Are Traditional Food and Tandem Nursing Compatible?

on February 8 | in Breastfeeding | by | with 67 Comments

Hey Mommypotamus! I’d like you to write about your view on breastfeeding (including tandem) and how a lot of WAPF members have differing opinions on the subject. I know, for me, this is a hot topic. I do not agree that the homemade formula is better than human milk and I believe in full term breastfeeding. :)

~ Michelle M.

Hot topic indeed! Sandrine, my friend and the founder of Nourishing Our Children, unintentionally ignited a firestorm on Facebook by mentioning this topic and followed up with this post. Though I agree with her points on child spacing and think she has done an amazing job generating respectful discussions on so many hot topics, I think some misconceptions about full-term breastfeeding and tandem nursing are unnecessarily polarizing our traditional food community. Before I get into that, though, let me tell you how I came to be a tandem-nursing mama.

The Blowoff Class That Changed My Life

Of all the things I planned for my junior year, hashing out weird breastfeeding dreams in my campus coffee shop was NOT one. But there I was, head spinning from a Tuesday night blowoff class innocuously titled “Study of the Family,” which according to my conservative Baptist college would most likely include a “right” way to do things, some checklists, and some dire warnings, yada yada yada.

She looked the part, my beautiful professor with raven black hair and bright pink lipstick. Diminuitive but captivating, exuding graciousness and love. Perfectly Baptist. Perfectly almost perfect – except she was about to wreck my life.

Not That It Was Worth Saving

I was your typical marketing success story:

What are breasts for? To fill out a Victoria’s Secret bra, of course!

What is childbirth like? Horrific. Avoid if at all possible, but if you must have the experience, be as drugged as legally allowable.

That was me, folks. And then I read ‘the book’. Our Babies, Ourselves is like the National Geographic of parenting. It’s a grand tour of child-raising practices around the world – the !Kung of the Kalahari desert, the hunter-gatherer Ache of Paraguay, the Gusii of Kenya, the Japanese, and us.

I was pretty shocked by the contents: The average age of weaning in these cultures is between TWO and FOUR? Mothers supplementing their pregnancy diet with armadillo fat and insect larvae? Yowsers. Equally surprising, though, is how traditional cultures view our parenting styles.

When Gusii mothers in southwestern Kenya were shown a videotape of middle-class American mothers with their babies,” said Meredith Small, an associate professor of anthropology at Cornell, “the Gusii mothers were shocked.”

Why did that American mother on the tape ignore her baby’s cries? Gusii mothers asked. Why do American babies sleep alone in small beds with bars, in their own rooms?¹

Why DO we do that? The !Kung’s respond to a crying or whimpering baby in 10 seconds on average while we fight our instincts because “studies indicate” we should let them work it out? Is this a sign that we handed parenting over to the “experts” just like we handed food over to “nutritionists” and food manufacturers? I think so. Co-sleeping is not for everyone. And honestly, there are many times my son has cried because he wanted attention I couldn’t give at the moment, but there is wisdom in the insights of these cultures.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying traditional societies are little utopias that get EVERYTHING right while we do EVERYTHING wrong. Personally I don’t want to live in a polygamous society (which the Gusii are). And though it is not unethical to eat insect larvae I’d rather not do that either. But those things aside there is a lot of to be learned here.

And That, Friends . . .

Is how a little class on ethnopediatrics changed the entire trajectory of my life. I was still **not** going to have kids, but if I did, I’d be a full-term breastfeeding, co-sleeping, babywearing, traditional culture mama. Finding traditional foods a few years later was the proverbial icing on the cake.

Unfortunately, not everyone thinks these two perspectives are as compatible as I do. When I asked Rami Nagel of Healing our Children, which teaches about indigenous child rearing methods, to comment on this he gave this reply: “Weston Price only made one small comment on traditional child raising practices related to the kindness of the parents:

I have been continually impressed with
the great infrequency with which we ever hear a
primitive child cry or express any discomfort
from the treatment it receives”

Great observation, Rami. Thank you! The peacefulness Dr. Price describes reminds me of an old Psalm, which says “But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me” (Ps. 131:2). Does this ancient Hebrew description surprise you? Doesn’t the word “wean” typically conjure visions of an angst-ridden power struggle? It shouldn’t.

“The Hebrew word for wean is gamal, meaning “to ripen.” In ancient times, when children were breastfed until two or three years of age, it was a joyous occasion when a child weaned.* It meant the child was filled with the basic tools of the earlier stages of development and secure and ready to enter the next stage of development. A child who is weaned before his time may show anger, aggression, habitual tantrum-like behavior, anxious attachment to caregivers, and an inability to form deep and intimate relationships. We call these traits diseases of premature weaning.”

Dr. Sears: “Weaning” (emphasis mine)

Okay, I am not claiming that children who don’t nurse into toddlerhood are maladjusted in any way. Nursing is one among MANY ways to nurture a growing child. Just as there is no single “sacred food” shared by traditional cultures, there is no one activity that can claim to be the “right” thing for every family. But what about families that intuitively feel this is the right path, yet feel concerned that they will be doing a disservice to their growing baby?

Here’s What I Think . . .

As evidenced in the recent documentary Babies, there ARE traditional cultures that practice full-term breastfeeding/tandem nursing and produce gorgeous, well-structured babies. A lovely example of this is the little Namibian beauty Ponijao, who is tandem nursing with her older brother.

