Tandem Nursing


What is tandem nursing?

Tandem nursing, or nursing two siblings of different ages, is actually quite common in many cultures around the world. Though most moms don’t plan to tandem nurse before having children, more and more mothers in western societies are finding themselves in this situation as breastfeeding is on the rise. It is completely possible, and often enjoyable and preferable, for many moms as they parent two or more siblings.

Benefits of tandem nursing

There are several benefits of tandem nursing. If you have nursed throughout your pregnancy, continuing to nurse your older sibling when his new brother/sister arrives will help in the transition and allow for an easy parenting tool. If you experience engorgement as your milk is coming in, being able to nurse an older child is an easy way to relieve your breasts and keep them from developing clogged ducts and/or mastitis. If, for any reason, your new little one isn’t latching well and it is recommended you pump to build your milk supply, tandem nursing is a great way to do this. Finally, not only does nursing your older child allow you an easy comforting/mothering mechanism and way to relieve engorgement for your breasts, but breast milk continues to provide nutrition and living antibodies for all children regardless of age. And, the longer that a woman nurses the greater the protection she has from developing breast cancer.

After giving birth, how do I know when to feed my newborn versus his older sibling?

After giving birth, a mother’s milk changes and becomes the rich, thick, and lower-volume colostrum milk. It is important to ensure that the new baby receives as much of the colostrum as he needs. So in the first few days before the “milk comes in,” make sure to always nurse your new baby first. Once your milk comes in, typically between days 3-5, it becomes much less important who nurses first. In fact, milk volume is based on milk removal. This means that the more milk that is removed from the breasts, the more milk a woman’s body will make.

Will there be enough milk to nurse two children?

One of the biggest concerns with tandem nursing is wondering if there will be enough milk for both babies. The simple answer to this is yes, assuming you nurse on demand and are not supplementing with formula. A woman’s body is fully capable of making enough milk for both babies. Research has shown that the main detriments to tandem nursing include a lack of time, physical and emotional hardships in caring for more than one child, and a lack of support. Having an adequate supply of milk for both children should not be an issue as milk supply is governed by supply and demand – the more milk that is removed, the more milk your body will make. An empty breast makes more milk than a full breast, so nursing multiple children will cause your body to make more milk as more is removed.

What if I need to wean my older sibling?

If you decide you want to wean your older child, doing so slowly and lovingly can help to grow and nurture your already strong bond. You may want to begin by limiting when your toddler nurses, perhaps in the morning, before nap time, and at bedtime for example. This may be enough to help you feel that you are not spending your entire day breastfeeding while at the same time helping your toddler still feel connected to you in this way. Since your toddler is older, being able to talk and explain when he can/can’t nurse will help the situation. Try to avoid making your older child feel as if the reason he can no longer nurse is because of his younger sibling as you don’t want him to resent the new baby.

Once you have decreased the number of feeds or set limits to frequency, you can then further reduce when you nurse by eliminating a feed every few days. Make sure to talk with your older sibling and explain to him what is happening, for example, there’s no more milk at night. Replace these nursing times with other activities and/or cuddles together.