After a rocky start, I breastfed my first kid for way longer than I ever intended. I thought I might make it to six months; then I thought, I will definitely be done at a year.
In the end, it was Theo who decided he was done: at 16 months, I went away for a few days. When I came back, I lifted up my shirt and Theo reached up and put it back down, like he was pulling down a blind. I tried a few more times, and the same thing happened. And that was it – that was the end of breastfeeding.
I’m lucky it happened that way, because breastfeeding was wonderful for me, but I definitely didn’t want to be the person still boobing her pre-schooler, and I goggled when women in my acquaintance said they hoped to cut their kids off by age three (because, I mean, to each their own. But that’s a whole lot of breastfeeding. No thank you).
This time around, both girls came out ready to go – some of my first interactions with each girl involved them smacking their mouths against my collarbone, desperate to get going. Babies don’t develop a coordinated suck-swallow-breathe reflex until about 34 weeks, and then our hospital has thresholds for how self-sufficient they have to be (high flow level 4 or below, to be specific). So I didn’t start the girls until a few weeks later, and then, the hospital deliberately staggered their feeds so I could do them sequentially.
I vividly remember my first time tandem feeding (I mean, it was only a few months ago). I had a Boppy pillow, which allowed me to hold both girls, each of whom still only weighed about 4 lbs (Fiona more, Daphne less). Once I got Fiona started, a nurse with a trendy brown bob plopped Daphne down and kind of shoved her into me while I adjusted the nipple shield (damn nipple shields) and got her latched. And then we were off.
In the hospital, I usually used the Boppy across my stomach but didn’t worry about any type of nursing cover or modesty shield – in part because tandem feeding was enough of a challenge, and in part because our corner cubicle gave me enough privacy (and anyway, everyone there had seen plenty of breastfeeding). The NICU had folding screens that they could set up for shyer parents; one woman (well, girl, really) set up a breastfeeding fortress every time she nursed her daughter. I just went for it.
Since coming home, though, I have struggled a bit more. My Peanut & Piglet nursing pillow – a formidable piece of infrastructure I have taken to calling ‘the baby shelf’ – has been a lifesaver. But feeding twins is both time- and space-consuming, which makes leaving the house a different proposition altogether.. The parents’ room at John Lewis – which is a lifesaver for many other new parents – has small vinyl chairs that do not accommodate two hungry babies (it is also windowless and smells like poo, so there’s that). I have not figured out a way to feed the girls that does not involve a substantial amount of boob exposure, a couch, and at least 45 minutes of sitting.
The other day, hunched over to feed the girls in bed, one baby head balanced precariously on my thigh, I googled ‘Tandem Breastfeeding’ to see if I was missing a trick. Surely there is a better way – a way that would allow me to leave the house for more than three hours at a time. Right?
There is not a better way.
What I found is that there is a vibrant subculture of women who breastfeed their babies and their kindergarteners simultaneously, and occasionally take professional photos of themselves and their children dressed as wood nymphs with heavy mood lighting. There was not a lot of practical advice for women who want to breastfeed twins without flashing the barista or looking like an image National Geographic rejected for being too sloppy and pathetic.
My google search was ultimately a little frustrating. I am pro-breastfeeding – its been great for my family – but I don’t really feel like a FUCK YEAH BREASTFEEDING type (also, hopefully it goes without saying, Fed is Best). I’m FYB-adjacent. And as such, looking through the images, I felt a little discouraged. I want to breastfeed, but I don’t want it to be a Whole Big Thing every time I try to feed my kids outside the house.
So this is the reality I’ve reluctantly come to accept: there ain’t no way to feed two kids in public without a degree of public spectacle.
Tandem breastfeeding is weird. That is a fact.