We asked mothers for their experiences of breastfeeding more than one baby at a time
Morna – Nursing my toddlers through each new pregnancy felt completely natural to me. I had decided from early on that each child would let me know when they were ready to end our breastfeeding relationship. There were times when nursing would be more uncomfortable in pregnancy but knowing that my little one was reassured, calmed and encouraged to sleep through this intimate relationship meant that we would continue on as we had started.
Being able to comfort and meet the needs of both a baby and toddler is a wonderful feeling and a real joy to see them nursing together for a variety of different reasons. As each newborn has arrived I have enjoyed that my toddler can participate fully during the snugly, nursing sessions. I am about to embark on the next tandem feeding relationship with the arrival of our next baby. I have a huge sense of relief knowing that our newborn will be mothered through breastfeeding and that our toddler will continue on his journey too.
Sarah – When it comes to tandem nursing, you go through the questions of pregnancy – To wean, to not wean? Will they wean themselves? Will you want to gently wean them as the milk flow slows? Do you read How weaning happens or Adventures in Tandem nursing or do you see what happens? Then one day, you have two children feeding, and you’re working out the dynamics of your newly expanded family.
And then soon, you realise your babies are bigger and the questions change. The books have all run out. What do you do with a three year old when they nurse more than an 18 month old? How do you night wean one and not the other? How can they both feed with different boundaries? How do you wean the older one? The one thing to remember … you are doing a great job. Whether you’re getting an older child through the pain of the monster teeth, coping with a three week growth spurt, calming tantrums, comforting from a bashed knee or feeding either or both all night, you’re giving them both everything they need.
You have needs too – and lying in bed feeding both of them and zoned out with a book isn’t depriving them in any way. Also, you are not alone. It can feel it, tandem feeding older children, but there are people who are there or who have been there before and they can cheer you on. Feeding older children, and tandem feeding, comes with so many challenges and joys, just as any relationship does. You will make the right decisions for all three (or more!) of you.
Emma – It’s the best thing I’ve ever done. It’s allowed my eldest to self-wean (when he does). I feel it’s stopped some of the jealousy that might have been there.
Anna – I nursed through pregnancy despite severe aversion, nipple soreness and nausea. Neither myself or my two year old wanted to give up such a special relationship and I hoped that once baby arrived, things would become easier and that it would make the transition to having a sibling easier for my first child. In reality I found nursing two very hard, with strong feelings of only wanting to feed the baby, and I finally weaned my toddler when the baby was six weeks old which was the last thing I had wanted as I feared he would feel that the baby had literally taken his place! In the end though it was a relief, as I think my negative feelings had confused things for both of us. Once I was clear, he accepted it, and this way we could at least move on, although I had great sadness too. It was an early and hard lesson in trying to balance meeting the needs of two children with also looking after myself.
Kate – I’m tandeming, although I actually found it quite hard. I can share my thoughts but they aren’t particularly positive. Now we are down to morning (and not always) for my eldest it’s ok. He’s never resented the baby or questioned why the baby can have ‘bo’ but not him for which I love him even more dearly. I said we would stop nursing to sleep after Christmas and he’s actually been fine with that. In fact, I love our snuggly story reading bedtimes now whereas previously I was so unconnected to him desperately trying to distract myself through the feed by playing games on my phone. In fact, that’s how I got through most of his feeds while pregnant and since J was born. I became anxious when we were out that he would ask to feed alongside the baby.
When the baby arrived he wanted to nurse all the time. The positive was my milk came in very quickly post emergency C-section and my baby’s tongue tie didn’t affect his feeding. But I was pinned to the sofa for hours and not by the newborn! Who knows, perhaps the transition for my little boy becoming a big brother would have been harder for him without nursing, but I believe sleeping with them both has done far more for their bond than tandem feeding. If I was lucky enough to have a third baby, I probably wouldn’t tandem feed if I could find a way to gently wean.
However, each child is very different. My first baby would feed all the time, loves to comfort nurse, loves ‘bo’ more than anything. My second baby is totally different. He doesn’t comfort feed, his feeds are quick and efficient, he’s only seven months and he’s much more interested in food and water than his brother was. So maybe he will wean naturally earlier anyway. I suppose I think it’s so complex and different for everyone. My journey was obviously shaped by my little boy who loved breastfeeding as much as anyone could love anything and it solved everything for us. As a baby and toddler it made being his mum very easy and when all is said and done I couldn’t imagine mothering a child without breastfeeding.
Ruth – There is 20 months between my girls, and they are both long weaned now, but one thing that I remember incredibly clearly is how absolutely enormous my toddler’s head became apparently overnight, when seen at the breast next to her sister’s.
Mirjam – Tandem nursing has been so beneficial to us. Lots of milk to go round for all meant the new arrival wasn’t such a threat (actually in those early weeks l often asked my toddler to help with my leaking breasts!). And although l sometimes felt incapacitated sitting on the sofa – which l would have done with just the one nursling anyway – at least l knew they were close, safe and getting nutritious food. I also loved the times when they were holding hands, looking at each other and inventing games at the breast together.
