We are running a series on tandem nursing this month on our blog and have recruited stories from great moms across the globe! You will hear stories about nursing while pregnant, challenges of tandem nursing and the joys of nurturing your babies. Our first story comes from A Mother In Israel, read on to hear her thoughts and share in her journey.
By Hannah Katsman
Tandem nursing is a radical in our society. Just try telling someone that you are going to nurse while you are pregnant, and plan to continue after the new baby is born. But moms don’t tandem nurse to make a statement. They do it because their child is not ready to wean.
Tandem nursing is really a combination of two separate issues, toddler nursing and juggling the needs of small children. If nursing your toddler is important to you, the tandem part will work itself out. Nursing is only one more thing to coordinate when a younger sibling is born.
I became pregnant with my sixth child when my fifth was 21 months old. Although nursing during pregnancy had been painful for me in the past, I found it comfortable this time and decided to continue. Toddler nursing was already the norm in my family. We cut back to one or two short feedings during the day because lowered milk supply made long sessions irritating for me. During this time my son ate much more solid food. So nursing can still provide a significant amount of calories even for a two-year-old.
Some issues related to tandem nursing:
- Flexibility. Your feelings about tandem nursing may change, and the option to wean is always there. As with all weaning decisions, take a few days to be sure, and think about whether cutting back is an option. Many toddlers wean on their own during pregnancy or after birth because of changes in milk supply or taste or just because they are done.
Weaning can bring on a wide range of feelings from sadness to relief. All are legitimate, and can be exaggerated by hormonal adjustments associated with weaning, pregnancy, and birth.
- Resources. La Leche League International, including its website, support groups, and Hilary Flower’s book Adventures in Tandem Nursing, is the best source for information on nursing during pregnancy and afterward. Two other helpful books are Norma Bumgarner’s Mothering Your Nursing Toddler and How Weaning Happens by Diane Bengson.
Flower’s book addresses safety and nutritional concerns and shares practical advice from a wide range of mothers’ experiences.
- Nursing Two Takes Time. Juggling a toddler or preschooler and a newborn is always challenging, but a commitment to nursing two can limit your ability to get other things done. If you find it overwhelming, think about cutting back the amount or frequency of the toddler’s nursing, or make other changes to simplify your life. Continuing to nurse both freely is also okay if it works for you. Despite what some books say, it’s normal for two and three-year-olds to nurse frequently.
My favorite line from Flower’s book is by a mother who said that on a good day her husband arrived to find the house a mess, the baby asleep, the toddler in the bath, and dinner half-cooked on the stove. On a bad day she and the kids were all crying. I don’t remember it being that bad every day but her experience rings true.
- Newborns, Colostrum, and Milk Supply. At some point in mid-pregnancy the breasts begin to make colostrum, the small quantity of antibody-rich milk that newborns eat in the first days of life. For the first few days after birth some mothers are careful to give the newborn priority in nursing. I’m not sure this is necessary, as colostrum is always being produced on the basis of supply and demand. Once you are sure the newborn is gaining well there is no reason to be more concerned about milk supply than with a nursing singleton.
At first I worried when my two-year-old nursed so much that he almost completely stopped eating solids. How could I make enough milk for both? Eventually I realized that the baby was growing and would let me know if she was hungry. My breasts produced milk according to the children’s needs. Since my son wasn’t getting fat, the milk quantity had probably maxed out. It was okay.
- Close Pregnancies. Because breastfeeding is so important for a younger baby, nursing mothers with close pregnancies can be especially reluctant to wean. Since some pregnant mothers experience lowered milk supply in the second trimester, it’s important to keep track of baby’s weight and supplement if necessary.
Mothers with close pregnancies need lots of help and support whether or not they are tandem nursing.
- Safety Concerns. No studies show an increased risk of miscarriage or preterm labor when breastfeeding during a normal pregnancy. Mothers are sometimes advised to wean when a pregnancy is at risk. Because some pregnancies end whether or not a mother is nursing, she needs to think how she will feel about the weaning if this happens.
All pregnant women should eat properly and gain an appropriate amount of weight.
Tandem nursing is one of the most challenging things I have ever done, but it was worth it. Feel free to leave questions in the comments. Thank you, Judy, for inviting me to post here.
Hannah Katsman blogs at A Mother in Israel about parenting issues, women in Judaism, and Israeli life. A mother of six children aged 5 to 19, she moved to Israel from the US in 1990 and has worked as a volunteer breastfeeding counselor for nine years. She writes an ongoing series on breastfeeding for the Israeli environmental blog, Green Prophet. More posts on breastfeeding and parenting can be found on her own blog.