Tandem Nursing and Other Adjustments

We’ve been talking about the new baby for 9 months. We mostly talked about the birth because we knew this would be very intense for Jack to see. But we also helped him work out his questions and concerns about there being a new baby here. We knew it would be rough around here for awhile once the day came when there was this new person attached to Mommy who was never going away. And it’s proven intensely challenging for all of us.

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One recent evening Jack started to show some curiosity about Exley. He stood over him in the bassinet. He ran to the couch. He ran back over and touched Exley. He ran back to the couch. He ran to Exley and touched him again. Back and forth like this for several minutes. “There is major shit going down for Jack right now. Tonight is going to be hard,” I said to my husband. Not 3 minutes later did Jack’s demeanor change. He looked frustrated. He started throwing all of his toys around the room. We asked if he was OK. He said “I’m frustrated! I’m freakin’ out!” I said, “Are you freaking out about Exley?” He said, “I’m freaking out about Exley!” And he continued to throw things. “It’s OK to feel that way, Jack. Mommy and daddy are here for you,” I said to him. His emotion was so raw and genuine. I couldn’t help but feel for him, to support him and let him have that.

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Upon Exley’s birth I felt an immediate distance from Jack. I anticipated this and felt a deep sadness for sometime before the birth. My suspicions were right, once I was holding Exley, Jack felt far away. It broke my heart to know that this was the real end of what we had together. We’re in search of our new happiness and balance, but we have yet to find it. I desperately wanted to tandem nurse. I felt that this would help ease the transition for Jack. I don’t know if it has. I guess so. It’s all so different for me as I am sure it is to him as well. Sometimes I want to just throw my arms around him and cry, but I know that won’t do him any good.

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The day Exley came Jack clung to my husband and Mom. He was very cautious around me; wouldn’t even look at me. By the end of the day he accepted my invitation to nurse. He leaned in and latched for a short time and then left. He has slowly circled back to wanting to nurse and now he seems to be clinging to that. He is nursing much more than ever. Sometimes he’ll nurse with Exley, sometimes he stands in front of me and cries that wants Exley to go away. I believe him. I really want to like tandem nursing, but I can’t say that I do. It’s a lot. I feel touched out much quicker. It’s not very comfortable. Someone is usually upset. I thought it would be breastfeeding as I knew it + 1. It is not. It is a whole new breastfeeding relationship and journey. One that I am not convinced of yet, but I remain hopeful. Maybe with more adjustment time Jack will go back to nursing a few times a day and not every hour as it seems now. I won’t wean him. I don’t feel that would be good for him now. He’s going through too much. I’m going to take responsibility for it and try to make it work for me. We are working on developing a new routine and my husband spends a lot of time playing with and supporting Jack. I am trying new breastfeeding positions and trying to pay attention to my own emotions connected to tandem nursing.

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It’s painful to watch Jack try to find his way in the new dynamic. My husband and I aren’t always helpful since we’re finding our way too. There is this new life at my breast, but much of our effort goes to Jack who is all too painfully aware that things are different, that what he has known is gone and there is no new normal yet. His behavior (increase in meltdowns, increase in nursing, decrease in sleep) reflects his confusion and struggles, my tears reflect my sadness for him and my husband’s dark circles reflect his fatigue. We’re taking it moment by moment.

Abby Theuring, MSW

About Abby Theuring

The Badass Breastfeeder is a mother, writer, social worker, attachment parent, proud breastfeeder and advocate. Her career as a social worker has shown her that gentle and connected parenting is vital for life-long emotional health. You can find her blog at www.thebadassbreastfeeder.com and Facebook page at www.facebook.com/TheBadassBreastfeeder.

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20 comments

  1. Thank you for your article. I am so fed up with my 21-mo-old lately–she has started wanting to nurse all the time since her baby sister (#4) was born last month. After your article and the comments, I see that that is somewhat common. I do want to wean her because I’m tired of the struggle (emotional and physical with tandem nursing), but I don’t want to wean her because she’s so high-need and I would just be getting rid of my easiest method of soothing and fixing everything! So thank you for your writing; I will keep at it and hope that things will get better soon. I don’t remember this same difficulty with tandem nursing my #1 and 2; but after weaning #1 earlier than she would have liked, to this day she “nurses” in her sleep every morning before fully waking up. I don’t want that for #3 now.

