It's a prospect many women never consider: What would it be like to breastfeed two children -- born years apart -- at the same time? In the latest installment in The Breastfeeding Chronicles, our series that considers the enormous range of nursing stories, Kate, 29, a stay-at-home mom with 8- and 2-year-old boys and a 6-week-old girl, talks about why she tandem breastfeeds her two youngest, and how it works.
Why We Do It
This last pregnancy was a surprise. My husband and I found out about it while my 2-year-old was in the hospital for what's called "intussusception." His intestines basically slid inside of each other and were constricting his blood flow, causing him to have a lot of pain, a lot of blood in his stool. He was in and out of the hospital for months, and stayed four-day stretches on four different occasions. My doctors told me it was important to continue to nurse him because he had been so sick, and breast milk is such a great source of natural antibodies.
So I continued nursing him throughout my pregnancy until about 28 weeks, when I started having pre-term labor symptoms. It's pretty common if you're nursing while pregnant. I had to abruptly stop at that point, and I thought that he was going to be done. The idea of tandem nursing -- which had been my plan -- just kind of went out the window. But once my daughter was here, and he saw that I was nursing her, I guess he just missed that connection. He asked for it, and I was fine with it. So we started back up with nursing again.
How We Do It
I have her on one breast and him on the other. My daughter's needs come first, always, because she is younger and she was a preemie. My son is understanding that his baby sister gets to eat first, that I'll get her to latch and start feeding, then he gets to eat. Sometimes he'll get a little fussy if I'm taking too long, but he's been pretty good. And if he sees her nursing, he almost always wants to, too. "My turn, my turn, me go next!" he says. My daughter nurses every 2-3 hours, but my son doesn't nurse at night. He is in his own bed.
I pretty much "divvy" up the breasts based on what's comfortable for me. If I'm sitting on the couch, it's usually easier to have whatever side the arm rest is on be her side. If we're sitting in bed, it really doesn't matter -- she goes on the boppy pillow, and he's easier to move around, because he's a toddler.
It does feel different. He will bite sometimes, and she obviously doesn't have any teeth yet. Sometimes I'll have to stop and ask him to stop using his teeth.
What People Think
I won't nurse him in public, partly because he's so distracted and doesn't need to nurse, and partly because there's such a stigma about nursing toddlers. I imagine it'd be even harder to nurse both of them in public without feeling like I'm committing a crime.
But my friends and family have been really supportive of tandem breastfeeding. If anyone in my life has anything negative to say about why I'm still nursing a toddler, I say something like, "Breast milk doesn't lose its nutritional value just because he's a toddler, and it's still such a huge source of comfort for him." I do have things in my arsenal to defend it, but I've only had to use them a couple of times. People have been pretty positive, and my husband is very supportive of tandem breastfeeding. He has thanked me several times for nursing both kids.
It's not a really common thing. I'm the only person I know in my life who has tandem nursed. I do have "mommy friends" on the Internet who do it, but nobody that I personally know has been in this situation.
The Biggest Challenge
The hardest part of our whole experience actually had nothing to do with tandem breastfeeding. My daughter was born four weeks early, and she was jaundiced, and I felt a lot of pressure from pediatricians in the hospital to supplement with formula. They were stressing, over and over, that my supply wasn't enough. So I was pumping after every feeding to try and get my supply up. There's such pressure on new moms to have a big supply, and it makes you feel inadequate if you aren't producing enough. In the end, I actually over-produced and donated 100 ounces of milk.
The Best Part
The connection that I feel to both children is unlike any experience I've had before, just how close I feel to both of them physically. It is a different connection than I felt to my older child, who I only nursed for a few weeks, because almost everything I ate was upsetting his stomach. In hindsight, I feel guilty over not trying harder to nurse him, not eliminating foods from my diet, but I just didn't know.
There is a physical closeness between my son and my daughter that probably wouldn't exist if they weren't nursing at the same time. Usually, my daughter falls asleep as soon as she's nursing, but my son will rub her back, he'll tickle her feet. He likes to pat her head and be close to her.
When he was in the hospital, there was one stretch when he wasn't allowed to have anything to eat for 36 hours. He wasn't asking for water. He wasn't asking for food. He was asking to nurse. It's his number-one source of comfort, and I love that.
With my son, my initial goal was to breastfeed a year. Once he got to a year, I just sort of threw the timeline out the window. Three sounds like an OK age to stop, but it doesn't really matter. Whatever's comfortable for him and whenever he's ready to stop is when we'll stop. Same thing for my daughter. Whatever works for her, whatever works for both of us, is what we'll do.
Kate's two youngest children both breastfeed at the same time, a practice known as "tandem nursing."
This account has been edited and condensed.
In celebration of World Breastfeeding Week (Aug. 1-7), HuffPost Parents participated in "I Support You," an initiative to collect photos and messages from mothers to each other that say we might lead different lives but we share wanting the best for our children. Find out more here.