Second sibling syndrome is clearly not an issue here, indicating that breastfeeding while pregnant does not lead to de facto nutritional deficiencies for baby.

Below is an example of tandem nursing from one of the tribes greatly respected by the Weston A. Price Foundation, the Inuit Eskimos. According to tradition most Inuits did not tandem nurse, but they did breastfeed their daughters for six years and their sons for seven. In other words, weaning at 6-12 months is not a traditional practice.

And this one, though it’s origins and specifics are unknown, speaks to the prevalence of this practice within traditional cultures.

Would the real food community benefit from inquiring more about breastfeeding practices from these cultures, learning of any “taboos” they have, and most importantly studying how they rebuild a mother’s nutritional stores within the context of a full-term breastfeeding/tandem nursing relationship? Should we consider the benefits of ecological breastfeeding to naturally space babies? I think so!

Like anything, I believe there are “best practices” for tandem nursing that include an INCREDIBLY nutrient-dense diet and optimal child spacing. But a huge part of the controversy surrounding this issue, I believe, is a misunderstanding about how much older babies nurse. In my own experience, nursing a toddler is far less involved than nourishing a newborn. Katie was two when I became pregnant with Micah. Due to fluctuating hormones and discomfort I limited our nursing sessions to about five minutes at naptime and bedtime. There were exceptions, of course, when she skinned her knee or nursed through an illness because she couldn’t keep solids down. (Side note: I have never found it possible to reason a sick toddler into drinking water or taking food, but have never had them refuse to nurse. Without this option I know of one illness in which we most definitely would have had to take her to the hospital for IV fluids to combat dehydration. And if you’re wondering why my healthy kids get sick, read this!)

Though it does continue to play a supportive role in nutrition and immune support, the primary benefit I personally experienced in nursing a 2-3 year old is the continued emotional bond. Katie was down to nursing just a few minutes a day when her brother was born, but I believe her sense that her “birthright” was still open to her did wonders for overcoming feelings of displacement and jealously.

How Did This Affect My Son’s Nutrition?

When Micah was finally born my midwives made a big hullabaloo over how well-nourished my placenta was. At 41.5 weeks it showed very little sign of calcification and it was HUGE. “Most placenta’s are about as thick as a pancake,” Christy told me, “yours is like a t-bone steak.” Wahoo!

Also, due to the difficulty of my labor my midwives were expecting me to hemorrhage. I didn’t. They credited it to the optimal nutrition I’d received.

But here’s the rub: Micah’s palate is not as “perfect” as Katie’s according to cranio-dental structural standards. Don’t get me wrong – he’s PERFECT to me, but this post is about the impact of nutrition on formation and development. So, in the interest of full disclosure I want to acknowledge this fact and share something that I believe sheds light on a possible reason for the difference. During the first few weeks of my pregnancy with Micah I experienced something so emotionally devastating that I nearly lost him. Stress of this kind can temporarily impair the ability of the placenta to deliver nutrients. If that happened at a key stage of development – like when his overall structure was being formed – it could explain certain things. Or it could be that his tongue tie restricted normal muscle function that helps develop the jaw – or the fact that he got stuck in the birth canal for so long and we just started taking him to a cranio-sacral therapist because his jaw is out of place – or it could just be that he has a different growth trajectory –  or it could be that my “genetic momentum” is not as strong as the women in these traditional cultures and needed time to rebuild between pregnancies – or, or, OR!

Honestly, I don’t have all the answers when it comes to this. But with Dr. Price’s research and the emerging field of ethnopediatrics I am confident we can get things sorted out.

Okay, You Convinced Me. But It Gives Me The Oogies!

That’s okay. Eating fish eyes and cow brains gives me the oogies but I know that’s because of my cultural bias. I’m working on it, though. Seven years ago I couldn’t order chicken wings because the bones grossed me out and now I make stock every week. Sometimes it’s worth it to embrace new things.

When I asked Rami his thoughts on the subject, he sent some very thoughtful comments that I’ll leave you with.

Breastfeeding while pregnant or nursing is the mother’s choice. The mother must listen to herself. She is the ultimate authority when it comes to her children. Maybe women have two breasts for this reason?

Life doesn’t usually deal us ideal circumstances. Having twins is probably not ideal, but it happens. Likewise, if there was a large amount of child spacing, say 4-6 years, then the mother would not need to breastfeed while pregnant. Perhaps that is ideal. But one has to be very careful not to be judgmental or critical and say a mother is wrong to breastfeed while pregnant, or to tandem breastfeed just because it MIGHT not be ideal. Because hardly anything in this world is completely perfect. I certainly don’t see the harm in it if the mother wants to and has enough milk.

She will simply produce more milk in the case of two children. Her nutrition will be adequate if she has good digestion. She will just be hungrier and eat more food. If she does not have good digestion, and lacks enough breastmilk then tandem breastfeeding or breastfeeding while pregnant won’t work.

The mother must choose what is best for her children. And giving a baby more breastfeeding time, even if it comes at a minor nutritional expense, is going to be worthwhile. Theories about right and wrong are not a replacement for her own wisdom. Breastfeeding is the embodiment of a mother’s love. The child gets more than nutrition from breastmilk. He gets love. That is why women’s breasts are at their heart. Personally I support tandem breastfeeding and breastfeeding while pregnant, if the mother is healthy and is eating a nourishing diet. This is because the intimate contact of breastfeeding makes the world good, and pleasurable for the infant.

