Beyond Infant Breastfeeding...

Celebrating Tandem Nursing and Making Extended Breastfeeding The Norm Again 
- Shyami Sathiaseelan


My earliest memories of breastfeeding was that of my aunts feeding my cousins. Yet, I had never seen toddlers being breastfed. The first time I ever heard of it was when a pediatrician uncle of mine mentioned how school going kids used to be breastfed in the villages when he was a kid.

When I got pregnant with my son, I attended the mandatory ante-natal classes my doctor asked me to and breastfeeding class was a part of it. I didn’t think  too much about it then. We are supposed to be natural breastfeeders, right? Later on, a couple of friends spoke to me about breastfeeding and told me how life is easy with breastfeeding, especially for someone as lazy as me. Even then the topic of “extended” breastfeeding didn’t arise.

My son latched on fine and breastfed like a pro from the word go without any major problems. I was planning to go back to work after six months of maternity leave and I hadn’t even thought about pumping. However, when my son was exactly six months old, I found out that he had allergies. That changed a lot of things. I decided to work from home and continue to feed him as I knew that breastmilk would help him in the long run to get rid of his allergies.

I got pregnant again when my son was just over a year old. I started reading up a bit and decided to breastfeed my son through my second pregnancy and tandem feed the two babies after the second one arrived. At this point I was losing weight already, and continuing to breastfeed while pregnant and not gaining any weight wasn’t helping. My family was totally against me breastfeeding my older one. It was difficult to find supportive doctors as well. I spoke to my GP and his words struck a chord with me, “Shyami, I am not worried about the babies. The baby inside is going to get all the nutrients it needs and the baby outside is going to get enough nourishment from the breastmilk. I am worried about you. If you promise to eat healthy and nutritious food so that you are not getting any deficiencies I wouldn’t stop you from doing what you want to do.”

I fought against all odds and breastfed my son through my pregnancy until the 8th month. He was 19 months then and self-weaned.* I was sad to let go but was mentally prepared to feed him if he asked for it after my second one was born.

After the second baby was born I was too busy to even think about tandem feeding for a while. When I did bring up the topic, I was laughed at and I did not have the courage to fight back then but slowly I started feeding him again when he asked. At one stage, I was feeding two toddlers. My son was going to school so his feeding would be restricted to bedtime whereas my daughter had the luxury of feeding whenever she wanted as she stayed at home with me - sometimes it would be every half an hour and sometimes she wouldn’t think about it for a few hours. She, most often, fed more than normal just before she fell ill and she used to recover real quick too. She was always the last one to catch the infection and the first one to get out of it among her group of friends.** She continued to feed even after she joined school. The feeding helped in easing her into school emotionally and also helped her in building her immunity.

 My neighbours, friends, and family found it funny and strange that she ran to me when she was thirsty, hungry or needed comfort looking for milk. I was told that there was no milk and she was just sucking out of habit.*** Everyone had to say something about my breastfeeding journey and mostly it was all negative. I handled all their comments and questions with just a smile.

Between all this, my son was admitted to hospital for pneumonia and was intubated. What helped him get out of his illness real quick was breastfeeding right through it all. The nurses at the hospital would tell me not to feed him but I kept at it and the doctors were amazed at how quick his recovery was.

My daughter self-weaned when she was 4.5 years old when my supply hit a low. But we had an amazing breastfeeding journey that my son and daughter still talk about breastfeeding and the special bond that we had.

I realise now somewhere along the line, what was the norm decades ago has now become “extended”. Extended breastfeeding helped me and my children in many ways unimaginable and I can’t emphasis enough on the benefits it has on the mother and child. We lost the goodness of breastfeeding somewhere on our path to becoming progressive but it’s time we bring it back. As a person who has first-handedly experienced the benefits of nursing two toddlers, I really hope extended breastfeeding becomes the norm again.

Editor's Note

* The taste of breastmilk tend to change during pregnancy and this could be a reason for children to self wean at a younger age. Under normal circumstances, the natural term for self weaning is 2-4 years.

** Evidence suggests that breastmilk supplements the body’s natural immunity better than formula.

*** One of the popular myths of breastfeeding is that children nurse only for hunger or out of habit. However, children nurse for a number of other reasons too. You can refer to this article for more insights on this - http://kellymom.com/bf/normal/comfortnursing/

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