The Accidental Tandem Feeder

BY KATE CROSHER

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Being a mum didn't come easily to me. I joined an online forum for support the weekend of our first IVF cycle. Although I didn't know their real names, those women celebrated the good times and grieved the sadness with me. Finally, they were with me when my ninth embryo transfer resulted in a successful pregnancy!

It was some of these women who bought me an Australian Breastfeeding Association membership. I wanted to breastfeed. Having experienced infertility, I wanted something "normal".  But at the same time, I felt that if it didn't work out, it would be okay. I knew many healthy formula fed babies. I doubt I would have joined ABA myself.

But I had this membership, so I figured I’d check out the local group meeting. I recall the icebreakers of the first meets I attended. 1. our reasons for breastfeeding, and 2.  our breastfeeding goal. My answers…
            1.         because breastfeeding is normal, the way babies are supposed to be fed, and
            2.         12 months.

The first week after my daughter was born was rough. I went through many of the usual traps first-time mums experience. She lost 10% of her weight, my milk didn't "come in" as expected, I had to top up with formula, although I wanted to cup feed they convinced me to use bottles, I was given rules by which I had to "get things done" - waking her three hourly during the day and four hourly overnight, feeding for ten minutes then pumping for ten minutes on both sides, topping her up with expressed milk from the previous feed and then formula, changing her, then settling her to sleep.

The midwives were clear, it all had to be done in an hour so we got enough sleep. I think the hour added more pressure than the lack of sleep! We left the hospital and I called them to book the lactation consultant as soon as we got home. The night before we saw her, I said to my husband “I hoped she helps because I don’t think I can keep doing this when you go back to work”. She was ten days old.

I will be forever grateful to Margret, she changed the trajectory of my breastfeeding journey. She watched me feed. She gave me tips. She let me cry. Then finally she said, "I think you can do this.... if you want to". Yes! Yes, I said. She gave me permission to stop topping up.  Although I don't know why I needed it! She told me only to top up no more than 60ml if my baby really needed it. She said as long as I understood that she might feed anywhere from 1.5 hourly to 5 hourly I could stop waking her (Wow! That changed EVERYTHING!).

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Having someone who trusted that I, and my body, could do this, made the world of difference. Suddenly my baby was feeding better (of course she was, she wasn't overfull anymore!), I was feeling better. My milk was 'doing its thing'.

A couple of weeks later I went back to ABA and kept going. I learned a lot and gained some amazing friends. I really think it's allowed me to be the type of parent I need to be for me and my family. And we kept on breastfeeding.

I did all the demand feeding things, and apart from a slightly shallow attachment, it was pretty smooth sailing after that. I felt blessed. I never felt that rush of oxytocin people say they do. But it was important to me, and I kept going.  Then suddenly, I had been breastfeeding for 12 months..... remember that goal?

To put this in perspective, my mum didn't enjoy breastfeeding. She fed me for 7 months and even less with each of my three siblings. My sister struggled and switched to formula early on. I had always thought if they can ask for it, well, they don't need it anymore. Yes, I was one of those people (Insert eye roll here). But at 8 months my daughter started signing "milk". She could barely speak but she was definitely still asking for it. Irony hey?!? So I thought…  'Okay. Well. I'll just see what happens'. It was easier to settle her overnight, she still seemed small. She was happy. So we kept on breastfeeding.

I went back to work when she was 18 months old. It was hard. She was breastfeeding often overnight and long awake times.  I was exhausted. I started putting in boundaries. "Boobies are asleep" I would say occasionally. But it didn't seem fair to wean her, she was missing me and we were both adjusting to childcare.  Finally, at 21 months I couldn't do it anymore and decided that night weaning was right for us. I set a time frame, midnight to six am. We wouldn't breastfeed then. She coped brilliantly. At the same time, she started sleeping longer and in her own bed. So we kept on breastfeeding.

I thought surely she would wean soon. She turned two and we reached the World Health Organisations recommended time frame for breastfeeding. I started to feel a bit embarrassed, but I thought, oh well.  It's working. So we kept on breastfeeding.

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Then came the unexpected. One Sunday afternoon in Spring, I took a pregnancy test. It was positive! I was in shock. I was offered a new job around the same time. Of course, I took it. It was still early, I wasn't sure what would happen. My nipples were understandably very sensitive. Breastfeeding hurt.  A lot. I braced myself for every feed. I was sure she would wean. I put boundaries around it, I got dressed before she would notice and avoided where I could.   But we kept on breastfeeding.

At 16 weeks pregnant I was tired, I let her feed during the day again - it was easier to settle her for a nap. My breasts started producing colostrum. She increased her feeds. We kept on breastfeeding.

When she was 2 years 7 months old, we decided it was time to wean her from the dummy. Although we had reduced progressively over the previous 12 months, a final step was needed. It didn't feel right to wean her from "boobie milk" at the same time. So we kept on breastfeeding. 

By this time, it was only another two months until her brother was going to arrive. Somewhere around this time I realised she wasn't going to wean. I was staring tandem feeding in the face. I felt mixed. Secretly curious, excited and proud, while terrified and somewhat embarrassed at the same time.

I started expressing colostrum around 28 weeks. I had gestational diabetes, but I would have done it anyway. I wanted to avoid formula top ups if possible.  Formula is important in the lives of many babies, but I felt strongly that it was top-ups that made breastfeeding my daughter so much harder. I was desperate to avoid that. This time I wanted to "get it right” - whatever that meant!

My son arrived at 38 weeks and he's my miracle. He completes us. I breastfed my daughter in the hospital, she turned three when her brother was 3 days old.  Things weren't perfect at first. He had low blood sugars the first day, but we had expressed colostrum.  So, under the paediatrician orders, he had the colostrum along with a bit of glucose and was out of special care that night. By day four he had lost 11% and they wanted me to give formula.  But I followed his cues, fed him two hourly and as my milk was transitioning, I managed to hand express breastmilk into medicine cups and top up with that. I am sure my daughter helped the milk come in quicker. 

There were some frustrations, I was asked if I was "anti-formula" (I'm definitely not!) and when I said I'd use a syringe to feed him I was told I "wouldn't do that at home". But other nurses were supportive and even with these negative comments I achieved my goal of no formula. 

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The first few weeks were fantastic. I fed my son on demand, they shared at times, and other times she had that special moment with me by herself, just like he does. At times, she reaches over and holds his hand as they both feed - it’s beautiful.

After a while her behaviour became demanding - I needed boundaries around breastfeeding. So, we had a new rule, "Big girls have boobie in the morning and at night". It took a few days. But the transition was good - it felt like she needed the boundaries to feel more secure. Her behaviour is still challenging, but we seem to be in a sweet spot at the moment. We are still breastfeeding!

I've had mixed reactions to tandem feeding. My mother worries I'm "tiring myself out”. But she doesn’t realise it's easier this way! I'm sure my mother in law is shocked, but she hasn't said anything, I'm not sure she's seen me feed both at the same time! Mostly I'm surrounded by like-minded  parents and ABA friends, which helps normalise what was once so strange to me.

I don't know what will happen now. My goal is to feed my son until we are both ready, around three years, as it seems fair they get the same start. He may wean before then, I'm not sure how I'll feel. Who knows how long my daughter will continue to feed, or how long I'll feel comfortable tandem feeding. My goals have kept changing. Every time I reach one, I feel unsure of what I'll do next. So I just go with it. In some ways, it’s liberating to let go of the control!

And that's it. That's how I became one of "those women" who breastfed a toddler through pregnancy and tandem feeds a three year old and a four month old. The accidental tandem feeder.  Who would have thought!?