When a mom is breastfeeding two siblings, it’s known as tandem breastfeeding. It is a natural occurrence when Mom gets pregnant when her baby or toddler is still nursing — and isn’t ready to give it up. Nursing through a pregnancy can be difficult though, as moms who have been through it can attest. In the end, it can be worth it — there are unique benefits to tandem nursing, as well as unique challenges.
We talked with Danielle, mom of three, about the benefits and challenges of tandem nursing and she had a lot of information for us — info that she wishes she would have had before walking down the tandem-nursing road.
"There was no question that weaning her due to my pregnancy would
have been extremely hard on her."
Her first baby, Jane, was very intense — a classic “high-needs” baby, who was 2 years old when she got pregnant with her son. “There was no question that weaning her due to my pregnancy would have been extremely hard on her,” she remembered.
Fully supported by her midwife, Danielle breastfed throughout her pregnancy, but the experience was less than pleasant. She persevered, however, with the benefits of tandem nursing within sight. She hoped for decreased sibling rivalry and the beautiful bonding that happens when both children nurse at the same time.
Unfortunately, once Jason was born, it didn’t get any better — if anything, it got worse. “When either baby would nurse, I would feel touched out, it wasn't just Jane,” she explained. “But I knew that Jason was surviving off milk, while Jane was comforted. I felt terrible.” Her guilt was overwhelming, especially since she didn’t expect to feel this way.
Jane weaned herself shortly before her fourth birthday and when Danielle was expecting her third baby, she took advantage of a drop in supply during her pregnancy to gently wean Jason.
Many mothers are told by friends, family members and even medical professionals that weaning is a must when you become pregnant again. According to La Leche League International, breastfeeding is very unlikely to trigger either miscarriage or preterm labor. Yes, nursing does bring on contractions, but so does sexual activity, which can safely take place in a healthy pregnancy. It will also not nutritionally short your unborn child of needed nutrients.
Once your baby is born, there are a whole slew of benefits. For starters, it can greatly reduce or eliminate engorgement after your baby is born. A new baby brother or sister in the home can be hard on a toddler who is still quite attached to her mother. Tandem nursing can help alleviate some of the stressful feelings that often come to the surface when there is another child who has Mom’s attention. It allows you to meet the needs of both of your children at the same time, and better yet, while you’re sitting down and relaxing.
As Mariana from Germany told us, “It was a safe haven on bonding at a time when I was often exhausted and stressed. It was the only time I felt I was filling both children's needs at the same time and didn't have to do a ‘triage’ in my head to decide who to tend to first, and it was very reassuring for the children.”
The good and the bad
Tandem nursing isn’t for everyone, and it isn’t guaranteed to be a wonderful experience — many moms do feel touched out by the end of the day. But for some, it can be a wonderful experience for Mom and their children. “I'd say the best part of tandem nursing for us was what it did for our relationship,” Mariana remembered fondly. “They shared so many tender moments at my breasts.”
More on breastfeeding
Tandem nursing: Breastfeeding for two
Breastfeeding toddlers: Why extended nursing works
Why moms choose to breastfeed
Photo credit Crystal Heinecke