What is tandem nursing?

Tandem nursing (breastfeeding two different age siblings) is not only possible, but most children will tell you it’s preferable! The arrival of a new baby can be unsettling for children especially those too young to fully understand the implications. Change is inevitable, but tandem nursing helps your older child know that the breast is still a safe and secure place. 

Regardless of age, breast milk continues to provide important nutrients and disease protection for as long as a child breastfeeds. Breastfeeding also strengthens the emotional bond between a mother and her child, making the transition to a larger family easier. 

An older child can ease engorgement, making it easier for your newborn to latch on. At the same time, a toddler can stimulate milk release, so that the needs of both children are easily met.

Deciding who to feed first 

Many health care providers recommend feeding the newborn first (assuming both children ask to be fed at the same time), since the breast is the newborn’s only source of calories and nutrients. This is more important during the first few days after birth, when colostrum is in short supply. After that, it’s first come, first serve! 

If your newborn consistently breastfeeds on a single breast at a feeding, you can offer a hungry child the opposite breast. It’s a bit like breastfeeding multiples, only the babies are two different ages. Nursing both children at once saves time and energy. Plus, true tandem nursing keeps a potentially playful toddler occupied while mom breastfeeds the baby. Regardless of how you and your children choose to breastfeed (separately or simultaneously), you will be amazed at your body’s ability to meet their needs. While mothers nursing a single baby worry that they will have too little milk, those who tandem nurse are more likely to encounter too much! 

No matter how your children are fed, meeting the needs of your growing family takes more coordination and energy. Eating a variety of healthy foods, drinking enough liquids to satisfy your thirst, and napping when the children nap (if possible) will ensure that your needs are met as well.

Deciding to tandem nurse or wean 

Pregnancy and parenting make for an emotional rollercoaster ride punctuated by shifting hormones. Before you decide to tandem nurse or wean, consider your feelings and the feelings of those closest to you. Some mothers welcome the chance to sit down during the day and wrap their arms around their expanding family and tandem nurse, while others prefer one-on-one time with their newborn, but worry about how their older child will react. 

Some mothers find that their nipples become so tender during pregnancy, due to the pregnancy hormones, weaning seems preferable to tandem nursing. Some older children lose interest in breastfeeding and wean themselves, once the breast milk becomes more colostrum-like. 

If you are unsure about tandem nursing, the “don’t offer, don’t refuse” approach can help you gauge how important breastfeeding is to your older child. By letting her decide when (or if) to breastfeed, you can learn just how important breastfeeding is to your older child, and which times of day she prefers to nurse. This may help you determine whether tandem nursing is something you want to consider. Regardless of your decision, enjoy this time with your children, because, ready or not, a new adventure is about to begin.

Last updated April 7, 2020

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