Interview with a tandem breastfeeding mother

I am meeting with Kumbie today, we are sitting at a small table in a cafe in Harare, a large cup of cappuccino in front of us. Kumbie is looking radiant, happy and well rested for a mom of two small children.

Katinka: Thank you so much for agreeing to talk to me today and to share your interesting story! Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your family. Where are you from, how many kids do you have? How old are they?

Kumbie: I am 36 years old, my family is originally from Masvingo but I am a true Hararean. I have 3 children. My oldest daughter is 15 years old and my younger two are now 2 years and 11 weeks. I am a nurse and currently taking a longer time off to raise my children. I will go back to work at some stage. I live with my husband in Harare, he is a medical doctor.

Katinka: When did you first hear about tandem breastfeeding?

Kumbie: When I got pregnant with my daughter, my son was still very young and breastfeeding. I started reading up on breastfeeding during pregnancy and realised that it was possible to continue and that many other mothers did this too. I was excited to hear that it’s normal. Being a nurse really helped me as well, as I could remember some information from some of the coursework we had to do. During my time as a nurse, I had met some patients who had experience with this and I saw that it was safe and normal. 

Katinka: What made you think about this as an option for your family? How old was your toddler when you got pregnant? 

Kumbie: My son was 1 year and 2 months old when I discovered that I was pregnant. I did want to feed him until he was one and half or 2 years. I was never afraid of continuing to breastfeed, nor did I ever consider weaning him abruptly. It was quite clear for me from the start that my son was still too young to stop breastfeeding. I must admit that when tiredness set in from my pregnancy, there were some bad days, when I thought it would be so much easier to wean. It became a real challenge for me. But then the days went on and it got better again.

Katinka: Did you not have any safety concerns with breastfeeding through your pregnancy? Did you find any support? How did your friends and family react to your breastfeeding with a big belly?

Kumbie: A lot of people warned me against breastfeeding when I became pregnant, workmates, nurses, friends. It was the consensus that it can be dangerous, the fear of harming my toddler up to even death was quite strong. Some of my relatives had told me that this would create jealousy between my toddler and the new baby. My husband on the other hand was always supportive of my decision to continue. I could see that my mom was a little worried, she often asked me when I would stop. But then she trusted me and never spoke up directly or urged me to stop. I appreciated that. I mentioned to my obstetrician that I was still breastfeeding and it was not an issue of concern for him. He was very supportive.

Katinka: What was your experience during your pregnancy? Did breastfeeding change during this time? 

Kumbie: My milk definitely declined , I could always feel my letdown but during pregnancy this changed. I did not feel my letdown any more. Through all this my son did not complain, he breastfed normally and did not develop any diarrhoea or showed any other changes.

Katinka: How did you organise yourself around the birth? Did your toddler come with you? How did he react to the new arrival?

Kumbie: I had to have a scheduled caesarean, so that was a bit easier to plan for. At the time of the birth my son had reduced breastfeeding a lot, so it was not a problem to leave him behind when I went into hospital to give birth. My sister then brought him to me on the first day and he met his newborn sister. That day he did not ask to breastfeed. On the second day he asked to feed: “Kaka!” and I breastfed him, right there in the hospital bed.

Katinka: How did the nurses at the hospital react?

Kumbie: They never saw me as they were not in the room during the visiting times. My family on the other hand reacted quite strongly. My son was told “Sis!”, like it was jucky. I think my son was very aware that others disapproved of his breastfeeding, but I decided to keep quiet about it. I never talked to them about what was happening. 

I was in hospital for 3 days, when I came home my son reacted distant at first. It took him time to slowly welcome the new baby but eventually they grew very close, probably also due to sharing their milk. During my pregnancy he had started skipping days, but now he came to ask for a feed more often again. There was absolutely no jealousy between them, he was so very understanding and if he asked to breastfeed on the same side as the baby I would tell him to go to the other side and that was always fine with him.

Katinka: How do you handle breastfeeding in public? Is it an option at all?

Kumbie: No, breastfeeding in public is not an option for me. Even when I visit friends and family I sometimes feel a little uncomfortable. If I tell someone I am still breastfeeding my toddler sometimes they will say something like “Give him, lets see this” as if it was something very strange. There is also a lot of disbelief! 

In our own house it is not a problem. Sometimes his Dad even pleads with me to feed him a little when he sees that my son needs it. I feel comfortable to breastfeed one or both at any time in my home, even when we have visitors, I do not mind.

Katinka: Of course we all want to know how you managed to have enough milk for two? Did you not feel the toddler taking something away from the baby? 

Kumbie: No, my breastmilk is simply enough for both my children. I do not really think about it but simply trust that this is the case. I am paying good attention that I drink enough water, even when I do not feel very thirsty. There was a time when the Dad got a little worried, if the toddler would not finish the milk for the new baby, but in time we could see that both babies were content and happy. My daughter even sleeps that much better than my son did at her age.

Katinka: Did your milk “come in” again after the new birth? 

Kumbie: I remember feeling really engorged and full around day 3. I was still in the hospital at that time and called my lactation consultant to ask what I should do. She mentioned that my older nurseling would probably be able to help me out and for sure, I asked him to breastfeed and he managed to empty the breast and I did not have pain or engorgement again after that.

Katinka: What would you wish people to know to help mothers who want to breastfeed during pregnancy or tandem breastfeed?

Kumbie: I wish people would know more about the benefits and have less fear. My son has not been sick once in his life. We also need to talk about it more and we need good information out there, this topic is not part of nursing school. I would like moms who feel like continuing to realise that their child will not get sick and die nor will it create jealousy between the siblings. I remember my son tapping and stroking the belly while breastfeeding. Something he never did again after the birth. I believe he knew that his sister was in there.

They must realise that breastfeeding during pregnancy is safe but they may experience fatigue, so they should plan to rest a lot. My nipples got a bit sensitive as well but I managed to push through and it completely disappeared after giving birth. I think Moms also need to also give themselves some time to get used to their newborn again. I personally had some latching issues, even though I was still breastfeeding! I kind of forgot how to hold and breastfeed a newborn! But with some support and a little patience it all comes back in a few days.

Katinka: Thank you so much Kumbie for your openness and sharing your experience.

If you want to find support on breastfeeding through pregnancy and beyond contact Katinka Breastfeeding for a Lactation Consult or join a support group like La Leche League and surround yourself with supportive people. Happy Breastfeeding!