Before I became a breastfeeding mom, I had not even thought about the possibility of nursing both a newborn and an older child. But the first time I heard of tandem nursing, I was really intrigued. Specifically, the mention of it being really good for sibling rivalry made it sort of appealing and made sense to me. It made more and more sense as I got to know my particular baby/toddler/child and we settled into our (continuously-changing) nursing relationship.
I saw that nursing was a constant through any change; it was a huge help through transitions of all kinds and degree. On the most practical level, it was the best way we found to help B sit still while we did things like make sure his nose wasn’t broken and tended to injuries and illnesses of various sorts. Theoretically (you know, before I was actually pregnant again), keeping this tool in my toolbox as we transitioned to a family of four seemed a good choice.
So I did basically plan to tandem nurse, but once I was pregnant, and especially after reading Adventures in Tandem Nursing (a book I highly recommend to anyone nursing while pregnant, even if you plan to wean before the birth of your baby), my official response on the topic was “I can’t imagine we won’t tandem nurse, but I reserve the right to change my mind at any moment and I’m sure B does as well.”
When I got pregnant with A, B was 21 months old and an avid nursling. He was already well on his way to night-weaning, and I had (pregnancy-related) nipple soreness that was worse at night, so we made night-weaning a priority. Thankfully, B was fairly ready to do it on his own; there was less screaming and struggle than I had expected (almost none, by my recollection) and he actually night-weaned faster than my strategy/plan dictated. There were a couple periods of night-nursing later in the pregnancy, but they were clearly illness-related and he easily gave it up again when he felt better.
I was put on bedrest at about 31 weeks. There was no time to really prepare B for it – I went from planning a 3-mile walk to heading to the hospital for monitoring in the span of 10 minutes. Suddenly I was sitting or laying down all day – not only could I not go out and do much with B, but I couldn’t simply stand up and relocate when he was in a climb-on-Mom sort of mood.
Nursing while on bedrest gave me peace of mind, and a sense that I was still mothering him even if I couldn’t do a whole lot with him. After a day of shoo’ing him away from me, having him close at night, and even the occasional night-nursing was wonderfully soothing to both of us. And being able to get his little 2-year-old self to be still for a minute or two of nursing was blissful for me after having to have him removed from the room (or house) much of the day so he wouldn’t keep climbing me, dive-bombing me, or jumping on the couch or bed. Sure, there were also a lot of books being read, and I watched some videos with him – nursing was simply an additional quiet activity, and he was even more still and quiet (I never did find a comfortable way to read books that didn’t involve his elbow in my growing belly). The benefit of nursing was definitely tempered by the irritation of having anyone be that close to me as I was kicked from the inside and generally uncomfortable. But my sense was that B was going to be close to me and touching me whether he was nursing or not, and at least nursing lessened the risk of trauma to my belly and brought quiet!
As the pregnancy went on, I also had a new and hard-to-describe response to nursing. I was often asked if it hurt to nurse while pregnant, and I’d say that “hurt” wasn’t really the right word. It wasn’t physically painful, or even physically irritating. I wasn’t having “nipple soreness,” per se. It was like everything was fine at first latch, and then I just got a sense (an emotional need, perhaps?) that B had to get away from me. After ensuring his latch and positioning were not to blame, I instated various methods of limiting the length of nursing sessions. I would count to ten (sometimes only three if I was feeling particularly irritable) or give B the choice of one song to nurse through (sometimes I’d sing an abridged version, or only a single verse). I even found myself using nursing as a chance to practice labor comfort measures – none of which helped much, by the way, but they did help during labor!
In any case, I did contemplate weaning B during that time – and I definitely would have if he hadn’t been willing to shorten his nursings. And, again, not being able to get up and distract him during bedrest made the prospect of weaning him daunting. (What in the world would I have suggested instead, and how would I have kept him from landing a tantrumming hit or kick to my belly when I said “no” to his requests?)
After A was born and my milk came in, B picked up his nursing frequency quite a bit. For awhile, he wanted to nurse almost every time his brother did – which was difficult, because his brother was a phenomenally terrible nurser and required a lot of help to latch and stay latched. But B was patient and sweet about waiting to get everyone situated, and the end result of nursing them simultaneously was always heartwarming and has even brought joyful tears to my eyes. The first thing B would do when they nursed together was gently grab his baby brother’s hand or absentmindedly stroke A’s head with a gentle finger or two. As A started really obviously focusing on faces, they would look into each other’s eyes. They shared their own quite moments between each other, while I looked on…or just enjoyed a little silence! (There can never be too much quiet in my house these days!)
It is now extremely rare that my kids nurse at the same time; B is nursing so much less frequently that I can finally conceive of him actually weaning on his own almost any day. Plus A thinks B is the funniest person ever, so nursing quickly turns into a giggle fest (which is also pretty neat, because if they’re nursing together it is usually because B was crying to begin with and needed some extra comfort).
There have been other fairly substantial benefits since A was born. The biggest one is that B both helped me avoid engorgement (and the subsequent recurrent clogs and mastitis I experienced after B himself was born) and ensured that my supply did not dwindle through a very long process of sorting out A’s latch. Sure, I could have accomplished the same with pumping (I did so after B was born), but finding the time to pump when you have a baby to feed and a toddler to chase is no small feat! I have also had B nurse through my forceful letdown so I might deal with less spit-up and clamping down from A. And nursing was for awhile the best way I had found to get B to be still, make eye contact, and listen to me when he was so tired and/or wild that I was clutching the baby in hopes of preventing grave injury! (Now he will simply sit in my lap and we accomplish the same thing.)
All this is not to say that frustration with nursing both is non-existent. Frustration with one or both – over nursing, climbing, not sleeping, screaming, being indecisive, etc (need I go on?) is there. I have two kids who are both increasingly in motion, B is currently working on rudimentary negotiation techniques, and it takes great planning, patience, and/or a miracle to make the time to blog or do anything else for myself. Tandem nursing is in the mix somewhere as both stressor and savior of sanity but, almost 7 months in and finally feeling like the baby’s nursing is (nearly/mostly) sorted out and the preschooler’s nursing is greatly diminished, it is less of each.
There is more I could share on this topic (and I have said some of it here, here, here, and rather nerdily here)! Below are some resources if you’re looking for information, support, or more varied perspectives:
- Adventures in Tandem Nursing includes information on research and a bit of pondering whether we humans are meant to tandem nurse from a sort of evolutionary/physiologic perspective (there is no good answer to this). You can also read stories and tips from many mothers who have tandem nursed (and even triandem nursed). Even if you think you may wean before the birth of your baby, this is an interesting and useful book.
- La Leche League – Your local La Leche League group would be an excellent place to start if you’d like to find some tandem nursing moms near you. LLL also has information about tandem nursing on their website.
- Kellymom has an associated website called NursingTwo that has additional information, and also excerpts from Adventures in Tandem Nursing.
- There are numerous blog posts out there from moms who have or are currently nursing through pregnancy or tandem nursing (google to find more!). Mine is far from the only experience to be had; for instance, I know of a couple moms who have seen jealousy from their older child over sharing nursing, which is not something I have experienced at all.