If you’re still nursing your baby or toddler and find yourself pregnant, one of your first thoughts might be: “What happens next in terms of breastfeeding?”
For some moms, the answer is obvious: They have no intention of breastfeeding while pregnant or beyond, and the decision to wean their baby or toddler is a no-brainer.
For other moms, things aren’t that clear-cut, and they may be wondering if continuing to breastfeed their baby or toddler is a possibility.
There is no right answer here, and all moms should do what works for them and their family. But if you’re considering the possibility of tandem nursing — breastfeeding both your newborn and older child at the same time — you should know that doing so is a common, healthy, and generally safe option.
Tandem nursing is simply nursing two or more children of different ages at the same time. Usually this occurs when you have an older baby, toddler, or child you are nursing, and you add a new baby to the picture.
Most mothers tandem nurse just two children — a baby and older child — but if you are nursing multiples or give birth to multiples, you may find yourself breastfeeding more than two children.
Tandem nursing usually means that you’ll be breastfeeding your older child throughout your pregnancy. In some cases, older children wean or cut back during pregnancy — usually due to the decrease in milk supply that is common to pregnancy — but then show renewed interest in nursing once the baby is born and milk supply rebounds.
Tandem nursing is similar to breastfeeding twins in that you find yourself needing to meet the needs of more than one nursing child at once, which can be quite the balancing act.
You may face similar challenges, including deciding if you want to breastfeed your two children simultaneously or separately. You may even find yourself using similar breastfeeding holds and positions when you breastfeed two children at once.
But tandem nursing differs from nursing twins because you are nursing children of different ages. Usually your older nursing child is not as reliant on the nutritional value of breastfeeding because they’re also eating solids. Your older child will likely not need to breastfeed as frequently as your newborn either.
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to tandem nursing. All babies are different, and all nursing toddlers have different needs.
Moms should figure out what works best for them and their children, and remember that what worked one week might change the next!
It’s all about tuning into your children’s needs and also making sure to honor your own boundaries as a mom, especially because it can be easy to feel overwhelmed and “touched out” when you are nursing more than one child at once.
Things to keep in mind about tandem nursing:
- Your body will make enough milk to feed both of your children, but if you’re concerned about your newborn getting enough milk, you can allow your newborn to nurse first and then nurse your older child.
- As your milk supply becomes established and you and your baby get into a nursing groove, you may start to consider breastfeeding both children at once. But again, that is up to you and your personal preferences.
- Some moms decide to assign sides to both of their children, switch sides from feeding to feeding, or combine methods.
- There is no right answer when it comes to how to structure your feeding routine; generally, it’s best to trust that your body will make enough milk for both your children, and you don’t need to control the experience.
When you’re nursing both of your children at the same time, it can take a little trial and error to find a position that feels comfortable for everyone involved.
Many of the tandem nursing positions that mothers prefer are similar to the positions used by moms who are nursing twins. Positions and holds may include:
- Placing your newborn in a “football hold” where they come to your breast from the side of your body. This leaves your lap free for your older child to snuggle in and nurse.
- You can also try a “laid back” position, where both your newborn and your toddler recline on you while you nurse. This position works well on a bed, where there is plenty of room for everyone to get comfortable.
- You can try breastfeeding with your newborn in cradle hold while your toddler kneels beside you while nursing.
Is it safe to breastfeed during pregnancy?
Many mothers feel concerned about nursing while pregnant. They wonder if it will cause a miscarriage or if their growing fetus will get enough nutrition.
These are understandable concerns, but the truth is that there is usually little risk involved in breastfeeding during pregnancy, either to you or your growing baby, as noted in a 2012 study.
As the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) describes it, “Breastfeeding during a subsequent pregnancy is not unusual. If the pregnancy is normal and the mother is healthy, breastfeeding during pregnancy is the woman’s personal decision.”
The AAFP emphasizes that breastfeeding into the toddler years is beneficial for children, so if you become pregnant and you want to continue, you have good reason to try.
Of course, nursing during pregnancy has its own sets of challenges, including sore nipples, emotional and hormonal shifts, and the possibility of your child weaning due to a dwindling milk supply caused by pregnancy hormones.
Again, continuing to breastfeed during pregnancy is a personal decision, and you need to do what works for you.
Will I be able to make enough milk for both of my children?
Another concern that tandem nursing mothers often have is whether they will be able to produce enough milk for both of their children.
Indeed, your body will make the milk you need for both of your children, and the nutritional value of your breast milk will stay strong for both of your children.
When you became pregnant with your new baby, your body started the process of preparing to breastfeed, even if you continued to breastfeed your older child. So your body will produce colostrum for your newborn, and then establish a milk supply based on your baby’s and older child’s needs.
Remember that the way milk supply works is by supply and demand so the more milk your children demand, the more milk you will make. You’ve got this!
If you choose to tandem nurse your newborn and older child, you’ll find that there are many wonderful benefits, including:
- It may help your older child feel more secure and reassured as you transition into a new family dynamic.
- Your older child can help reduce the symptoms of engorgement once your milk comes in, which can be quite a help if you tend to get very engorged.
- Your older child can help quickly drive up your milk supply if you ever need a boost.
- Nursing your older child along with your newborn is a great way to keep them occupied (and out of trouble!).
Besides concerns about milk supply, probably the biggest concern and challenge that mothers face while tandem nursing is how overwhelming it can feel at times.
You may feel that you never get a break, that you are literally always feeding someone, and that you don’t have time to fulfill your own needs. You may also feel “touched out” or agitated while breastfeeding.
If things feel like they are just too much, know that you have options. Tandem nursing isn’t “all or nothing” and it’s perfectly okay to begin to set some ground rules for your toddler or older child. Consider:
- deciding to limit their feeds to a certain number of times a day
- trying “don’t offer, don’t refuse” to help them naturally cut back
- limiting the amount of time they can stay on the breast — for example, some moms will sing three verses of the “ABC song” and then unlatch after that.
If nothing helps, you can consider weaning. If you decide to wean, make sure to do it gently and gradually so that your child can adjust and that your breasts do not get overfull. Remember that weaning doesn’t mean the end of bonding: You and your child will find new ways to snuggle and be close.
Tandem nursing is a great option for many moms and their children. However, sometimes it can be isolating. You should know that you are not alone.
Many moms tandem nurse — it’s just that much of the nursing of older children happens behind closed doors so you don’t generally see it or hear about it. Many moms don’t share that they are tandem nursing because nursing toddlers or older children is still somewhat of a taboo subject.
If you decide to tandem nurse, consider reaching out for support from a breastfeeding counselor or lactation consultant. Joining a local breastfeeding support group or finding your tribe online can also help immensely.
Tandem nursing can be wonderful, but it’s not without challenges, so finding support will be an essential ingredient to your success.