Just a side note: I am no longer a tandem nursing mama. Katie “ripened” according to Hebrew tradition in her third year of life. No angst. No power struggles. Just a celebratory cup of chamomile tea before bed.

Thanks for your question, Michelle!

What do you think?

* Rami Nagel says 2-3 years is probably a minimum. The Inuit Eskimo’s breastfed until 6 for girls and 7 for boys. In Mongolia, there’s an oft-quoted saying that the best wrestlers are breastfed for at least six years (source). And here are some more cultures that breastfed beyond for 3-7 years

Photo credit: Ebay and TulipGirl

 

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67 Responses to Are Traditional Food and Tandem Nursing Compatible?

  1. Alison Westermann via FB says:

    great post!

  2. Jen Pagano via FB says:

    :D

  3. Very informative article, thanks!

  4. Great post. But I will say that while 3 yrs may be an optimal space for children for gut healing purpose, I don’t think it’s in any way natural. I’m sure any midwife can tell you that in families with no chemical birth control, and who are breastfeeding, 18-24 months is the most common spacing amongst children. Shoot baby P (who played a big part in this post) did not look three years younger than her brother, nor did the baby in your second picture of tandem nursers. I just think it’s kind of inconsistant to take that stance in a post about tradition. Again, totally agree for gut healing, but think it’s far from traditional :)

    • Elainie says:

      Mae- do a little research on hunter/gatherer societies and fertility versus grain based ones. Back in the day when my first three were little and I was the only one I knew whose fertility never returned before my kids turned 3 years old due to nursing I did some research and came up with the answers for myself ( I was eating raw primal then paleo all those years).

  5. Melanie says:

    Beautiful! Thank you, thank you! I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on WAPF formula vs human milk (I assume you are referring to milk sharing or donar milk). I help admin a Human Milk 4 Human Babies chapter and love seeing human milk going to babies in need!

  6. Alisha says:

    Thanks for posting this! A few of my thoughts while reading this were, “yikes!”, “no way”, “dang…”, “am I being selfish”, and “wow”. :) My son is 16 months and I nurse him twice a day now. I have wanted to stop for awhile because of my wanting to be “free” and take a trip with my husband. But, deep down I know I would just worry about him the whole time and feel like I did the wrong thing. Being a mama is so tough sometimes! Or, at least it is for me… We started younger than we were planning, but are so thankful for the amazing soul he is. I have been battling (in my mind) what to think about nursing and this post is very helpful. You shared it in such an honest, unbiased, and open way. Thank you!

  7. Brynna says:

    Great post, as always!! I’ve been nursing for 6 years now, 3.5 of them tandem, and 8 months TRIandem (don’t know if that’s a real term but I’ve seen it used a lot LOL). Lord willing, if this baby sticks (we’ve had 6 miscarriages), I will likely be nursing 3 again this fall. My eldest weaned at 4.5 years and we’ll let the others wean when they are ready. Just no comparison, IMO.

    (BTW, I NEVER EVER EVER imagined myself nursing a child older than, oh, maybe 18 months…much LESS nursing 2 or 3 children or through pregnancy!! It’s interesting how simple it is to see things differently when we just let them happen naturally, the way they were meant to!!)

  8. Mae Annette Burke – Meredith Small, author of Our Babies, Ourselves did observe significant child-spacing efforts in the traditional cultures she studied. The !Kung that I mentioned had a birth intervals of about 4-5 years (p.83). I will say this, though, all the talk about “perfect bone structure” due to nourishment makes me feel like crap sometimes. I do not have perfect bone structure and I am working to repair the damage of mulit-generational malnutrition on my children. There is a temptation to hold these ideals above the people they are meant to serve. That is not my intention at all. As Rami said, few of us have ideal circumstances. I could not have forseen the emotionally devastating event that caused me to nearly miscarry with Micah. It affected his life, but do I wish I’d never had him so I could try for some theoretically perfect baby? Not a chance.

  9. Thank you ma’am, I’ll have to check that book out. I stiiiiiiiiill am on the fence [actually, I'm on my side of the yard wondering if it's worth trying to get my 5'4" butt up the fence] but it’s worth taking a look at, I suppose ;]

    • Tana says:

      Heather, I loved this post. Loved it. Mae, I nursed and didn’t have cycles return until right at 2 years and a month or two, so my first six children are all 3 years apart almost exactly with no planning on my part. My grandmother told me that when she was little, all her mom’s friends nursed for years because they thought they were spacing their kids that way, and it seemed to work for a lot of them – but not always. How frequently and how long at each feeding is what influences the suppression of ovulation. Each woman has her own level at which prolactin no longer “wins” over the ovaries, so the time of lactation amenorrhea is indeed different for everybody, but it stands to reason that the more often a baby latches on, the more often mom gets a wash of the hormone that suppresses the possibility of ovulation. I have also had friends that got their periods back and picked up nursing a lot more and it went away again for some more months. I think just having free access to the breast is something that is not practiced as much in this culture. But if a mom is nursing often and still gets her period, then that’s just the way her body works. I think what Heather was saying is that if everything worked right, it would be this way, but we live in a fallen world, so of course nothing ALWAYS works like it is supposed to. I also wonder if women in our culture get their cycles back more frequently not only because of how we don’t just bare our breast constantly for mini-meals but have more of a “Feeding time” mentality, but also because of environmental and food issues. Who knows.

