Sarah Smith, 36, is a midwife from London. She and her partner, Elios, are parents to Dylan, three and Maxwell, one. Sarah never planned it but is still breastfeeding her eldest child alongside her baby. Here, she explains why...
How did you feel about breastfeeding before you became a mum?
In my family breastfeeding is completely normal. My mum breastfed me and my three siblings – in fact my youngest brother was breastfed until he was two. It was only when I started my midwifery training that I discovered that not everyone breastfeeds – either by choice or due to a lack of support. When I got pregnant, I expected to just feed and it not to be an issue.
When you had Dylan, how did you get on establishing breastfeeding?
I had a straightforward birth with Dylan and although I had a dose of pethidine, it had worn off by the time I started pushing, so when Dylan was born it didn't affect his feeding. To start with, he was cluster-feeding (when a baby feeds very often, close together), which was exhausting, so I spent the evenings from 11pm to 3am feeding almost non-stop. Then, Dylan and I finally started worked together and I stopped using a nipple shield and went on to feed him on cue, without pain.
At this point, how long did you plan to breastfeed him for?
I had no plan but I knew I would exclusively breastfeed for six months before introducing any solids. I was going to take the full year of maternity leave and as the feeding was working so well I thought it made sense to continue until I went back to work. I was happy with this, but couldn't see myself feeding a three year old.
After a year, what made you carry on?
When Dylan turned one, I went back to work three days a week and he started nursery. He wasn't a big eater, and as he wasn't keen on cow's milk and didn't take expressed breastmilk, I kept feeding him to be sure he was getting sufficient calories and nutrients. He had a hernia operation at 18 months and I wanted to keep feeding him until at least after that. He recovered so quickly, and in fact always seems to fight off illnesses in no time at all.
How did your partner feel about you continuing to feed?
Elios is probably my strongest supporter as he is aware that 'boob' is the answer to most ills in our house! I was still breastfeeding Dylan about three or four times a day when Maxwell was conceived so our physical relationship was fine. Parenthood, stress, tiredness and work had more of an impact on it than that, I think.
So you were still feeding Dylan when you got pregnant again – tell us about this.
I was lucky to have found lots of support online about how to get pregnant without stopping breastfeeding, so I carried on. A friend warned me about nursing aversion (when a mother becomes uncomfortable while breastfeeding, usually when pregnant) and I joined the La Leche League.
I think I was about eight weeks' pregnant when the nursing aversion kicked it – it lasted about two months and I really struggled, but Elios also really helped out by introducing more special 'daddy time' at night. This reduced the duration of the feeds so I could continue, and at around 20 weeks my supply returned. I think it was just so much easier for us to continue, plus there was no real reason to stop. I hoped that it might head off any jealousy and feelings that the new baby had taken 'his' boobs.
How does feeding them both ('tandem feeding') work out?
Maxwell is 14 months old now. Dylan has been really good at having feeds cut back so his brother could feed more. He also has much shorter feeds as his latch is not as good as it was but sometimes he just wants a short attachment as reassurance. If they're feeding at the same time – which they don't always do – sometimes they hold hands or laugh at each other and that makes me happy. Other times I hurry them along so we can get out of the house! I never planned to feed a toddler but I am: it's crept up on me!
Did you get any negative feedback in public or from family members?
I haven't had any obvious negative feedback but that could be because I am so busy looking at my kids, or talking to whoever I'm with, that I don't focus on reactions from outside my group. My family have not said anything to us but then there isn't anything to say. Elios's family didn't breastfeed but his mother has accepted that I still feed Dylan: he has stayed overnight with her and is very outgoing and independent.
How long do you think you'll continue tandem feeding?
I have no specific time frame, but with the discomfort caused by Dylan's latch I don't think it will be for much longer. He is already talking about being a 'big boy' and going to school, so I wouldn't be surprised if he stopped then.
What would you say to other mums planning to try extended or tandem breastfeeding?
Do some reading and find a La Leche League group and other mums. I do it for us and because it's easy. I am so proud if myself and this journey – of all the contributions my milk has given to them and the pride I know that Elios has in me.
I know about the health benefits to me and my boys and you could say I'm using them to reduce some of my own health risks – but they wouldn't feed if they didn't want to! We're always busy and on our way somewhere – a feed means at least five minutes to reconnect and for me to remember they are only little – there's plenty of time later for growing up. During this time together, I don't have to share them with anybody and for now I know that my body is their home.
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