Gisella – Tandem nursing really helped my daughter (who was 16 months old at the time) bond with her new little sister and not feel threatened by her arrival. Despite some initial technical and emotional difficulties, seeing my two girls hold each other’s hand when nursing would fill me with immense joy. Knowing that my body was nourishing not one, but two little people, was very empowering. And when our little boy joined the family less than two years later we had a chance to repeat that wonderful experience!
Sarah – I was quite apprehensive about breastfeeding through pregnancy but I got lots of reassurance and support from my local group. I decided to see how things went once the baby was born and ended up tandem feeding for 20 months until my eldest self-weaned. I think the ongoing comfort of nursing really helped my eldest adjust to the massive change to our family when my youngest was born. Tandem feeding was much easier than I expected and I’m glad I let my children lead the way.
Ruth – I tandem fed twice. It was two completely different experiences. I do think bringing a new baby into a family creates changes for everyone however you choose to manage this transition. At times it was completely overwhelming. I suspect life might have been just as overwhelming but in a different way without the tandem feeding.
Ali – I really wanted to tandem feed our son and his little sister when she arrived so continued nursing into my pregnancy. However, at around twelve weeks pregnant I started to have a terrible aversion to breastfeeding in addition to breast tenderness and nipple pain. After a few more weeks I think my milk began to dry up because Callum started to fuss more which in turn increased my discomfort. It’s hard to describe the aversion but it made me feel quite mad, really angry and very painful.
Sadly, I weaned him at 6 months pregnant as I couldn’t keep going. It made me very upset and still does since I believe he would have benefitted from the closeness of tandem nursing with his sister. He wasn’t very keen on her arrival and didn’t like to be near her in the first months so refused to nurse after her birth when I had milk again. I tell myself it was how it was meant to be; evolution and my hormones put my baby’s nutrition before my toddler’s comfort, but it was still a distressing time and I would love to have tandem fed our children.
Natalie – My experience was fairly mixed. I found it much harder than I thought it would be. I loved breastfeeding but during pregnancy (and for the first few weeks of tandem feeding), every time my elder child latched on I had an overwhelming feeling of needing to put him down and run away. It’s difficult to explain the feeling but I have read about other tandem feeding mothers experiencing similar.
Also it was entirely unsupported by medical professionals that I came across. After I had given birth the doctor came in to discharge me and said “I’ve spoken with your husband about you stopping breastfeeding your elder one”. I hadn’t asked for her advice at all and certainly did not intend to stop breastfeeding him. They also sent a midwife to my room who was apparently the breastfeeding support person at the hospital. She told me some rubbish about how breastfeeding my eldest would mean I didn’t make suitable milk for my baby. At that point I was a breastfeeding counsellor for the NCT and felt fairly confident in what I was doing so I told her she was talking rubbish and she stormed out muttering about me not listening to her. I could hear her outside my door talking about me.
On the other hand, my son was born early (37 weeks officially, but I knew he was actually a week or two younger than this) and had problems feeding. For the first couple of weeks he wasn’t coordinated enough to latch and feed correctly. I didn’t have to worry about my supply because I was tandem feeding and eventually he managed to get the hang of it and breastfed successfully. Despite the problems that I had I would definitely tandem feed again though.
Peggy – Tandem feeding, for us, meant a way of easing the three of us into life as a family of four. During pregnancy, my older daughter was close enough to me to really see and feel the differences in my body. When our baby was born, she could have that same closeness with me, and with her sister too. My husband could see our gentle way of growing and mimic that in his own way to reassure our eldest daughter of her important place in our family. During our year of tandem feeding, the girls were sometimes calm, sometimes playful and sometimes pushed each other away. But the constant was that their mum was there for them both.
Mary – I found myself tandem feeding, as my eldest was just not ready to give up her milk when I got pregnant. The first thing I remember doing was reading Adventures in Tandem Nursing so I knew what I was in for. When the GP told me I’d need to stop nursing as I was pregnant, I knew that was wrong! L nursed regularly throughout my pregnancy, dry nursing for about a month around 7 months until the colostrum came in. She nursed during labour, which helped my stop/start labour keep going. Who needs artificial hormones, when you have the real thing?
Then as soon as A was born and had her first feed, they both nursed together. For about the next year it seemed, that every time they nursed, it was at the same time. So L, then 2.5 years old went back to feeding on a newborn schedule. And pretty much dropped the solids for a month, and piled the weight on. A had to learn to control the flow of milk rather than work for it. She never dropped below her birth weight, just went up from day one, as I was making colostrum in toddler quantities.
I remember it being very tiring, but easier to nurse them both together, rather than try and nurse them separately. I got quite practiced at sitting on the sofa, with a toddler one side and a baby the other, reading them a book while nursing. We used to tandem feed out and about often too, I found all the tops I could that allowed me to do so fairly discreetly. Once they were a bit bigger, I would often have one in the sling, say on the bus, and the other would snuggle up and ask for milk. It was generally easier to just let them both nurse, rather than try and put them off. Bed times were when I most felt like a contortionist. With one latched on one side, with me curled round the toddler, and baby balanced on the other hip, lying on top of me, and latched on to nurse to sleep. Overall I found it a very positive experience, and I think it has helped minimise the sibling rivalry/competitiveness in our family, as well as boosting their health and immunity.
Edited by Emma Gardner, send your thoughts to us at email@example.com
This column was originally published in Breastfeeding Matters issue 212 (Mar/April 2016)