Nov 2018 Newsletter – Nur’s Story: Nursing Through Pregnancy & Tandem Nursing

As told to the BMSG Editorial Team

For many of us who are expecting our second or subsequent baby while still nursing our older baby, nursing through pregnancy and tandem feeding may seem to be an uphill task. We speak to our EXCO member and breastfeeding counsellor Nur Shirhaini, a mother of four, as she shares her experience nursing her third child during her fourth pregnancy and how she survived tandem nursing with the arrival of her youngest.

Nur (centre) managed to tandem nurse her two younger daughters, Dyana and Maria (in stroller), who were born 18 months apart. [Photo courtesy of Nur Shirhaini]

Making the Decision to Nurse During Pregnancy

Nur, a working mother of four, loved breastfeeding her children. When she was pregnant with her fourth child, her third baby was a mere seven-month old. As breastfeeding had gone rather smoothly since her little baby was a newborn, she was keen to continue breastfeeding her third child. “When my OBGYN confirmed my pregnancy, he advised me to quit breastfeeding as it was believed that it could cause early miscarriage,” said Nur.

The early childhood educator refused to stop breastfeeding and was positive that her pregnancy would turn out well. Having done her research, she knew that as long as she had an uncomplicated pregnancy, any possible risks of breastfeeding were low.

More importantly, she felt her third child was much too young to be weaned. “I did not want to put my very young baby through the trauma of weaning off breastfeeding,” said Nur.

A Temporary Bout of Nursing Aversion

All was smooth-sailing during the first two trimesters and the thought of prematurely weaning her third was never on her mind. However, when she arrived at the third trimester, things took an unexpected turn.

“I suddenly had nursing aversion. My nipples were always sore and hot from nursing my toddler to sleep. I found it difficult to wear a bra or a t-shirt without feeling uncomfortable,” said Nur, who felt that it took every bit of willpower to keep on breastfeeding.  The struggle was real and it was an ordeal during every feed. She would feel her daughter’s tongue grating on her nipples and the pain was so hard to bear that she couldn’t wait for each session to end. At times, Nur would avoid breastfeeding her baby but her cries were too much to bear for her mother’s instinct. She would then cave in to her baby.

Nur describes the dilemma of wanting to nurse her baby but fearing the pain: “I would ask my husband to put my daughter to sleep because I was afraid to nurse her. However, whenever she cried, it would crush my soul and I would run back into the room and offer her my breasts.” Her third baby was the first child she had breastfed for so long; she loved breastfeeding and enjoyed nursing her previously. “But at that moment, I dreaded it so much that I prayed she would just self wean,” said Nur.

However, luck was on her side in the form of robust family support from her spouse, her mother and her in-laws. She bit her tongue and endured for a few more months until the day her newborn arrived.

With good family support especially from her husband, Nur managed to tandem nurse Dyana and Maria for seven months. [Photo courtesy of Nur Shirhaini]

How Tandem Nursing All Began

The moment was surreal; there was her precious newborn on one side and her 18 month-old daughter on the other. “I remembered Maria (the toddler) looking at me while I was breastfeeding Dyana (the newborn). She then went over to the other breast and helped herself to it!” Nur continued to tandem feed her babies for another seven months until her fourth child was hospitalised for bronchitis. Her toddler then self-weaned at that point.

Nur acknowledges that tandem feeding was not without its challenges. She had her fair share of sore and cracked nipples, coupled with exhaustion especially with her newborn. However, she reminisced about the feelings of bonding and positive association with her children that breastfeeding offered to her and her children, especially as a working mother: “I felt somehow that when I managed to tandem nurse as a working mom, I represented the possibility to other working moms that it was possible. Although it was hard, it was achievable.”

Dyana (left) and Maria (right) share a special bond as tandem nursing siblings. They almost look like twins! [Photo courtesy of Nur Shirhaini]

Tips on Breastfeeding Through Pregnancy & Tandem Nursing

Nur’s advice to other mothers who are apprehensive about tandem nursing include the following:

  • Do lots of research on breastfeeding during pregnancy and tandem nursing. Your OBGYN may not recommend that you continue breastfeeding while pregnant. However, it is important that you read up and make an informed decision.
  • Be mentally prepared. Tough times build resilience. It will get easier with each passing day. Nur’s toddler would always help herself to the right breast and she would say the left one is for the little sister. This made it easier for her as she knew her daughter was finding a way to cope and adapt with the change in circumstances. Tandem nursing also helped to tighten the bonds between the two sisters.
  • Make things easier around the house as tandem feeding may mean that you are spending more time with your children at the breast. Nur chose to invest in healthy foods and snacks so that she had one less task to worry about.
  • Find ways to connect with your toddler or older child. Talking to your older baby/child and doing some simple activities like reading and playing can greatly help to assure your older children that you still love them.
  • Babywear your younger child so that you have your hands free. Nur found that her baby slept better when she wore her, which gave her more time to bond with her toddler.

