Luca is now 21 months old and Jonah is four months old. Since Jonah’s birth, Luca has been eager to breastfeed very frequently, often foregoing anything that resembles a decent meal for days on end. Initially this concerned me, but as I explained in my last article, a knowledgeable La Leche League leader put my mind at ease regarding Luca’s poor eating habits.
Four months down the track, however, I decided that I no longer felt completely comfortable with Luca’s frequency of feeding, despite knowing that there was nothing ‘unhealthy’ about it. Most of the times he was requesting a feed it was a result of hunger or thirst as opposed to an emotional need, yet if I offered him food or a drink he would get really cross with me and insist “feed, feed, feed!” (or in Luca language: “be, be, be!”).
I started to resent the demanding nature of Luca’s requests to breastfeed and so found myself saying “no” to him on occasion. Because I denied him feeds on an irregular basis, I came to the realisation that my inconsistent approach was quite unfair on Luca. The solution, I decided, was to allow him a feed when he woke in the morning, a feed before his midday nap, and a feed before his night time sleep…and of course a feed whenever one was required to fix a pain or heart ache.
To get him to eat when he was hungry I had to try a number of tactics, but what seemed to work the best was to fix myself a plate of various snacks and sit down next to Luca while I ate. Inevitably he would want some of whatever I was eating. Timing was crucial. If he had already built up a big hunger he would still insist on feeding.
Luca quickly seemed to adjust to the much more predictable feeding pattern. Yesterday morning, a couple of hours before he would typically have his midday nap, Luca asked me for a feed despite not being hungry or thirsty. He had seemed a little out of sorts that morning so I decided that a feed was warranted. When he had finished feeding he indicated that he wanted to go to bed and ended up having his midday sleep mid-morning instead! His request for a feed was just part of the bedtime ritual he had come to know.
When Luca feeds he always plays with my hair. If my hair is tied back he insists I let it down before he starts feeding. The other day he asked me for a feed at a time when I wasn’t happy for him to feed. He accepted my rejection of his request and, instead, climbed up on my lap and started playing with my hair. Very cute!
Both boys have had their fair share of winter illnesses. Poor little Jonah was really quite sick at one stage with bronchitis. He looked miserable and undoubtedly felt so. At times like those I am so grateful that I am able to offer the comforts (and health benefits!) that breastfeeding provide. When kids are too sick and tired to eat or drink anything, they will almost always still want to breastfeed… what a godsend! I remember after I weaned Laura (she was 3 years old) that that was the bit I found hardest – no longer having the option to use the breast as a comforter when she was sick, sore or distressed. About two weeks after I had weaned her she cut her chin open and wanted to feed. She tried but told me “not working”. I felt so helpless.
Of course there are also times when breastfeeding can be quite hard on our own bodies, especially when we are getting rundown (anyone who has suffered through a bout of mastitis will be nodding their head in agreement right now). Last week I had my first ‘plugged duct’ experience. Almost half of my right breast was rock hard and there was nothing I could do to drain it. It was very painful and I was anxious it might develop into mastitis. I tried Jonah at the breast, I tried Luca at the breast, I tried using a breast pump, I tried hand expressing in the bath. Nothing was working! That evening I was feeding Jonah from that breast (a rather excruciating experience) when all of a sudden he started glugging ferociously and his eyes were almost popping out of his head! The clever little guy had managed to unblock the blockage. Such relief!
One of the most satisfying benefits I have witnessed through tandem feeding my boys has been the development of a very touching relationship between them. Luca is not only very accepting of Jonah sharing his Mummy with him, he is incredibly sensitive to Jonah’s needs. If Jonah gets upset while I am feeding Luca, I say to Luca “Jonah needs Mummy so you will need to get off soon”. He almost always gets straight off the breast and doesn’t seem at all put out when I offer Jonah a feed to settle him. In fact I think he is quite relieved because he doesn’t like to hear his brother cry. Many times I have seen Luca take toys to Jonah when he is starting to grizzle and he leans his head into him to give him a cuddle.
It may seem counterintuitive that tandem feeding would create a more harmonious relationship between a toddler and his new sibling. For a toddler, the requirement to share is frequently met with a reaction of anger, upset and jealousy. But I guess tandem feeding removes the experience of jealousy because the needs of the toddler are continuing to be acknowledged and looked after. The closeness, warmth and loving energy that breastfeeding provides ensures that Luca knows he is just as loved and important to me as his brother is.