Tandem Nursing – Radical Or Just Another Form Of Mothering?

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.
Tandem Nursers
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.

19 comments to Tandem Nursing – Radical Or Just Another Form Of Mothering?

  • Annie M

    Thanks for these articles Judy! I never planned to tandem nurse, but once I was it was really hard to find good resources. I’m now back to nursing only one, but am sure that any moms who are tandeming with be VERY appreciative of your blog. I love the pic from yesterday too…It makes me wish that I had taken one while both girls were still nursing…so sweet!

  • [...] have a guest post up about tandem nursing at the Mommy News Blog. Although my daughter is wearing a kippah in the accompanying picture, it’s not meant as any [...]

  • [...] This post was Twitted by yonitdm – Real-url.org [...]

  • Yonit

    Thanks so much for putting this out there! I sort of fell into tandem nursing and when people started making comments I scoured the web looking for answers and support and didn’t find much. Even my most supportive nursing friends thought it was out there! I was told to ask my doctor, he said it’s a non-issue healthwise if I feel good, fetus is growing and my then 4mos old was growing. DD started solids on her own, snatching off plates and thank G-d I now have 2 very healthy toddlers who nurse once a day each. My 20mos ds is latched & snoring as I type this!

  • Excellent post, thoroughly written. Thanks for the great read.

    Melodie’s last blog post..Transitioning a Breastfeeding Toddler To Her Own Bed

  • Annie, glad you enjoyed it.
    Yonit, I’m glad you appreciated it. I told very few people that I was tandem nursing.

  • For those of you who are tandem nursing – was it mostly at home or did you often NIP too? Since one of the children is older, it is likely that most tandem nursing takes place in the home. I remember way back when before I ever had children I had a friend who was nursing her 2 year old and her newborn at my house. It was my first exposure to it. Perhaps not many people know about it because it tends to be done in the home and not in the public eye. — Judy

  • Thanks for this information! I know a lot of mamas who tandem nurse, and so when I was pregnant with my second and then third child, I naturally thought I would, too. Although I nursed during both of the pregnancies, we weaned each time a few months before the births. For me, it was just too painful and I felt that I needed my space before I gave birth. What I loved about Flowers’ book was that it made me feel supported to tandem nurse at first, and then I also felt supported in not continuing to tandem nurse. I am so glad that mamas all across the nursing spectrum have support for their (and their childrens’!) choices.

    Mayari’s last blog post..What’s in Your Doula Bag?

  • Tandem nursed for a little over a year until my eldest was ready to wean on her own, at nearly 4. Don’t know how radical it was. It just was what my kids needed.

  • MidwifeMommy

    I was looking forward to tandem nursing (two year age difference.) I made it through the pregnancy, though nursing was very uncomfortable and I had to limit my daughter’s nursing sessions. Imagine my surprise when she self-weaned at 38 weeks! How’s that for toddler irony?

  • mamiesgoo

    My oldest nursling stopped NIP around 18 months so maybe. I know I don’t really tell anyone that she’s nursing just because it doesn’t come up much (I am quite vocal about it if it brought up though;))

  • My oldest son was only 6 months when I became pregnant with my daughter. He was so young, and I had always intended to nurse him as long as he needed, so I continued to nurse him throughout my pregnancy.

    My milk supply diminished considerably and nearly dried up before the birth of our new baby, so I supplemented to keep him fed throughout the months of my pregnancy and he nursed only a few times a day at that point.

    Less than an hour after I gave birth to the baby, my son saw me nursing her and burst into tears. I invited him to join us and his tears turned to happiness as he snuggled into be and patted the newcomer in my arms.

    When my milk came in, he abandoned formula forever and ignored solid food for two weeks while he caught up with his need for mama’s milk.

    I tandem nursed my babies for nearly two years, with my son weaning right around his third birthday and my daughter three months later around her second birthday.

    Tandem nursing was hard, but incredibly rewarding as my son was able to get the benefit of breast milk (and a renewed supply!) for far longer than if I’d weaned him while I was pregnant. My daughter was early and a little on the small side, 5 lbs 15 oz, so his nursing helped keep up the supply when she had low demand at first. I’m also convinced that my son saved my from several breast infections by nursing after her and actually emptying my breasts.

    Sweet memories … but I would be hard to convince to do it again! ;)

    Maria’s last blog post..Paid off My College Loan with eHow Earnings!

  • Thanks for the positive feedback.Plans to tandem nurse, or not to, get changed frequently!

  • [...] Guest post on Tandem Nursing on MommyNews Blog (by @mominisrael who blogs at A Mother in Israel) [...]

  • [...] Guest post on Tandem Nursing on MommyNews Blog (by @mominisrael who blogs at A Mother in Israel) [...]

  • Great post, thanks for the information. My baby is just 11 months and I am already 6 months pregnant with my 2nd baby…there is just no way I want to stop my girl from breastfeeding when the new one arrives but my family think I am super weird already for continuing to BF while pregnant. Even though I’m used to being criticized for much of my natural mothering approach I am equipping myself with all the information and moral support I can on this one! Thanks.

    Terri’s last blog post..Beware of the ‘Toxic Tub’: Chemicals Found in Baby Products

  • [...] are numerous blog posts out there from moms who have or are currently nursing through pregnancy or tandem [...]

  • Thank you so much for this informative post! I had a hard time nursing through pregnancy, but am glad I stuck with it. My 2yo started taking milk again within 48 hours of birthing our son. She, too (like another commenter mentioned), has nearly given up on solid food right now. She’d rather have Mommy Milk.

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