What is Tandem Nursing?

By Jordan Berns

Every breastfeeding story is unique. Some women choose to breastfeed for a few months, a year or more, or not at all. Some women decide to continue breastfeeding their older child and their newer baby. This is called “tandem nursing.” There are many pros and cons to this very personal choice.

Tandem nursing is when a woman breastfeeds both her toddler (ages 1-3) and her newborn simultaneously. Breast milk is famous for its nutritional content and aiding in the bond between mother and baby. Breastfeeding also helps with emotional dysregulation in babies and toddlers.

There are several advantages to tandem nursing. It can help with engorgement and even strengthen the relationship between siblings. If you have to leave your baby at the hospital while you return home, having a toddler nurse can help keep your supply up. There shouldn’t be much of a concern about having enough milk; generally, the more milk that is consumed, the more milk is produced.

Toddlers may want to nurse more when they see their younger sibling nursing, occasionally due to jealousy. Some people have the worry that the oxytocin released when older children breastfeed from their pregnant mothers can induce premature labor. This concern is largely unfounded; breastfeeding while pregnant does not release enough oxytocin to prompt labor. However, doctors usually advise high risk pregnancies to stop breastfeeding their toddler.

Tandem nursing doesn’t pose any significant increase in danger to the mother, as long as she takes extra steps to protect her health. Even so, breastfeeding can be taxing on a woman’s body. Mothers should boost their daily caloric and fluid intake to compensate for the extra work their bodies are doing. Taking folic acid and vitamin D supplements can be key. Calcium rich foods such as seeds, leafy green vegetables, and nuts can help strengthen bone density. Breastfeeding can decrease bone density, but only temporarily. Bones start to regrow 3 to 6 months after giving birth, and are usually at their original strength after a year postpartum.

It is important to ensure that your newborn is getting enough milk while tandem feeding with an older child. The first milk that is released after delivery is called colostrum (only produced after your baby is born) and is crucial for babies to get its life-protecting antibodies and general health additives. Because of this, it’s recommended that mothers nurse their newborns first, before their toddlers.

What is the best way to tandem nurse children?

Your older child may temporarily or permanently choose to self-wean while you are pregnant. Milk changes in taste, output, and nutritional value 4 or 5 months into your pregnancy, and some children are put off by this. Stay in contact with your pediatrician to make sure your child is gaining a standard amount of weight if they begin weaning. However, some toddlers may want to start nursing again when their sibling does. Nursing two children may seem cumbersome at first, but there are many different holds to tandem nurse:

            The Double Cradle Hold: Your baby is placed above or on the inside of a wraparound/cuddle with your toddler and you support both their heads on your arms.

            The Double Underarm (Clutch/Rugby) Hold: This position is good for squirmy toddlers or mothers who had c-sections. Your baby is positioned under your arm with their feet pointing away from you. You toddler would be seated or partially lying back with their legs also pointing away from you.

            The Double Side-Lying Hold: Lie down and put your toddler next to you. Your baby lies on top of your toddler.

Some complications from the birthing process may make it uncomfortable to nurse an older child. You may also experience breastfeeding aversion or feel “touched-out” from nursing more than one child. There are many ways to gently and gradually wean toddlers or decrease the amount of times they nurse. Part of the reason older children nurse is to meet physical and emotional needs. You can help substitute the desire to breastfeed by spending more time with them in a non-nursing capacity.

Some mothers use the technique of “don’t offer, don’t refuse.” They won’t ask their children if they’d like to nurse, but they don’t turn their children down if they request it. Mothers can give their child a snack and drink before they have a hankering to nurse. Others will put band-aids on breasts to help express to their children that they are uncomfortable or in pain because of nursing. It’s reassuring to express to children that it’s not their fault or your newborn’s fault that you are in pain.

Is tandem nursing right for you?

If you want to tandem nurse but still want to cut down on the time your older one breastfeeds, it can also help to set a time limit for nursing. You can count to ten or sing a song to establish a short pocket of time. You can help your toddler adjust to breastfeeding less with other ideas like creating a “nursing toy box” that only comes out when their sibling nurses. Or you might also ask your toddler for help by bringing you towels and other things for your baby. It may help to explain to your toddler that they are able to eat lots of interesting foods that are only for big kids, while babies can only have milk.

Always talk to your pediatrician before tandem nursing to best safeguard your health as well as the health of your children. Make sure that you engage in self-care and ask for and accept help from the ones around you. Tandem nursing can either be a beautiful experience or a taxing process, or even fluctuate between the two. Tandem nursing is an extremely personal decision that you can only make for yourself.


Photo by Helena Lopes: https://www.pexels.com/photo/woman-breastfeeding-her-baby-7943123/


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