If you have ever been trying to get pregnant or found yourself pregnant shortly after a child is born you have most likely battled with the decision to wean your breastfeeding child or continue breastfeeding through your pregnancy and beyond. It’s not an easy decision to make. It often feels like you have to choose between one child or the other. Tandem nursing is a possible solution to your dilemma. It is one that many mothers make, but usually they fall into on accident.
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What is Tandem Nursing?
Tandem nursing is the practice of nursing a new baby while an older child is still nursing. It can also happen if you are nursing a child when adopting a nursing baby. It is an opportunity to continue breastfeeding an older child while welcoming a new child.
It isn’t a common practice but many mothers choose to make this decision to continue to provide nourishing milk to their older child.
What are the Benefits of Tandem Nursing?
Toddlers or older children can ease engorgement when your milk comes in and is plentiful. Their powerful suck can help you reduce the risk of uncomfortable engorgement, clogged ducts, or mastitis.
If your newborn is having trouble latching and not feeding well in the beginning, or if they go through a period of poor nursing the older child can help protect your milk supply. They will continue to send signals of demand to your body to continue to produce milk without the supply drastically dropping.
Tandem nursing can help the ease the transition of a new sibling for an older child. Nursing can be a special time for you to connect with that older child when a new baby arrives. It can be a very special and bonding experience between your children. As you nurse the two children together or not this is something that they share.
Your milk will change as your children are sick or growing. Those antibodies you are producing are very beneficial to your youngest, but also can help your older child as their immune system is also still developing. Nutritionally breast milk continues to have a significant nutritional benefits for older child as well.
Tips for Tandem Feeding
- What if my toddler starts wanting to feed as frequently as the baby?
It will be important to set boundaries as you are tandem breastfeeding for your mental health. Some mothers feel really “touched out” by constantly fulfilling their children’s physical needs. Set boundaries for how often you will allow your older child to nurse. They may initially want to nurse as often as the baby. If you are comfortable with that then do it, but if it is too much set some clear boundaries.
If the older child is feeding with the baby every time, they might eat less solid foods for a few days. Things should start to go back to normal after a few days. The newness of the experience will wear off. If it doesn’t set those clear boundaries and only let them nurse as often as you feel comfortable.
- Should I nurse separately or together?
This is about what works for you. Some might like the convenience of nursing both babies at the same time. It cuts back on the amount of time you are nursing throughout the day. Others might find it overwhelming to try to feed two at the same time. Everyone’s choice will be unique to their needs. There is no definite right or wrong way to tandem nurse.
- What if my milk supply is declining?
There are many things you can do to increase your milk supply. Increase your water intake and improve your diet. Make sure you are eating enough energy rich calories to allow your body to produce enough milk. Continue to nurse at regular intervals even if you aren’t producing enough milk. The stimulation of nursing will tell your body that it needs to produce more. There are many herbs and supplements you can try to increase your milk production. These lactation teas are full of vitamins, herbs, and minerals to improve your milk supply.
- I’m feeling an aversion to nursing what do I do?
Nursing aversion is an intense overwhelming feeling that can occur while nursing. Read about one mom’s experience with it here. If this is something you are experience reaching out to other mom’s that have experienced this or a certified lactation consultant can help you work through your experience. This book, Adventures in Tandem Nursing can also be a great resource to assist you through this and many of the other transitions of tandem nursing.
- Who do I feed first?
In the first several weeks you should feed your newborn first. You will want them to get that colostrum that is full of rich antibodies and nutrition that will help build up their immature immune system.
Always feed your newborn from the fuller breast first. This ensures they will get enough milk as this is their only form of nutrition until 6 months of age. Your older child can feed from the last used breast or follow from the breast the newborn just nursed from. It may take some time for your supply to adjust to feeding two children so the older child’s strong suck will help to stimulate your body to produce more.
Tandem Nursing Positions
When it comes to tandem nursing it is important to always ensure your infant has a good latch. Reaching out to a lactation consultant in advance is a great idea to help you adapt to your new normal when your baby arrives. It is always best to position your baby on first and ensure a good latch. Especially in the first few days of life always let the newborn feed first to ensure they get that really healthy colostrum. Allow them time to feed before asking toddler to join, if you like to feed together. There are a variety of options when it comes to positioning your toddler and newborn for great access for both children.
In this position your toddler will lay under the baby with both children’s heads cradled under your arms with feet facing towards each other.
Double Football/Rugby Hold
In this position both toddler and infant are facing you. Their heads can be supported by pillows if needed. Their feet will go out behind you or towards the couch you are sitting on.
Or just latch your newborn in a comfortable position and then allow your toddler to find a comfortable position for them to feed.
You may need to sit down with your toddler and lay down some boundaries or explain how things will be different with a newborn.
Taking Care of Yourself
Nursing can take a lot out of you and if you are nursing two children at the same time it can be even harder on your body. I recommend you work with your spouse and any support you have to off load responsibilities. You will have to focus significantly on getting good rest, eating enough of the right foods, and staying hydrated. It can be a lot to handle and if you are a working mom it can be even more difficult. Check out my article on finding work life balance as a mom.
Nutritional and Supplement Needs
It is important that you are eating and drinking enough if you are going to tandem nurse. You will need to be eating 500-1000 extra calories a day if you are going to be tandem nursing. What you need will all depends on how much your children are eating. you should be eating nutrient dense foods full of protein, vitamins, and minerals. If you know you are not getting enough of the right nutrients in your diet a vitamin supplement is needed while tandem nursing.
Frequently Asked Questions
There are a lot of changes happening with the birth of another child. It will take some time for yourself and your children to adapt to everything. Remember to take things slowly and give everyone some grace. Tandem nursing can be a beautiful experience, but it can also be a challenge at times. Lean on your support system of partner, family, lactation consultant, and support groups. You don’t have to do it all. Take it day by day and adjust anything that you need to as things arise. There is no right or wrong way to Tandem feeding. Do what feels best for your and your family.
Jess is a registered nurse with over 6+ years of critical care experience for patients young and old and is the mother of two small children. After having her own children she felt inspired to provide mothers with real actionable guidance and education to make informed decisions throughout their pregnancy and postpartum experience.