To tandem or not to tandem (Part 2 of series on preparing for baby #2)

This is the second post in a series on preparing for a second baby. If you haven’t read it already, check out the first part What on Earth Were We Thinking?

In [my] attachment parenting circles nursing into toddlerhood is common. A lot of parents strive for child-led weaning or at the very least gradual and gentle weaning. What that means is that a lot of moms are still nursing their first child when they get pregnant with the second (especially if they believed the myth that you can’t get pregnant while nursing, which is only true under certain circumstances for a limited time period).

Breastfeeding during pregnancy

First of all, I want to stress that breastfeeding during pregnancy is safe for almost all moms. Some doctors used to think that it was unsafe and unfortunately not all of them have updated their knowledge on this topic. My doctor expressed concern about it when I told her that I was nursing and I had the pleasure of updating her on this issue.

My experience was that breastfeeding during pregnancy has both positive and negative aspects to it. On the positive side, toddlers can be very very busy. Sometimes the only time they will settle down and take a break is if they are nursing. This was the case with my son and being able to sit down or lie down to nurse him was a welcome break from chasing him around. But on the negative side, breastfeeding during pregnancy can be painful. Sometimes it felt like my son was biting or digging in his teeth, when really it was just the hormones of pregnancy making it feel that way.The other negative is that your milk will likely dry up during pregnancy, which can contribute to the discomfort of nursing while pregnant and may also upset your child.

Jane (@janefriar) said:

Honestly, the thought of tandem nursing scared me almost as much as the thought of people judging me about tandem or extended nursing.  During my 2nd trimester, my supply did diminish quite a bit, and my daughter did cut back on nursing quite a bit, but she never came close to letting go, and I knew we would be tandem nursing. I bought the book Adventures in Tandem Nursing early on, and I found the forums at the kellymom website enormously supportive.

Naomi from Mama’s Applecores said:

I went into pregnancy with the thought that I would likely tandem nurse, or at least not push my son to wean during my pregnancy.  My milk dried up fairly quickly and I stopped pumping for him at work by the time I was about six weeks pregnant.  But he kept nursing.  There were times when I wanted to scream “get this kid off me” and run away, but I didn’t.  And when my colostrum came in he became even more enthusiastic about nursing.  A part of me wanted him to wean, but a large part of me knew that this was very important to him and he needed it.  He needed the mommy time.  He needed the closeness and the security.  It was His thing and with all that was about to happen in his world he did not need that to be taken away.  During my pregnancy he found another lovely, too – my bellybutton.  Boob and bellybutton. Two necessities.

Finding another lovey, or another way of comforting my son was also key for me. I did want to be able to continue nursing him, but I couldn’t nurse him all the time. It just hurt too much. So through my pregnancy I started rubbing his back and singing to him when he woke at night while I was nursing him and then slowly, with time, I tried to make the nursing sessions shorter and used more of the back rubbing and singing instead. I was open to either having him wean or tandem nursing and he ended up weaning when I was about 7.5 months pregnant. I’d like to say that he weaned when he was ready, but it is fully possible that he weaned because of the pregnancy. I’d like to say it was child-led weaning, but I don’t know if I can own that label completely and I don’t know that I care all that much about the label. I know he was ready to wean when he did and I have no regrets.

Some toddlers will wean, others will keep nursing. If you had asked me at the start of my pregnancy or even part way through, I would have thought that my son was going to continue and that I would end up tandem nursing. Naomi and Jane felt that way too and did end up nursing two.

Robin from woowoomama‘s son bean, like my son, did end up weaning right at the end of her pregnancy. Here she talks about the transition they made as they were changing their approach to sleep (more on that in the next installment):

i should mention that at the same time the bean was transitioning to nursing less, and my milk was drying up, he discovered a raised mole on my belly right near my belly button and fell deeply in love.  when he stopped his night nursing he replaced it with middle of the night mole caressing.  he was gentle with his new lovey and it seemed like it would be easier for me to manage nursing a newborn and being stroked on the belly then nursing two so i just embraced the transition.

Tandem nursing

I didn’t end up tandem nursing myself, so I can’t speak from experience, but I do hope to share some wisdom from those that did.

Naomi describes her experience beautifully:

We had a homebirth, and our son participated in labor until the last few minutes when my parents arrived to take him for the night.  Our son was aware (as aware as a 2.6 year old can be) of what was going on, and when he arrived back home the next morning he was excited and shy to see his new sister.  And one of the first things they did was nurse together.  He shared his boobs with her.  They shared mommy. They shared my lap and my love.  Not that he would have had to nurse to do that, but for our family it was right.  It really was.

I quickly found that tandem nursing my children had its own set of complications.  Nursing both my children at the same time was complicated for me for a variety of reasons, and it also made me again want to run away and hide.  So after the first few weeks (or was it days?) I tried to limit the amount of time that they were nursing together.  I often nursed our son before the baby since I knew that if I nursed her he would want to nurse.  If I nursed him first he was more likely to be happy and accommodating while she nursed.  We found our way and what worked for us.  There have been moments when I wished that he would wean, but truly, if he had weaned I would have been sad.

Now, and 3.5 years and 9 months old, my children still both nurse. They never nurse at the same time, and I think my toddler would nurse more than my baby if I would let him.  I am starting to actively reduce my son’s dependence on nursing and find other ways for him to get his mommy fix.  He lays his head on my chest and says goodnight to the boobs, kissing each one and then adding a “poke, poke” with his finger.  And my bellybutton gets the same treatment.

Jane has also had a positive experience with tandem nursing, but taken a somewhat different approach from Naomi:

When the baby was born, my older daughter was very helpful in relieving my engorgement and has helped to control my oversupply. I didn’t nurse them at the same time very much in the beginning, and honestly I wasn’t excited about doing that. But now I find I am much more comfortable nursing them both at the same time, and it really helps to “save the day” sometimes. They each have their own “side”. My older daughter is so much more happy and relieved of stress when I nurse her with her little sister. My husband travels quite a bit, and the first time he went away I was petrified, but now I can nurse the both to sleep in no time.

Even though I didn’t tandem nurse, I found that I needed to take time to figuratively nurse my son. Even if he wasn’t breastfeeding, he did need the physical closeness that comes with nursing. I had to give him time on my lap and time to cuddle. Even though I would have been fine with my daughter having all of her naps in a sling, we did set up the playpen so that I could put her down during some naps at home in order to have some time to cuddle with my first baby.


For more information on breastfeeding during pregnancy and tandem nursing see:

Annie blogs about the art and science of parenting at PhD in Parenting. She’s enjoying nursing a two year old without the pain that comes with being pregnant.

3 thoughts on “To tandem or not to tandem (Part 2 of series on preparing for baby #2)”

  1. I couldn’t nurse my fist passed 8 months. I just dried up, no matter what I did.
    I am actually hoping that whis time around I can nurse both my first and my second born together. That would be super cool!

  2. I’ve tandem fed 4 of my 5 children and breastfed through 3 pregnancies. I had to end up weaning my 4th child to achieve pregnancy with my 5th. There are times it was hard, most particularly when it hurt a lot when I was pregnant. (This did help me appreciate that the similar pain I experience feeding after birth is a hormonal thing for me, not an attachment problem). There have been many positives. It is so beautiful to see 2 children feeding together, holding hands, patting each others faces and gazing into each others eyes. They were bonding with each other at the same time as they were bonding with me.

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