      • Brynna says:

        I think about this a lot too!! As I posted above, I haven’t stopped breastfeeding at ALL since we started with my first child 6 years ago, and I’ve been tandem nursing for the last 3.5 of those years, AND was nursing three kids for a period of that time. So obviously we nurse on demand and around the clock (our babies sleep with us, too). However, I have yet to make it a full year postpartum without my period returning, and it’s generally ovulatory from the start! I have had occasionally anovulatory ones prior to that as well. I’ve always wondered what makes me “different” from the mamas who go a year or two with absolutely nothing! Not that I’m complaining…I mean, I am not a real fan of my periods, and I’m just grateful to have cycles at ALL, but sometimes it would be nice to get a bit of a longer break so I’m not concerned about how I’ll handle breastfeeding/milk supply if I get pregnant right away…but I don’t tend to get pregnant right away anyway so it doesn’t make much difference.

        • Heather says:

          That is interesting, Brynna. It is in situations like these that I wish we had more wisdom from traditional cultures to guide us. My period returned at 19 months postpartum with Katie and 16 with Micah. My friend Tana had four children naturally spaced three years apart just using ecological breastfeeding. For the most part I think EB is very effective, but in instances like yours I sure do wish we knew more.

          • Erin says:

            I’m so glad to hear these comments. I haven’t been able to talk to real life friends about when they got their cycles back but I was starting to wonder when and if mine would ever come. My son is almost 10 months and it hasn’t returned. I kind of assumed that since I wasn’t purposely avoiding pregnancy that I would get pregnant again quickly and I was completely ok with that, but it seems I’ll have kids AT LEAST 18 months apart which in my Catholic circles isn’t all that close. My son is still nursing around the clock in our bed so who knows how long that will work. I would like to have more children, but I’m not in any hurry.

      • Heather says:

        Very insightful comments, Tana. Thank you! And yes, that was what I was trying to say but you did it better :)

  10. oh, wonderful post, thank you!!!!!!!!!

  11. Heather G says:

    Thank you for this post. We found ourselves expecting our daughter while our son was still nursing. As we were still pretty new to WAPF reading all the blog posts on child spacing and nutrition made me feel heartsick. Still I knew my son still needed my milk and so did my daughter. I made extra effort to eat as nutrient dense as I could, fed my son the best we could and hoped for the best. When my son was ready, just days shy of his second birthday, he chose to stop nursing (except when he has an especially bad ouchie). Since then I’ve learned that perfection is not possible and I can’t beat myself up for not attaining it. And if perfection means not having my children exactly as they are I’m not interested. The way I see it now, someone needs to have the poster children for what real food can do even in less than nutritionally ideal circumstances.

  12. Ty-Megan Gross via FB says:

    Really wonderful post! Thank you!

  13. I’m curious if anyone ever experiences pain when nursing while pregnant. My nipples became extremely sensitive and nursing was painful once I got pregnant with my third. I also wasn’t producing hardly any milk. I stopped nursing my daughter at 18 months and in my first trimester of my third pregnancy. While at first she was okay with no nursing, she certainly has shown since then that she would still be nursing if she could, for comfort. Perhaps I could have forced myself through the pain and kept nursing, but at the same time I really wanted to make sure my current baby (who I’m 24 weeks with) was getting plenty of nourishment too. Trying to get enough nourishment in that first trimester can be hard if you are someone who struggles with nauseousness (which is me).

    • Heather says:

      I wouldn’t say I experience pain, Therese, but it was definitely not comfortable in the first trimester! I limited the time I nursed during that time and gradually increased as I felt comfortable. I’ve heard some mamas say that this was their bodies signal to them that it was time to stop nursing. Others, like me, simply backed off for awhile and waited it out. Everyone is different!

  14. Renee says:

    I’ll be honest – I dread reading posts like these. When you are a Mama that has TRIED EVERYTHING to nurse and you dried up at 6 weeks with your first, and with the second had to supplement with homemade formula til she was 2 months when I finally had enough to satisfy her – it is hard to read about how long some Mama’s can nurse. I challenge people not to look at a bottle feeding Mama as “not doing it right”. My girls had no tongue tie, my diet was NT good – I have recently learned about “insufficient glandular syndrome” that I”m going to look into further – but it’s beside the point. Some women try evetying they can and still can’t nurse as long as they can SO…is BF better than homemade formula – YES – BUT is homemade formula just as good – I would challenge you to say YES. My girls have ONLY HAD ONE COLD. My first born is reading books at almost 3, counting to 30, super loveable and playful, and is a super healthy weight and height. My second is surpassing all milestones and both sleep incredible. I admire women who *can* nurse that long – but would challenge you not to put women who really have tried and can’t all in one category as “baby has tongue tie” or “mama didn’t eat good enough”…because some of us have DONE IT ALL….and still have healthy kids. It takes just as much work and love to make homemade formula as it does to BF in my experience…

    • Heather says:

      Renee – I can understand your feelings in reading this post. I feel the same way when I read about the “perfect” bone structure of some WAPF babies. When I took Micah to the Wise Traditions conference I actually worried about how people would respond to him. Don’t get me wrong, he is BEAUTIFUL. It’s just that his palate is not as well-developed as it should be.

