Is Tandem Nursing for You?

Recently I talked about breastfeeding while pregnant. I’m currently breastfeeding through pregnancy for the second time.

But when you make the choice not to wean during pregnancy, you are accepting that unless your child self-weans, you may end up tandem nursing.  That is, you will be nursing two children of different ages at the same time.

Not every woman wants to do this, though.  And if you don’t want to, it’s important to wean awhile before your new baby arrives so that your older child doesn’t feel that you’ve “taken” anything from him.  So it’s an important question to explore now: is tandem nursing for you?

The first question you need to ask is: “Do I want to tandem nurse?”  Some women feel that one reason the breastfeeding experience is special is because it is a unique opportunity to bond with each baby.  They want the time to focus on each baby, one at a time, without a toddler climbing up and getting involved, too.

That’s fine but if you’ve decided that you don’t want to tandem nurse, you will need to gently wean your older child at least a few months before the baby comes.  And be prepared for some jealousy and the toddler wanting to “try again” at first.  Many remember nursing (especially if they are over 2 when they wean) and want to go back to it.

For toddlers who are weaned, especially “newly” (within the last three months, and especially if the weaning was parent-led, not child-led), try to replace nursing with another activity.  Perhaps you can have a special snuggle time, or read stories together.  If the older child knows that he will get special time with you, too, he may not be as eager to try nursing again.  Some children are firmly attached to the breast, but others are just attached to the parent/cuddles in general (my son, for example, will sometimes ask to nurse…then simply snuggle against my breast.  He just wants the closeness).

If you’d like to try tandem nursing, or if you’re unsure, let’s talk about some of the realities and benefits:

1) Tandem nursing reduces jealousy

I found this to be very true with my children.  I noted no jealousy between them until my son was much, much older old enough to actually get around the house and get into my daughter’s things.  Initially, though none.  I think that she felt that she was still “my baby” and still welcome in my arms and at my breast, so she had no reason to be jealous.  She was fully aware that she hadn’t “been replaced” in any way.

2) It promotes bonding

There’s nothing sweeter than seeing two siblings, nursing and snuggling together.  They share Mommy and enjoy doing so.  Because there’s no jealousy over anyone getting replaced, or being “the favorite,” there are no barriers to bonding.  At 3, my daughter talks openly about how they both have and need their milk, and it is common ground even if they are at each other’s throats otherwise!

3) You’ll be nursing a lot in the early days and weeks

With two children wanting and needing to nurse, you will spend a lot of time nursing.  It’s not uncommon for a toddler who’d gone down to only a couple times a day to suddenly demand to nurse all the time again, especially a younger toddler.  (My daughter had dropped her bedtime nursing at 15 months…only to pick it back up again when her brother was born just before she turned 18 months.  She’s past 3 and still insists upon that bedtime nurse!)  After a few weeks, your toddler will probably slow down.  My midwife (who tandem nursed three of her children) suggested asking the toddler to nurse every time the baby finishes and that after a few days or so of this, the toddler will get bored with the every-2-hour business and stop asking so much.  That did not work for us.  But, it did eventually slow down and I never found it overwhelming.

4) Your toddler can help with engorgement

This one was my favorites some mornings!  When my milk really came in, I had so much that I would wake up with corners in my breasts, soaked in milk and still dripping.  I’d nurse my son, but his tiny tummy could only handle so much.  I would have either been stuck sore, or needing a pump (which would have hurt and made the problem worse).  Luckily, I had a toddler!  I’d yell, “Bring me a child!  Two children!  A pump!  Anything!!” and my husband would bring both kids upstairs.  My toddler would nurse to her heart’s content, much more gently and effectively than any pump, and the milk wasn’t going to waste.  After a few weeks everything settled down and I had as much milk as I needed for both of them.  And no extra (since I never resorted to the pump).

5) You will have plenty of milk

Don’t worry about this.  As long as you are nursing on demand, you will make enough milk for both your children.  It is important, especially in the very early weeks when your supply is still adjusting, to nurse your newborn first.  I made the mistake of letting my toddler nurse first a couple of times and my newborn was very hungry!  I let him keep trying, though, so he would build up my supply, and I let him nurse first at the next feeding.  It worked out fine.  I switched him back and forth between breasts until he was around 15 months old.  At that point I assigned each child “a side” that they nursed from exclusively.  My daughter often points to my breasts and says “That’s my milk, and that’s Daniel’s milk.”  (She, too, would switch until both of them were older, by the way.)

6) You may be in for some fighting (especially when they’re older)

While tandem nursing is great and will often go well, there will be moments when your older child wants to nurse right now…but it’s not her turn yet.  Or when they’re nursing together (yes…you can choose to literally nurse them at the same time, but you don’t have to) and the baby pulls the older child’s hair.  Or someone gets kicked during acrobatics.  You will have moments like this.  But shrug it off, separate them (put the “offending” party on the floor to learn some nursing manners, if that child is at least 6 or 8 months old) and try again later.  The good times will outweigh the bad.

What if I don’t like tandem nursing?

I honestly don’t know.  I have never tried to wean an older child while nursing a younger one.  I don’t know that I ever would.  (That’s just because of who I am…not for any other reason.)  I don’t even have a child who’s self-weaned yet, and I’m beginning to suspect my son will wean before my daughter!  So I really don’t have any practical advice for you about any type of weaning.

I’d encourage you to stick it out past the initial 6 weeks, though.  At that point, you’ll be feeling back to normal again and you may not dislike it anymore (overwhelming postpartum feelings could play a role).  And if you still don’t like it, the baby is no longer brand-new and a change won’t be overwhelming to your toddler.

Tandem nursing is a very rewarding, yet demanding practice.  It’s not common these days at all (and neither is long-term or “extended” nursing, either).  But women do choose it.  Even if you know no one who has done it, don’t let that deter you if you decide that it is for you.  I did not know anyone personally who had done it, either.  Even now I have only actually met one other person.  But I’ve chosen what is right for my family and I’m comfortable with that.

Have you or will you tandem nurse?  How did you decide to?

Top image by Daquella Manera

Article Posted 6 years Ago

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