I thought I would share my personal adventure in tandem nursing to mark the start of Black Breastfeeding Week 2019. Tandem nursing is when you breastfeed siblings of two different ages. It started when I found myself pregnant with my second child while still nursing my 2-year-old. What?!?! Breastfeeding a toddler? With teeth? Yes, extended breastfeeding is common and recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. There are many benefits to breastfeeding beyond 12 months: increased immune system function, added nutritional benefits, improved brain development, and lower anxiety. Additionally, nothing heals a boo-boo or stops a temper tantrum in its tracks like a mouthful of boob! Also, keep in mind that toddlers don’t nurse nearly as often as infants. Our nursing sessions were primarily before naps and before bedtime, about 3-4 times a day.
When I found myself pregnant while my not-quite-2-year-old was still breastfeeding, neither of us were ready to discontinue our breastfeeding relationship. I continued to safely breastfeed throughout pregnancy. What was that like?
Oftentimes, nurslings are the first to know when you are pregnant. The taste of your milk changes, becoming slightly salty. Some toddlers do not like the new flavor and will refuse to nurse. My toddler did not let a little funny-tasting milk stop her. She continued to nurse throughout my first trimester. As we approached my second trimester, my milk production began to decrease and eventually disappeared altogether. This is common during pregnancy. About 70% of women report decreased milk production during pregnancy. Still, my toddler persisted. This was the most difficult part for me. Dry nursing felt like nails on a chalkboard. Sometimes it was painful. But my toddler strongly desired to soothe herself with suckling, and breastfeeding interaction was still cordial. We worked through this challenge together. I agreed to allow her to continue to breastfeed but in limited increments. I would set a timer for 3 minutes. I would explain that she can have some milk but only for a little while because it hurt Mommy. She was very careful. Sometimes she was upset when the timer beeped and I would cuddle her instead of nursing for a few minutes. Then allow her to nurse again if she was still awake in 10 minutes. It was difficult for both of us.
During the third trimester, my daughter would nurse and feel her sister moving in my growing belly. She would smile and rub my belly while nursing. We would talk about how when the baby came, she would need to share milk with her new sister. When the baby was born, they both nursed together in the hospital bed with me. I was amazed at how big my toddler looked compared to my 6-pound newborn! My toddler was so happy to meet her new sister. Even better, my milk was back! It was like a kid on Christmas Morning when she latched on and milk came out again! She was so happy to have the gift of her mother’s milk! The oldest stroked the baby’s head as they nursed together. As months passed, they would hold hands and exchange glances. They shared this experience for a while until one day, my milk tasted salty again!
The journey that women embark on during pregnancy is full of many twists and turns, both physically and metaphorically. It is a time of great change as ligaments loosen, pelvic alignment shifts, emotions run wild, and hormone levels fluctuate. Yoga can help a laboring woman find inner peace and prepare her mind and body for the climax of the voyage, the birth of her child. Yoga can be a fantastic tool to achieve natural childbirth as it promotes deliberate breathing, meditation, visualization and movement. It helps the mother to focus inward, listening to her instincts as she works with her baby for a successful birth.
Women experience many significant changes during pregnancy. One of the most obvious changes they experience is weight gain, especially in the abdominal region. The growing belly shifts the woman’s center of gravity causing many women to sway and strain their backs. Yoga promotes good posture and a strong core, allowing women to better support themselves in a manner that doesn’t cause muscle strain. A pregnant woman’s growing uterus can also shift and apply pressure to digestive organs, impeding digestion and causing unwanted side effects. Yoga can help reverse this process and restore healthy digestion.
Some women have difficulty achieving restful and sustained sleep during pregnancy. Practicing yoga can help women sleep more peacefully by providing them an opportunity to release stress and relax more fully before retiring for the night. Yoga helps to relax both body and mind, promoting a general sense of well-being. It is a time for mothers to slow down and focus on the baby growing inside, building a connection between mother and baby that is especially helpful during birth. Yoga promotes body awareness and helps mothers tune in to their intuition in order to better understand her own and her baby’s needs.
Yoga energizes the body, calms the mind and balances emotions. As mothers visualize a successful and satisfying birth they build confidence and courage. Practicing yoga prepares women for childbirth by teaching them acceptance and to focus on the present moment, breathing through one contraction at a time.
During pregnancy, women experience a significant increase in blood volume. Stretching and deep breathing exercises such as those done during the practice of yoga promote circulation of blood and oxygen throughout the body. Slow and deliberate breathing is beneficial during labor, allowing the mother to relax her muscles even during stressful or frightening situations. Deep stretching increases flexibility, allowing the mother to remain in positions such as squats and lunges for longer periods of time. Deep stretches that open the pelvis promote a speedier and less painful labor.
Prenatal yoga is an excellent exercise to prepare women planning to use yoga during birth. Many of the same poses used in a prenatal yoga class are also used with yoga birth. There are specific yoga positions that can be especially helpful during labor. Cat Pose is a yoga position that can help rotate the baby into the anterior position, alleviating back labor and avoiding dystocia. In between contractions, Child’s Pose opens the pelvis, encouraging the baby to descend through the birth canal. Another position that is beneficial during childbirth is squatting. Squatting widens the birth canal and works with gravity to help the baby to descend faster.
Living the JACK'd Life
I am a certified birth doula (BAI) in Charlotte, NC . I provide information and support to pregnant individuals and couples so they can have satisfying and empowering births. I am a married mother of 4 trying to navigate life, unafraid of sharing my truly JACK'd up missteps.