      We do all we know to do and sometimes things don’t work out as we’d planned. And that sucks. But children are resilient, and that’s the beauty of all this. Do I believe a child raised on the WAPF formula can be radiantly healthy? Yes, absolutely! Do I admire you for doing all you could to breastfeed? Yes, absolutely! As I mentioned to Mae in a previous comment, there is a temptation to hold these ideals above the people they are meant to serve. That is not my intention at all. As Rami said, few of us have ideal circumstances. It does not diminish our love or dedication in any way when things don’t go as planned <3

      • Amber says:

        Renee,

        I just want to say that I understand your feelings. Like yourself, I was unable to breastfeed — there were a few minor things that added up to major complications (flat nipples, slow milk coming in, 5 day stay in the NICU for dehydration in which the stress dried me up and I basically had to start over with lactation, etc). After pumping for 4 months (never getting more than 10-12 oz) keeping my milk up in hope she would take the breast, I finally gave up the ghost. She is on the WAPF formula and doing VERY well — in fact since getting on the WAPF formula instead of the conventional crap, she jump up in her weight from the 20th percentile to 75th!

        Sometimes reading these posts are hard. But as a woman, I think it’s important we do our best to relate to other women and their concerns, to contribute to the sisterhood so to speak ;-) And, at least in my case, I haven’t give up hope for the next one so I hope to learn enough to make it happen later. But I feel your pain… 2 months ago I couldn’t have read a post like this without being consumed by envy and anger.

        • Heather says:

          Thank you for this comment, Amber. You’re right that we need to do our best to relate to other women and in sharing your experience you have definitely helped me to do just that. I’m glad your little girl is thriving. <3

  15. Megan Lee Kimmelshue via FB says:

    Such a great, informative post!

  16. Love it when you get controverial Mommypotamus!! Go girl!

  17. I loved your post. Write one next on the Canadian study on spanking that was released yesterday, heehee.

  18. Jolee Burger says:

    It’s interesting that we have a word for it – tandem nursing… We are such a labeling society. It’s also interesting that – to most people – it is a black and white issue. You are either tandem nursing or not. I don’t think I fall into any category. My 4-year-old hasn’t breastfed in about a year OFTEN, but every now and then – maybe every month or two – he will ask for nonnies, or I will present the breast if he is sick, and he will breastfeed – usually for less than a minute. It is what it is, I guess… I used to think of weaning as very black-and-white – something that happened in a day or a week or maybe a month. I cannot say my 4-year-old is WEANED, but I also can’t say that he is breastfeeding. I think many more people than we realize are GRAY, and labels scare them (as they do me) because of the connotations attached. I wish we could all accept what everyone else does without thinking it’s our business. :-)

  19. Whittney says:

    One tiny thought – it is possible to avoid pregnancy naturally without ecological breastfeeding. I wonder if the child spacing in some of these cultures is a result of more effort than just nursing to avoid the return of ovulation?

    Your article is good and interesting, but this topic makes me tired. I wish every mama would have the courage to do what she feels is best or right for her family and her situation.

    • Heather says:

      Whitt – Just to clarify, are you saying that it is possible to avoid pregnancy naturally without EB or are you asking if it is? I’ve heard that some indigenous tribes used special herbal concoctions to delay ovulation, but other than that the only strategy I know of other than EB is abstinence. Usually this was the case when there were plural wives to choose from.

      I hope every woman has the courage, too. But at the same time I found it hard to make an informed decision on what was right for my family because of a lack of thoughtful analysis on this subject. I’m not sure that I’ve contributed much, but I’m hoping this post will get the ball rolling :)

      • Whittney says:

        No, I was stating that it is possible to avoid pregnancy naturally without relying on ecological breastfeeding. Especially if it was considered abominable to become pregnant fewer than 4 years apart! Abstinence, withdrawal, use of herbs or barrier objects (cotton or cloth), etc….all might be used in these communities. I suppose technically these aren’t all “natural” but I bet they are used often! Just a random thought…

        And yes, I’ve done my share of reading and pondering as you know, but I just get a vibe from so many communities/camps/blogs these days that leaves me feeling blah. Information overload and too little reliance on the Holy Spirit. {I’m guilty too}

        Who knows. I nursed Avery until she weaned pretty easily at 14 weeks pregnant. I know that nursing while pregnant wasn’t good for any of us because I was puking so much none of us were getting good nutrients. My feeling for myself is that it isn’t good to nurse while pregnant…which is why we’re being much more careful about not getting pregnant. :)

  20. Brittany says:

    I especially love that last quote from Rami. Thanks for sharing. I’ve had many discussions with my husband about how long I will nurse my sweet boy. My original goal was one year with the hopes we could turn it into two with the hopes we could go even longer. However, Joshua seems to be less interested in breastfeeding lately and starting to wean? Don’t get me wrong, he loves to be at the breast! But he doesn’t eat. He generally will just have his mouth on me and cuddle. Everyone keeps telling me that I’m lucky to have lasted this long and I should just be willing to give it up. But I say as long as he wants to be at the breast, I will put him there! Whether he is eating or not!

  21. Rita Louise Miller via FB says:

    This is hard post to write, I thank you for writing it. Lots of what turns me off to the Weston Price way is the over-emphasis on non nursing methods of feeding babies. The bashing of LLL – a group that does not mix causes and has to work with populations that eat a variety of ways for many reasons, religious, political and philosophical, really hacks me off. Ecological nursing + fertility awareness really can get you a bit of breathing room between babies and a chance to recover and feed everyone the way we were designed to eat.

