Q&A: tandem nursing blues

Lisa writes:

"I need some help to wade through a bucketload of postpartum tandemnursing emotions, and maybe some reader experiences and data points. Help please!

My son is almost 2 1/2 and nursed throughout my pregnancy, but at the very end would only latch for a few seconds at a time, once or twice a day. Well, now that my daughter has arrived (2 weeks ago) and the milk is a-flowin, he's on me all.the.time.  I had always thought I'd let him self wean (and even naively thought that maybe it would be soon), and was game for tandem nursing, but now I'm feeling really conflicted.

Some of it is just the sheer logistics of nursing two, especially when he's so adamant and persistent and acrobatic.  He of course always wants to nurse when his sister does, and trying to keep her latched in the midst of his acrobatics is no small feat.  But a deeper part comes from an emotion I feel really guilty about - he just seems so BIG now compared to his baby sister and I feel resentful when he's groping at me.  I love my son with every fiber of my being and I don't like feeling resentful and annoyed about a nursing relationship that has been so great for over 2 years. I've been trying to keep my cool but I worry that I'm not going to be able to keep it up for long.

Not surprisingly, those around me think the obvious solution is weaning him. But I think that pushing him to wean now is probably the worst possible timing ever, with all the upheaval in his life.  But I'm struggling to think clearly about how to change the behavior so that he nurses a little less often, or a little less vigorously, or something. Maybe it's the cluster of postpartum emotions + the figuring out of how to be mom to two + oh did I mention his nanny had to leave us a few weeks ago so I have no child care and am looking for a new babysitter for him?  But I feel stuck.  Any insight?"

Then she wrote an update:

"The update is that I've started weaning my toddler by cutting out the demand nursings; now we just nurse upon awakening, at naptime, and at bedtime. Still too many for me but at least I can tell him "we only nurse at bedtime" etc when he tries to attach himself mid day.

But I still feel the visceral resentment, and de-latching/detaching him at the end of those 3 nursing times is getting increasingly difficult. It's like he knows there are limits now so stretches each time to the maximum possible. I'm going to keep on keeping on and figure that my return to work at the end of maternity leave will be a natural dropping of the naptime session and sometimes the morning session too.

The piggyback question that this raises for me is re: the advice everyone seems to give about making changes when siblings arrive. "Don't move to a big kid bed/potty train/take away pacifiers when the baby comes or the older child will associate the change with the baby and this will fuel sibling rivalry." How true is this really? How long is it true for? Keeping in mind that my son is exactly 2 1/2 so gearing up in a big way for that half year disequilibrium.  We need to change bedtime but I can't wait until he's three!!"

The first thing I want to say is that I never tandem nursed, but I have felt the feeling of wanting to jump out of my skin while a child nursed, and it's horrible. It makes you want to run away, and makes you feel guilty about wanting to run away. It makes you feel like a bad mother and bad person, because your child wants something and you resent giving it. It's a tough place to be.

But it's also natural. I'm not sure there are any women who've tandem nursed who haven't felt at least some of that feeling. I'm betting it also varies by the ages of the kids, and by how much the older one nurses and how often, etc.

Parenting is always about boundaries. And you can only prioritize your kids so much before it becomes unhealthy for you. One of the hidden gifts of nursing (that I never really figured out until I had an older child) is that you're forced to navigate the changing border of your needs vs. your kids' needs all the time, so that by the time things get really high-stakes you're already used to it.

FWIW, I never thought the reason not to change things when a new baby came was to prevent sibling rivalry. I thought it was because too many changes would overload your child and would make the changes less likely to succeed. So this is another case of a solution is only a solution if it's not worse than the problem--if weaning makes things better for you, and gives you more resources to parent both your kids, then that's the solution. If weaning causes you more stress (as it does for some people), then it's not a solution. Only you know which is the case for you and your family.

Plenty of 2 1/2-year-olds have been weaned when a younger sibling was born. Plenty of them have continued to nurse. Even more of them weren't nursing by that point at all. It's my strong suspicion that we wouldn't be able to tell the difference among them, and that their relationships with their siblings weren't affected by that at all. (If anyone's got any research confirming or negating that, please let us know.)

Your son is important, and your baby is important, but you are important, too. Raising good people is partly about teaching them how to respect other people's boundaries. If you can come up with a solution that makes all of you feel good, that would be a parenting utopia. But while you're figuring out who to prioritize here, remember that there's no wrong or right answer, and you and your son are going to get something valuable out of whatever decision you make.

Can anyone comment on tandem nursing? Suggestions or empathy? Virtual chocolate?