  2. This post really hit home for me. I’m living almost your exact story. I have a 20 month old, and a three month old. I’m also tandem nursing. Like you, this was something I desperately wanted from the time I found out I was pregnant with my second. And like you, I’m not sure how I feel about it, though I refuse to wean my oldest. My helpful hint: my daughter was also nursing more than ever, and has since dropped back down to only a couple of times a day. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Keep doing what you’re doing. I love you, and your blog.

  3. I went through the exact same thing with my first & second babies. I got that “touched out” feeling real early & it started to effect my let down :-( My 2 year old acted very similar. So instead of my then husbad stepping in more with the oldest he stepped in with the new baby. When she was fed I’d hand her off to him. I’d snuggle up with my oldest. We started a new pattern. I realized it was very scary thing for her to be going through & I stopped putting so much emphasis on tandem nursing. I’d offer her nurse time with just us. She needed me, just me. This was hard for me because of that distance feeling I too had towards her, but I realized I was having just as difficult of a time as she was. Not to mention at 2 kids start discovering their independence & ultimately this is what was going on. She was realizing she had independence & decisions, and that she didn’t have to rely on Mommy for everything. We eventually got into a routine that to this day I cherish as one of my favorite memories of her. We had certain times that were ours. Just ours. We’d draw our day, we’d paint toes, we’d make a snack. Just something with us. But I have her the choice of what she wanted to do & nursing was one, she suddenly opted out of nursing & realized she didn’t have to hang off my breast all day long to have just mommy time. Just daddy time was a daily event for them too. She needed to find a new normal with her daddy as well. As far as baby went, I involved my oldest in big girl things. Picking out clothes, what song to sing her, what toys to “play” with etc. if she got upset I’d remind her that we had “just mommy” time coming up & that right then it was baby’s just mommy time. It worked out great. To this day, my daughters have an AMAZING relationship. I remember bitter battles with my younger sister (apparently I reacted the same towards her & my mom forced me to wean instead of letting me chose, wonder if it had something to do with our nasty fights…) When baby girl #3 came they were all much older, 7 & 9 so there wasn’t any of this to go through. Much love to you guys! You guys are all trying to find your new “normal” & you will, I promise.

  4. Finally, a mother who wrote about that “distance” a mother feels when a new baby arrives. And the inner emotional struggle it causes for moms and our older babies. The honesty is so beautiful. I thought I was tge only mom who felt that way, once my second was born. I felt like a terrible mother because I didn’t feel like I was able to show my oldest how much I loved him like I used to, the love was still there but the connection was different. I was so tied up with the newborn, I just wanted to cry all the time and wrap my arms around him. This article is amazing, and I needed to read it. It’s nice to know im not the only one. Though I didn’t tandem nurse, my oldest was far too old when baby was born, I’ve considered it torture child I’m going to keep a copy of this to reassure myself that all moms feel this way, adding a new member to the family has its ups and downs, and it’s okay. :)

    • *considered it for future children (not torture??) That’s what I get for posting comments with my phone!

    • I had NO CLUE that this was something normal. I have had that distance between me and my first child since my second was born. 11 months ago. I have been agonizing about how terrible of a mother(and person) I have to be to feel this. Thank you for letting me know this is normal!

  5. I cried while reading this! You are going through the same thing I am, my son was born May 9th and since my relationship with my daughter who is 2 has felt strained and distant and I hate it, I feel less patient with her because the baby takes so much time, and I know she misses the time we shared together before her brother came. I tried tandem nursing a few times but like you said I get touched out, it’s uncomfortable, and no one is happy 100% of the time. Thank you for your honesty I am glad to know I am not the only mama going through this situation. I can’t wait to see if you have any tips for handling this transition, thank you for all you do and congrats on your expanding family :)

  6. Abby, you are an awesome mom! I think it’s so awesome that you put you and your family’s emotions and feelings so that we can all see…… Now we all know that when we went through this it was all normal and we aren’t alone!!!! Thanks for all you do!!!!

  7. You are doing a great job. My 2 littlest ones are 14 months apart so we are lacking the verbal communication from our toddler but she has shown it other ways. Definitely harder at the beginning….definitely easier to nurse the separately. …gives them their own time and eases up on you feeling over touched. I had a hard time with the huge difference of the way they nursed when nursing at the same time. I have to say…in 2 years I went from mama of 1 to mama of 3…working full time to stay at home mom….tandem nursing …..good lord. Toughest job I’ve ever had. Wouldn’t change a thing but having good support is monumental. Love ya girl. Chin up!