  22. Oh Tana Agudelo, you instigator, you! Of course I have to go look it up now!

  23. Oh Tana Agudelo, you instigator, you! Of course I have to go look it up now!

  24. Rita – WAPF definitely does NOT have an emphasis on non-nursing, they just want to get info out there on how to make formula instead of relying on store-bought crud if you can’t breastfeed. They are ALL about nursing and baby-led weaning, for years if that’s what the situation dictates. Please read up a little more on it, I think you will feel better about their options : )

    • Amber says:

      Actually, I sorta understand how she feels. There have been a plethora of WAPF bloggers out there who have recently been passionately putting forth the idea the WAPF formula out there over nursing, citing that most American mothers’ diets are not good enough, etc. I vehemently disagree — I personally believe nursing is always preferrable over the WAPF diet (there is so much more to nursing that simply nutritional quality). The funny thing is I do give my baby the WAPF formula because I was unable to breastfeed but it wasn’t an option I would have voluntarily chosen.

      To be clear I understand this is NOT the official WAPF position (homemade formula over breastmilk) but it does seem like that sometimes…especially recently. If you have been unfamiliar with WAPF until recently and been reading this blogs, it could very easily come across that way.

      Now I confess… I’ve been one of those LLL bashers. Every chapter is different and the one in my town is absolutely useless. It is more of a “mommy day out” group than anything else. Not a single leader offered to help me, I was always told my inability to breastfeed was “all in my head” which leads to an even greater sense of self-disgust, etc. I’m sure there are GREAT LLL chapters out there but not where I live. So I admit I have an incredibly low opinion of LLL and certainly will NOT go back when I hope to breastfeed my 2nd child (assuming I still live in my current city).

      • Brynna says:

        This is pretty unrelated, but I just wanted to say thanks for your comment about LLL, Amber. I am becoming a leader to start up a much needed chapter in our area, and I really want to avoid what you mentioned (not that it will be difficult on *my* part, I’m not a “social-mommy” type so the whole mommy’s day out isn’t at all appealing to me. LOL). To me the whole point is to PROVIDE that much needed support, so I want to do all I can to keep the groups focus, and I appreciate reading things like what you said so that I can get a better idea of what it will take.

  25. I practiced ecological breastfeeding, and didn’t get pregnant until my son was over 2.5, thats not to say we weren’t doing other things for birth control, but I didn’t even get my cycle back until 19 mo pp. He is still nursing despite there being no milk and I imagine we will tandem. I loved this article! thanks so much for writing it in the midst of some other beliefs in the WAPF circle.

  26. Kelly Fortune via FB says:

    I agree on the child-spacing thing, Mae! I struggled a little when reading Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, particularly about the child spacing issue. While we do follow the WAP diet, I do have to keep in mind that it is not written from a Biblical perspective and, while I think a lot of his findings were good nutritional wisdom, God’s Word and His doings all the final authority. This body that we are in will eventually perish, but our children, when they know God, will live forever with Him. I’m going to do all I can to nourish my children well, and practice ecological breastfeeding the best I can in a busy household (!), but if my husband and I desire more children (and we do!), I’m not going to let a fear of some imperfection in my child stop the blessing of children. Even if I space my children by however many years the “research” tells me I should, they could still not be all that the books says that they will be. And my children could be missing out on more siblings….and the world could be missing out on another loving person….even if they need braces. :)

    • Brittany says:

      I think that the abundance of information can sometimes “take away” our need for the Holy Spirit’s guidance and put “control” into our own hands, for sure. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be good stewards of the bodies God has given us by being well informed and doing our best to strive for health in an ever-decreasingly-healthy world. But there comes a point as well when we have to trust that God knows what He is doing (well…we should always trust that) and relax a little bit. For those who try to practice EB but get pregnant a year after baby #1 is born…ultimately, it is God who opens and closes the womb.

  27. Em says:

    Great post, thank you! I’m not the most well-informed person out there on child spacing, but I was very familiar with WAPF’s opinion before we conceived our second while I was still nursing an 18 month old. Because my daughter was nursing so infrequently but the emotional need seemed so strong when she did, we continued to breastfeed throughout the pregnancy, and now we’re tandem nursing. In our case (with a well-nourished mama), it felt like the right thing to do, and I feel strongly about that. I wish more people weighing in on this topic in other discussions placed as much emphasis on the emotional benefits of the breastfeeding relationship as they do on the nutritional benefits.

