Tandem nursing refers to breastfeeding two or more babies at once. Like with parenthood, surprises are abundant.
Our first child was almost a year old when I got pregnant with baby number 2. We were nursing frequently, and it was our happy place. I nursed through pregnancy, and then went on to tandem nurse a baby and a toddler. There were definitely a few things that really took me by surprise.
People thought it was weird
Some people even thought it was impossible. I found this very strange, especially in this day in age when information is literally at our fingertips. I admit, I had no experience with tandem nursing before I started this journey. But, I never for one second thought that it was “wrong” or “unhealthy.” I felt that the opposite was true. Nursing was healthy, nurturing, the hug above all hugs, and just generally wonderful.
But when my husband and I announced my pregnancy, many well meaning family and friends and even the pediatrician expressed concern.
Nursing while pregnant? Doesn’t that increase the risk of miscarriage?
What are you going to do about your milk? It’s not good anymore.
You are going to be so tired if you keep nursing your toddler.
And what about when the baby is born? Your toddler is going to take the baby’s milk!
It has taken me years to begin to understand the origin of these thoughts and why in the world someone would actually say them to me out loud.
Here’s what I have learned: In short, if you have absolutely NO experience with something, it can seem scary. People were just afraid for me, and wanted to keep me safe. I’m glad that I had enough sense to do a bit of my own research (and thank goodness for the internet!). Which brings me to my next surprise..
I realized how little I knew
When all the concerns started rolling in, I was literally dumbfounded by the fact that most people (including myself) knew nothing about something that has kept our species alive for a gazillion years.
If you are about to embark on this journey, Adventures in Tandem Nursing by Hilary Flower (2006) was my favorite book on the subject. The author is currently working on a second edition and you can follow her Facebook page to make sure you catch it when it is published.
I also enjoyed reading Mothering your Nursing Toddler by Norma Jane Bumgarner (2000). I know, it’s 17 years old, but I found it to be relevant. Norma Jane was more up to date in 2000 than my pediatrician was in 2013. (He told me that nursing past a year would compromise my daughter’s growth. You can read more about why I didn’t listen to him here.)
Nursing helped me relax during pregnancy
Toddlers like to run around and get into stuff. Pregnant people like to sleep. How did I manage to rest during pregnancy? Literally all I had to do was lie down, and ask my daughter if she wanted to nurse. We would usually both fall asleep. During the first trimester, it did make me feel a little nauseous. But, for me, it was worth it to be able to have a nap.
No milk? No problem
My daughter did not care AT ALL that a few weeks into pregnancy, there was not really any milk there. She started eating more table food and her big Italian extended family was thrilled.
A baby changes everything
I thought that our nursing relationship was “established.” My daughter and I had previously nursed at certain times, she had favorite foods, and she was blossoming into an independent toddler. And then everything changed..
After baby boy was born, our toddler wanted to nurse EVERY time he did.
Table food? She didn’t care. When she nursed, she pointed to my breast as if to say, “there’s milk here!” She even fattened up a bit.
Playing independently? Not any more. She had her eyes on us like a hawk for a good 4 months.
I have since learned that development is not a straight line. It’s more of a curvy, loopy line, and it can sometimes seem like we are moving backwards (parents and children alike).I have since learned that development is not a straight line. It’s more of a curvy, loopy line, and it can sometimes seem like we are moving backwards (parents and children alike). Click To Tweet
My body knew exactly how much milk to produce
We nursed all the time. Sometimes the baby nursed first, sometimes the toddler first. Sometimes they nursed at the same time and then switched sides. I think that sometimes there was more or less milk depending on the time of day and their nursing patterns, but they knew what to do to get their milk. They just stayed on the breast until it came, and it always did. I was in awe of their patience (and mine!)
If you are curious about milk production and tandem nursing during the first days of baby’s life, you can read my article about colostrum here.
Nursing them both at the same time was totally overwhelming
Breastfeeding releases oxytocin, which is the hormone of love. It makes you feel all warm and cuddly, and relaxes you sometimes so much that you drift off to sleep. I thought that nursing two would be like a double dose of oxytocin, and that I would be over the moon with lovey feelings, but I wasn’t. It was too much of a good thing. I guess everyone has a “pleasure limit” when it comes to their bodies.
Tandem nursing saved me at nap time
I usually nursed the kids one at a time, the one exception being when I REALLY wanted them to sleep at the same time. Nursing was a great way to get them to drift off to sleep, so when I was in dire need of a break (or if they really needed a nap), I just breathed through the nursing times two and then somehow wriggled myself away when they both fell asleep. I found it almost impossible to put one to sleep if the other was awake. The afternoon turned into a “who can resist sleep the best” marathon. Tandem nursing really saved me when it came to naps.
I still feel the remnants of our tandem relationship 5 years later
When either of my kids catches sight of my breasts, they smile or laugh or want to cuddle. Sometimes we take a bath together and they both pretend to nurse for 2 seconds and then look at each other and giggle. I think it’s sweet that they have this thing in common, and I believe that they feel very tied together because of it. They both nursed when they were little. And there is nothing “weird” about it.
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