  8. I read this and my heart broke because I know EXACTLY HOW YOU FEEL! We had a new baby last year and my eldest daughter C was heartbroken. She distanced herself from the baby at giddy and was quite uninterested in baby Z but after a couple of weeks when she realized Z wasn’t going anywhere she was sad, extremely clingy to me. C didn’t gravitate to my husband just wanted me so I think it’s great that jack is depending more on your husband right now. We did exactly what you’re doing, empathisized with her about how hard the new adjustment is, sharing mommy etc. co sleeping with both if them was also invaluable, and wearing my eldest helped too. Every time Z was and is asleep C gets my full attention. It broke my heart, I was so sad for C and it made me feel guilty. But you will find your groove and things WILL get better. A year later we are comfortable in our new roles for the most part, the two play together better now and C is a lot less sad. She realizes she has a new little friend and a built in playmate. Good luck and thanks for your sharing your journey <3

  9. You are amazing! You are a wonderful mother! You are doing a great job! Thank you for sharing your struggle. You inspire women more than you know.

  10. You are great parents, doing the best you can. I can only imagine how difficult this must be. I think of my little guy and if we had a new little one I know he would feel the same.
    Sending love to you all a d wishing you the best.
    Xo: )

  11. So glad to know someone is going through what I am. I have a 4 yr. a 2 yr and. 3 week old. Tandem nursing isn’t all I thought it would be either, but we are trying to work it out. Just wish there were less tears.

    Hugs to you!

  12. Beautifully written. I am so grateful to see an honest post about a really tough subject. Thank you so much for sharing!

    I didn’t have a chance to tandem nurse with my first and second babies; the first had already weaned by the time #2 came along. But with #2 & #3 we are tandem nursing and it’s been a really wonderful way to maintain the connection to my toddler while transitioning to a family with 3 kids. I think part of the really tough stuff is not necessarily the breastfeeding journey, but the transition from 1 to 2 kids. That’s a very hard transition to make for anyone. The first born is kind of left off on their own and in a very different place than they’ve ever know, even if you try your very best to be sensitive to their experience. Going from 2 to 3 kids, however, is a much easier transition. The older two have each other as playmates and if you’re tandem nursing, then the toddler is even more excited about the extra milk coming in! :) In my experience, this is the most difficult it will ever be– going from 1 kid to 2. If you ever choose to go forward and have more, it will be profoundly easier and more inclusive feeling. Hugs to you, mama! This is not an easy place to be in, but you are sensitive and in-touch with your littles and you will navigate this with kindness like you always do. <3

  13. I feel for you. I soo feel for you. Your article about your sadness about the way your relationship would change when the new baby comes is exactly how I felt and could never put into words. And now the DD2 is almost 5mos I know exactly were you are because we were there. The only thing I can say is that it does get better. I also loved the idea of tandem nursing and now in reality I hate it, and rarely nurse both at the same time because my 2yo is all over the baby. She nursed more, slept less, and i’m sure she felt left out. We had many long nights of her screaming until we figured out a sleeping arrangement the kept everyone happy and safe and gave them each enough access to Mommy. It’s much better now. It will get better. I promise.

  14. Ive never felt so guilty as I did when I was pregnant with my second. Guilty fpr being excited, guilty for feeling love for another, guilty for the change that my first born was going to have to deal with. He was 2.5 when my baby was born, wouldnt even look at the baby. I felt the distance then, and it still lingers in the background 9 months later. Things are easier, better, the boys love eachother in a way that melts my heart. I give special time, stories cuddles etc to my older as much as I can between the waits, hold ons and im with the baby nows. we are still working at it but we are happy and enjoying each day. Thamks for this post, it hit home :)

  15. I admire you so much. Please keep up the great work.

  16. It’ll get better, I promise. You might not even realize it as it gets better, but one day you’ll look back and be able to see how far you’ve come. My kids are 5, almost 4, and just turned 2. We never tandem breastfed, but now, when I look back at how things were each time I had a newborn, I’m amazed. It was tough, but we got through it. And now my children are best friends. You’ll get through it too, and so will Jack and Exley. I’m sure they too will be best friends, before you even see it coming It’ll work out Momma, you’re doing great. : )

  17. Sending lots of <3. LOTS!

  18. I feel your pain with your toddler as I’m going through it, too. I had my second son 5 weeks ago and I miss the connection I had with my first. I didn’t get to breast feed him so all he sees is me constantly holding the baby to my chest. I wish I could show him how much he is still loved in a way he could finally understand.

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