  28. Lori says:

    I did not tandem feed my kids, though I often was still nursing while pregnant with the next baby. My first two kids I did not breastfeed as it was highly discouraged in the 1970′s and the hospitals sabatouged new moms making it almost impossible to nurse unless you had a very knowledgeable and strong support system at home, which I did not. However, I had my next one at home (in 1983 when it was almost completely unheard of!) and continued to have all the rest of my babies at home. (I have 8 kids, two in hospital, 6 born at home.). All my born-at-home babies were nursed and I had a history of becoming pregnant when my kids were 9 months old. I have 25 months between babies number 3 & 4 because I had a miscarriage when baby number 3 was 11 months old (I was 9 weeks along)..
    My periods always returned when my kids were around 7 months old and I’d get pregnant when the babies were 9-10 months old. Half of my kids are 18 months apart. The only ones who are 3 years apart are the first two and I was using birth control at the time. I went off birth control at age 22 and never used it again.
    I nursed my kids to 12-15 months and then weaned them as I was sick to death of nursing them by that age. They were completely on a drinking cup and real foods by this time. My only exception was baby #3 who decided on his own to start weaning himself at 10 months and who was fully on real foods and a cup by his first birthday.
    I really think this issue is a personal one, one in which each mom needs to decide for herself where her comfort zone lies. Our society is not very open to breastfeeding unless it is for the first 3-6 months as it is, and I think there needs to be a lot more education among the masses before it will become an acceptable form of feeding babies and toddlers.
    As to the issue of WAPF formula, I think this is a great alrernative for those moms who cannot nurse for physiological reasons or work reasons. My daughter was unable to nurse any of her 3 kids, though she so wanted to to this, because her body made absolutely NO milk. My body made lots of rich milk so I could have nursed twins or triplets, but for whatever reason, my daughter was unable to make milk.

  29. Lauren says:

    Thanks so much for the inspiration! I am pregnant with baby number two and nursing my first little love Dylan, who is two and three months. I am so glad to still be nursing, and like you said about Katie he usually only requests it about two to three times daily. I am up for tandem nursing if Dylan still is interested and I loved your point about how your first transitioned better to the new baby since she still had nursing as part of your relationship. Its nice to here, your story and makes it seem possible :). I do have to ask what were your sleep arrangements, we are still co-sleeping and I would love for my little guy to be happy in his on room before the baby is here, any advice?

    • Melissa C says:

      I like Dr. Jay Gordon’s philosophy on cosleeping. I’m 16 weeks along and cosleeping with my 27 month old who has night weaned himself (gee, that was easy!) due to the pregnancy. Dr. Gordon’s book Good Nights does have a chapter on transitioning out and he may have more info on his web site.

  30. Melissa C says:

    I (intentionally) became pregnant just days before my son’s 2nd birthday (my cycles returned at 3 months PP despite breastfeeding/cosleeping/babywearing, so FAM used for spacing). My milk supply decreased pretty rapidly even though he still nursed frequently (for a toddler), so I suppose that is some protection for the unborn baby. It’s just anecdotes, of course, but that’s also been the experience of my friends who became pregnant while nursing “older” 2-2.5yo nurslings. I have a hard time worrying about the nutritional effect of producing almost no milk on this current pregnancy. Perhaps I would worry if my nursling were younger.

  31. Amanda says:

    Great post! My daughter is 17months and we are expecting another one in April. We have been nursing while pregnant 3-4 times a day which has been great for us. I can tell she is not ready to wean yet and have been getting “comments”. But thankfully I am well informed enough to know what is best for us and our family. I am very excited to tandem nurse and see the bond develop between my kiddos. I have heard great things about it. I am not sure 3 years is Ideal spacing, I agree with a pp about natural birthcontrol of breast feeding failing around 11/12 months.

    Love the post!

  32. reb says:

    love!! i’m still breastfeeding my 18-month-old and have no plans to stop until he’s ready, which i’m assuming will be around 2.5 – 3, based on what i’ve read. i’ve been following this debate on the various blogs as well as facebook as well and i have to admit i was a little shocked when it was suggested that extended or tandem breastfeeding isn’t necessarily supported in TF circles. i think it’s the ultimate traditional food!

    also, your comment, “Seven years ago I couldn’t order chicken wings because the bones grossed me out and now I make stock every week,” is me exactly! thanks for writing about this!

  33. Elisabeth M says:

    Wow, Heather. That was an awesome article. Thanks for compiling this research and telling it in a story, your story – I usually skim blog posts, but this one I read from start to finish. Beautiful pictures, too! That sweet little Namibian baby is SO gorgeous!

    • Elainie says:

      I actually forget the names of the books I read while researching types of diets and fertility levels while nursing.It was 16 years ago that I read these books but the topics has been a fascinating one. I’m one of those lucky one’s who goes 3 years after birth of a baby without ovulating/cycles. I nurse whenever, no bottles, pacifiers, co- sleep, baby/toddler wear etc; but I’ve also eaten primal or paleo for all those years. That was the big factor in my research, fertility returned sooner with the trditional cultures who ate grain versus the hunter/gatherer groups such as the !Kung san. I think the grain births were 24 months apart versus the hunter/gatherer end of 44 months apart.

      I have 6 children, the first 5 are spaced from 5 years to almost 4 years apart, in all those years I went without ever getting my first post partum cycle back because as soon as they turned 3 years, bam I would ovulate and get pregnant on that first ovulation. So I think I counted going 15 years sans cycle (my first two are twins). And my 6th had a spacing of 7.5 years between him and 5th but I had been divorced after birth of 5th baby.

      So while for me ecological breastfeeding works wonders, healthy nutrition does too. I weaned my others during pregnancies because I found it irritating/felt very antsy. All my pregnancies were healthy, all 6 born at home. Last 4 have wide palates/features etc; (twins were conceived on different diet, I was macrobiotic back then). And my last was conceived on one try at the age of 44 and born at home after a very fast 44 minute labor ob my 45th birthday.

  34. [...] Are Traditional Food and Tandem Nursing Compatible? « The … [...]

