The How-to of Nursing Two
By Gwen Morrison
Many mothers begin to think about becoming pregnant again during the first year of their infant’s life. The mother who is breastfeeding one child and decides to have another may be faced with nursing more than two children at a time: tandem nursing.
Tandem nursing is the art of breastfeeding two children of different ages during the same time period. This doesn’t always mean that you are physically nursing both children at the same time, although some women do.
Tandem nursing is the art of breastfeeding two children of different ages during the same time period.
Why Do It?
“When a mother becomes pregnant while still nursing, she may feel that the first baby should be allowed to nurse as long as he still has the need,” says Ann Calandro, RNC, IBCLC, a certified lactation consultant and former tandem-nursing mother from Waxhaw, N.C. “Nursing allows her the feeling of closure and completion of this relationship. She has to decide if she is going to nurse through the pregnancy. It is a very individual decision, which involves a lot of soul searching. The older child will still benefit nutritionally from the milk, although the amount will be decreased during the pregnancy.”
Joan Kratz of Noblesville, Ind., made that “very personal decision” with passion. “Tandem nursing rated highly with me,” she says. “It takes some practice, and the babies need to be fairly good at latching on, but the effort was definitely worth it for us.”
It was more than just timesaving to feed both at the same time. “I liked the positive interacting the babies had with each other during those happy, peaceful moments,” Kratz says.
As the mother of four children and a former member of La Leche League, Wanda LaGrave of Hobbs, N.M., considers herself an “old pro” at breastfeeding. Since the birth of her second child, tandem nursing has been a mainstay in her household. “The current nursling was not ready to wean when I became pregnant with the next, so [we] just nursed right through my pregnancy,” she says. “I stopped producing milk at 12 weeks gestation, but it did not seem to bother any of the children. I began to produce colostrum at about 38 weeks gestation, and milk came in about three days after birth with almost all of the experiences.”
What seemed to surprise LaGrave the most was how easy it was to slip into tandem nursing once the new baby was born. Her first-born child didn’t nurse as often as his sibling, but LaGrave says he knew he was free to partake in the feeding while the new infant was breastfeeding.
The American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) New Mother’s Guide to Breastfeeding, says that tandem nursing can in some cases ease your older child’s adjustment to the new baby, address your own desire to maintain closeness with the older child and even make childcare easier in some cases, as both children are fed and comforted on the breast.
Two at a Time?
Do you feed them both at the same time or one at a time? Do they each take turns, nursing on their own schedule?
“Most women who choose to tandem nurse also choose to breastfeed each child individually,” says Calandro. “Frequently, the older baby will nurse after the younger baby has eaten his fill. This way, the mother has the opportunity to spend a little unrestricted time with each child and give individual attention.”
Calandro says that moms who choose to nurse both children at the same time find that sitting up on a bed or a sofa – where there is lots of room to spread out for the older child – works best. “She should arrange the baby in a comfortable position first, and then the more experienced nursling can snuggle in and find a cozy spot as well,” she says. “Positioning is not usually a problem!”
La Grave discovered that it was easiest if the older child sat on her lap and leaned into the cradle of her arm while the baby rested his bottom and feet on the tummy of his sibling. “Once the baby got older, he would make a great game out of kicking his sibling,” she says. “At that point, the best position was separately!”
For How Long?
How long do you continue to nurse two children? “As long as it feels comfortable,” says Kratz. “If your feelings toward your older child’s nursing needs are really becoming negative, definitely start weaning. It will be best for both of you.”
LaGrave was somewhat relieved when her oldest child weaned himself at almost 4 years old. “My second child nursed the longest – he weaned when he was 4,” she says. “He was 2 1/2 when his sister was born. Then I had to wean my third child when the next was only 6 months old, because the older child was drinking milk at a much faster rate, and I didn’t have enough for the baby.”
Now pregnant with her fourth child, LaGrave looks forward to the challenges and joys of another tandem nursing relationship. “I have worked outside the home with all of them, but with the middle two I was able to keep them with me until they were 2 years old,” she says. “It is so nice to come home and sit down to nurse my children, so relaxing. I think it has helped the older child not to feel so displaced by the new baby, and it kept me close to both of them.”
The decision to nurse two children at one time is a personal one. Keep in mind that tandem nursing will be less stressful if you are flexible with which child nurses first, on which breast and for how long. In time, tandem nursing will become as comfortable as breastfeeding just one baby.
“The main benefits are the psychological benefits to mother and child due to the comfort and closeness breastfeeding brings,” says Calandro. “Breastfeeding has always been more than just food.”