October 2018 Newsletter: Toddler Nursing & Weaning

By Saidatunnajat Yusuf, BMSG Counsellor

I breastfed my baby for almost 3 years. When I got pregnant, I knew that breastfeeding was the only way to go. Even though I was a first-time mother, I was one of the lucky ones who had a smooth sailing start to breastfeeding. I had a good support system, and most importantly, I followed my instincts and listened to my baby and body. I did not question my supply – as long as he was drinking happily, I knew that everything was okay. As a stay-at-home mom, breastfeeding got even easier as Nuraz grew older. He was an expert latcher, and I was happy to offer the breast anytime to instantly calm a fussy, cranky baby.

As good as it might have seemed, things took a different turn when my baby became a toddler, and I knew that one day, these wonderful breastfeeding days would come to an end. I was gradually getting more tired and I increasingly felt that I wanted my space and body back, but I persevered, because I knew that my baby still needed me.

Najat (right) with her husband and son. (Photo courtesy of Saidatunnajat Yusuf)

I had people (especially my mother-in-law) telling me how skinny my baby was because he was not eating well, and that I needed to give him some sort of calcium or alternative source of milk so that he would put on weight. As such, I doubted myself a lot. Visits to my MIL’s place were always stressful, as she would make me feed any sort of milk from a bottle; “he needs his milk after every meal” she would say. There was also this expectation for me to provide a certain amount of milk on a daily basis just to meet his daily milk intake. I tolerated the comments, breathed in and out, and just trusted myself as the mother of my own child. I had to believe in myself, and trust that what I was doing for my child was right. I gave myself numerous pep talks so that the negativity would not cloud my beliefs and principles. I told myself that it was okay to continue nursing my toddler. I would wean him when the time was right. I was at no liberty to wean him just because someone told me to, or because he was naturally skinny. The time would come, and I would do it when we were both ready.

I set a target to close the doors on my breastfeeding journey when he turned two years old. However, it wasn’t easy as it seemed. When Nuraz turned 2, I also decided to go back to work, and my husband and I sourced for a daycare to care for Nuraz for the five hours each day that I would be at work. I took this opportunity to slowly cut down our nursing sessions. A plan is just a plan, so how did it work out? Well, it was a long 10-month process!

He doesn’t tell me that he misses breastfeeding, but I know that he misses our late night nursing sessions – just like me.

Nuraz was one of those babies who depended only on the breast to put him to sleep. As such, I would have to lie in bed with him every nap time and evening just so that he could sleep. I knew it was normal behavior, but I questioned myself so many times. Was I spoiling my child? It was such a concern when I put him in daycare. I questioned the caregivers every single day on whether Nuraz had been able to sleep and how long he hadslept for. We did also attempt to try to put formula into a bottle for the caregiver to give to him, something I regret. We thought that perhaps if he saw his other classmates having the bottle and sleeping he would follow suit. But my kid knew that nothing other than mother’s milk was going to soothe and comfort him. At two years of age he was still such a picky eater – a phase that we have luckily escaped from. Nuraz did not take any other form of milk – fresh, powdered, strawberry, chocolate, anything – it was really tough because I was concerned that he was not getting enough nutrients from his small intake of solids. Subconsciously however, perhaps I did not really try very hard with solids because I still believed that he was thriving well with whatever I was providing him through my milk.

Any amount of breastmilk is good for a toddler, just like older babies. There is no need to supplement with follow-on formula or formula marketed as toddler’s milk. Toddlers can thrive just on breastmilk and healthy, wholesome solids.

Cutting down nursing sessions were hard. Firstly, I cut down on nursing sessions by ensuring that we kept ourselves busy. Often, when Nuraz saw me idling, he would want to nurse knowing that his mother’s breasts were available! As such, I would always find something to do and made myself busy, so he would know that the breasts were busy too. We went out a lot too so that he would be occupied running around.

The nursing sessions before nap or bedtime were the hardest to drop. I still nursed him, but I would cut it short. And whenever I realized that he had fallen into a deep sleep, I would quickly unlatch him and leave him to sleep alone – well, until I joined him for bed in the night. As much as I wanted to nap beside him, I knew that this would just give him easy access to my breasts. On nights when I just did not feel like nursing Nuraz to sleep, my husband would take over to tackle the situation. It was heartbreaking, as Nuraz would cry out for me as he did not want his daddy to put him to sleep. He wanted me, and he wanted to nurse. What my husband and I did was to set a timer for 5 to 10 minutes, and if all else failed, I would relent and go in to nurse him to sleep. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it did not – so we played by ear. Still, Nuraz would always find his way back to the breasts in the middle of the night and help himself to the feed. I started wearing really tight unaccessible clothing to bed. Our nursing sessions got shorter and shorter, and there were times when I woke up in the morning, realising that my clothing was still intact and that he had not nursed at all. And then one fine afternoon on October 2016, Nuraz took his last nursing session, and that was that.

Cutting down on nursing sessions especially night nursing to wean your toddler may take awhile. Embrace the process and take your time until your toddler is ready!

My son is turning five soon, and it has been exactly two years since he took his last feed from me. We had a good run together, and I am happy to say that he is thriving on all kinds of solids. Nuraz, although independent, can be clingy and insecure. Sometimes, I wonder if it is an only child syndrome, or if it is because I breastfed him for so long. It becomes very difficult to get others (even other family members) to care for him when I need to run errands or just have some “me time”. He doesn’t tell me that he misses breastfeeding, but I know that he misses our late night nursing sessions – just like me.