  35. Meagan says:

    I’m very interested in learning more about extended breastfeeding. I am 6 months pregnant with my second child and my first weaned at 10 1/2 months. That was much sooner than I had hoped. I had a low milk supply and I want to make sure that this does not happen again. Where do I look to for research on my nutrition for these last few months of pregnancy transitioning into nursing. I would LOVE to have adequate milk to nurse for at least 2 years.

    • Tess says:

      I would recommend birthing with a home birth midwife. She will insure you are nursing well and will be available for you to call months and years after your baby is born. If you’re opposed to home birth, I’d suggest finding a good post partum doula to help you or a good LLL leader. Finally, nurse on demand. This means you nurse when baby wants (for food or comfort) as long as baby wants. No schedule. No timing anything. Sometimes baby will nurse all day but that just means you need to increase your milk supply and baby will do just that by nursing all day. The next day you won’t believe how much milk you have. It also means zero bottles and zero pacifiers. Rather than pull out a pacifier or leave baby home with pumped milk, get a sling and nurse that baby walking around Target or wherever you are she she starts fussing. Honestly, for many moms with low milk supply, these are all the changes that need to be made. Good luck! You can do it!

  36. Heather says:

    Hi Maegan! Though nursing while pregnant was uncomfortable at times I didn’t experience supply issues, so I can’t say I know much about the mechanics of maintaining supply while pregnant. You might want to talk with Mellanie over at For Babies Sake. She is an LC friend and I really trust her opinion http://www.facebook.com/ForBabiesSake

  37. Jaclyn says:

    Great article! I recently found your site. I am new to the “real” food world and just ordered Nourishing Traditions. Praying for wisdom as I begin to improve our diet (it’s not bad now, but we have room to grow!). I breastfed our oldest son through pregnancy with our second son. Our oldest still nurses (at 20 months), but I only “allow” it when he asks for it. Some nights he does and some nights he does not ask. Tonight he did- we had been out all day, he was at Grandma’s for a few hours and is still working on two teeth. He needed some mommy time and I was happy to give it to him. :-) Little brother (4 months old) always gets to nurse first, though, and our oldest has learned to wait his turn. I love tandem nursing and will continue if I get pregnant again! :-)

  38. [...] I love all things vintage when it comes to traditional practices like breastfeeding and babywearing, which is why I explored the traditional practice of tandem nursing as it relates to a real food diet. [...]

  39. Alex Sullivan says:

    I just wanted to thank you for this post. I nursed our first son until he was 20 months. I wanted to keep nursing and so did my son, but from 12 to 20 months I was basically hiding my nursing from my natal and extended family. My sisters (who are much better about it now), had very “American” or “western” thoughts on breastfeeding and made me feel embarrassed and guilty about nursing an older baby. I was only 19 then and their opinion mattered too much. I’m currently nursing our 3 month old and this post has given me the courage to do what’s best for my child and myself. I would never judge my sisters for their atrocious diets (lol), and I hope that they will respect my choices as well. Finding your site has really helped my resolve with our diet and child raising practices. I feel I don’t have much support around me, though my husband and mom are great about it, but your site makes me realize I am not alone in my sometimes difficult efforts. Thanks for the support Mommypotamos!

  40. Shirley says:

    I had seen you post on FB when you posted this article, that it is taking longer to build up your nutrient reserves after your second. How do you know that? How would one be able to tell that your nutrient reserves are filled? I became pregnant with my 2nd when my first was 17 months old. He weaned himself just before I had found out. My 2nd eats healthier than my first yet seems to catch colds easier & I’m realizing it might be because of the fact that I didn’t have much to give when I was pregnant with him. I am currently nursing my second, who is 17 months now, and I would like to wean him around 18 months only for the fact that I want to build my nutrient reserves before conceiving #3. Is it possible to build the reserves while bf-ing and about how long does it take on average if eating a mostly WAPF diet? I feel bad thinking about weaning him but I know I do not have much left to give if I get pregnant soon! Thanks for your input! :)

  41. Laura W says:

    Thanks for this very balanced post! I just listened to Sally Fallon’s talk on feeding babies on the Village Green Network & found myself getting so irritated. I’m glad some in the traditional food circles have a more balanced point of view. It makes Sally loose credibility when she makes ridiculous blanket statements like, “NO traditional cultures practice tandem nursing.” As you stated in your post that is simply not true.

  42. Kate says:

    This post comes at a very timely “time” for me. My son is turning two this week and still nurses a lot. :) And I am two days late and took a test and it was faintly positive…. so now I will have to decide what to do. I have always been very much on the side that momma knows best and I think we will just see if my son weans between now and the potential birth or if we tandem nurse. (As some added information my period started 14 months after I had my son). Cheers everyone and Happy Breastfeeding Awareness week!

  43. Susan says:

    My children are in their mid 20′s now. Years ago I tandem nursed. My eldest weaned at 6. Her sister was 3 at that time so I tandem nursed for 3 years. I was so surprised recently to see a negative slant on tandem nursing from some wapf sources. And now I keep reading about ” wapf formula” ?? No matter how outstanding a breast milk substitutes’ ingredients are they should never be portrayed or marketed as equal to human breast milk. This tangent is not in following with Dr. Price’s work, and many of us ” old timers” talk about how this negative talk should be wholly ignored/tossed out until it dies out. I enjoyed your perspective.

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