How I Make Tandem Nursing a Toddler and Newborn Work

I never planned on nursing two babies at the same time. But it turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

Tandem nursing illo
Emma Darvick.

Tandem nursing is not something I ever planned to do, but then I found myself pregnant for the third time, soon after my second. Like many lactating parents, I found the decision of whether to continue my breastfeeding journey with my older child or wean before the arrival of the baby a difficult one.

I wavered back and forth, but my pregnancy flew by (as they seem to with each subsequent child). I continued to nurse my toddler who didn't seem to have any interest in weaning, despite the change in taste, decline in supply, and growing belly getting in the way.

Before I knew it, my newborn was at one breast, my toddler was at the other, and I was tandem breastfeeding. I've since gone on to tandem-nurse my third and fourth together and discovered that tandem nursing can be an incredibly positive and rewarding experience for both myself and my children.

If you have children close in age or find yourself pregnant and not quite ready to wean your nursing child, you may be considering tandem nursing. Here is everything I learned about nursing siblings simultaneously.

What Is Tandem Nursing?

Tandem nursing is breastfeeding or chestfeeding more than one child during the same period of time—in my case feeding a toddler and newborn baby. This can be at the same time or one after the other. Choose what works best for you!

There's a misconception that once you are pregnant, you must stop breastfeeding/chestfeeding for the health of yourself and/or your unborn baby. But according to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), "If the pregnancy is normal and the patient is healthy, breastfeeding during pregnancy is their personal decision." Speak with your doctor and take it from there.

Benefits of Tandem Nursing

There are a variety of benefits of tandem nursing, including the following.

Increases milk supply

Generally the more milk removed, the more will be produced, so those who tandem-nurse can make twice as much milk to accommodate feeding two children.

“Because both breasts are being emptied simultaneously while tandem nursing, it is likely that mothers who tandem-feed will have an increased or oversupply of breastmilk,” says Krystal Duhaney, R.N., an international board-certified lactation consultant and owner of Milky Mama, a product line for lactating parents.

“It’s also common for both the toddler and newborn to want to nurse at separate times throughout the day, which is likely more frequently than if mom was only nursing one baby. This added stimulation also triggers more milk production,” she adds.

As for me, my milk was in within 12 hours after my baby was born, helping my newborn gain weight quickly and sleep for longer stretches.

Reduces engorgement and plugged ducts

My toddler helped to relieve engorgement, making it easier for my newborn to latch afterwards without dealing with a fast letdown. If I ever felt a plugged duct coming on, I would make sure that my toddler nursed on that side to reduce the risk of it turning into mastitis.

May promote sibling bonding

"Breastfeeding the nursing child during pregnancy and after delivery of the next child (tandem nursing) may help provide a smooth transition psychologically for the older child,” according to the AAFP.

The reason? “It can sometimes be difficult for a toddler to adjust to a new baby in the family. Tandem nursing can help ease the transition and promote sibling bonding by giving them an activity they can participate in together,” says Duhaney.

That was the case for my toddler. Instead of trying to distract him during those marathon feedings in the first couple of weeks, he was able to participate and feel included. Nothing compares to the feeling of watching my older child rub the baby's back or hold his hand across my chest while nursing.

It’s also not uncommon for a toddler that has previously weaned to want to nurse again after seeing their parent nursing the new baby of the house. “If mom is comfortable with this, it can be a wonderful bonding experience for the three of you,” adds Duhaney.

Courtesy of Isobel Benesch
Isobel Benesch and her children. Courtesy of Isobel Benesch.

Tips for Tandem Nursing

Try these tips for successful tandem nursing.

Drink lots of water and eat plenty of calories

Breastfeeding or chestfeeding through pregnancy and continuing on to tandem nursing is physically demanding. "Both pregnancy and breastfeeding are going to require increased calories, nutrition, and hydration. On average breastfeeding requires an additional 500 calories per day and pregnancy an additional 300 calories.

You will need to take a prenatal vitamin and eat a diet rich in whole grains, good fats, vibrantly colored vegetables, and protein. You will also need to take in at least 2.5 liters of fluid a day to meet the demands of pregnancy and lactation," advises Christine Sterling, M.D., a board-certified OB-GYN based in San Diego.

Let your newborn nurse first

During the first week, your breasts/chest will be producing colostrum, a fluid that contains antibodies and is beneficial to the newborn. I always let my baby nurse from the fullest breast first and offered my toddler the same breast afterward. After the first week or so when the milk comes in, that's not as important. But you always want to ensure your growing baby is getting enough to eat since breast milk their only source of food.

Be prepared for increased toddler nursing

Even if your toddler only nurses once or twice a day throughout your pregnancy, you may find that after the baby arrives, your toddler is interested in nursing every time the baby latches (hello, milk!). This can be overwhelming, especially as you are adjusting to life with a newborn and dealing with lack of sleep, hormonal changes, and postpartum recovery. But I learned a toddler's increased feedings are only a transitional behavior.

Have empathy

The transition to a new baby in the house is a highly emotional experience for everyone, but even more so for a toddler who might not fully understand what is happening. When it comes to tandem nursing, your toddler suddenly needs to learn to wait as the baby latches, take turns with sides, and share something that was once only theirs. In moments when I felt overwhelmed, I always tried to be empathetic with my toddler (and myself!).

Take care of yourself

Tandem nursing is a lot of work, not only physically, but also emotionally. There were definitely days during the postpartum period when my hormones were rebalancing and I felt “touched out” and irritated. Tandem nursing was sometimes far from the peaceful vision I had imagined.

"Tandem nursing can be a beautiful experience for a mother and for siblings, but it is important to note that this puts Mom in high demand both physically and emotionally,” explains Dr. Sterling. “If you want to tandem-feed, do it, but you must attend to your needs as well. This means prioritizing the basics—sleep, nutrition, and hydration. A mother's well-being is more important to the well-being of her children than her breast milk."

My reprieve during times of frustration in my tandem nursing journey was to first let my husband know how I was feeling (although he could usually tell without me saying anything) and then spend some moments of solitude on the beach.

When time wasn’t a luxury, sometimes even spending five minutes taking a hot shower really helped. When my husband wasn’t home to help, I’d take time out from my daily routine with the kids to take a deep breath and make myself a cup of coffee, put on some of my favorite music, or read a short blog post. Taking even those little moments to myself, left me feeling refreshed and relaxed.

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