over me. It is one of the worst sensations imaginable and makes for very short, teeth-gritting, nursing-sessions. Finally, following all of the diet restrictions from their food allergies gets old really fast. In those moments, I look at it like diaper-changing: not always pleasant, but in the best interests of my child, and part of the way I choose to parent. In my post, http://dulcefamily.blogspot.com/2009/05/so-why-not-wean.html I included a list of some of the benefits of continuing to breast feed both for children and mothers.
Will you nurse three?
Who knows? Ariana weaned just a couple of months before Elena was born. Later, she asked to nurse again but had already forgotten how. I have no idea if Joel will also decide to wean during pregnancy or if he will continue. If he keeps it up, then I will be triandeming in July. :)
What is your cut-off age for nursing? College?
Definitely. Especially if they choose an out-of-state school. Honestly, I don't know. Each day so far they are only a few hours older than the last time they nursed. The most important thing I've learned as a parent is to trust God's design. They'll stop when they are ready.