It Takes Two to Tandem by Isobel Benesch
The Positives, Challenges, and Tips for Tandem Nursing a Newborn and a Toddler
Tandem Breastfeeding. Two words that I had honestly never given a second thought. Words that in my mind were reserved for the extreme “hippies” and not something that a “normal” mother such as myself would do. And yet, here I am, tandem breastfeeding my newborn and my toddler.
In the middle of 2016, just before we moved across the world from California to New Zealand embarking on one of the biggest adventures in our lives, we found out that life had another adventure in store for us – baby number three.
At the time I found out I was pregnant, I was still nursing my 18 month old toddler and in the process of uprooting our family of four from the only home my toddler had ever known, traveling for six months straight, and moving to a brand new country. The thought of weaning with all of the upending life changes that were coming at us felt overwhelming and I was worried about the emotional impact it would have on both of us, especially with the pregnancy hormones surging through my body. It was a source of comfort and closeness that we both needed during such a big transition in our lives.
I had nursed the first six months of my second pregnancy with my first child before we came to a point in the second trimester (sore nipples and changes in milk taste) that we were both ready to happily end our nursing relationship. I assumed the same would happen during this pregnancy.
As people began to question if I was planning to tandem nurse, I quickly responded no as if they were crazy for thinking such a thing. He would naturally lose interest in breastfeeding I told myself. As he gets more and more active trying to keep up with his older brother, he will lose interest. When my milk production slows down during early pregnancy, he will lose interest. When my bump gets bigger and bigger, he will lose interest. When my milk changes taste during my second trimester, he will lose interest. And yet, he didn’t lose interest, not even a bit.
My pregnancy flew by and I continued to nurse my toddler. Before I knew it, my newborn was at one breast and my toddler was at the other. I was officially tandem breastfeeding.
Overall, tandem nursing is an amazing experience and something I am grateful to be able to do, but like every new thing, it has had it’s ups and downs. We are now at the six week mark and I wanted to share my experience, the positives, challenges, and tips for other mothers considering this journey.
The Positives of Tandem Nursing
There have been a number of benefits from Tandem Nursing.
My milk came in really quickly. Within 24 hours after birth, my milk was in which meant my newborn gained weight quickly and slept for longer stretches from the very get-go. He is still gaining weight at an incredible pace, and I haven’t had to worry about issues with my supply.
My toddler helped with engorgement and plugged ducts. During those first couple of weeks, I often woke up in the middle of the night or early hours of the morning with overly full breasts which were not only painful, but could potentially lead to plugged ducts or mastitis, something I experienced after the birth of my second child. My toddler helped to relieve the engorgement which also made it easier for my newborn to latch afterwards without getting a spray of milk in his face.
Connection with toddler. I have always loved breastfeeding and the bonding that occurs during nursing, but I have found that, for some reason, tandem nursing my toddler has increased that bond tenfold. Knowing that my toddler needs that extra source of comfort and security during this time of transition and that I am able to give it to him in this way, has created a closeness between us that is hard to explain. I find myself looking forward to these moments of peace in the busyness of everyday life that I get to share with him. It’s in these moments that I feel as though I’m freezing time. The world will continue to spin and whirl around us in a flurry of activity and a blur of daily tasks and monotony, but as he nurses, time slows down and we reconnect with one another.
Bond between siblings. Perhaps the sweetest thing that surprised me the most about tandem nursing is the beautiful bond that my toddler and newborn have while breastfeeding. A bond that is born and growing before my very eyes in the time that they share together, intertwined finger tips placed on my chest as they share nursing and gaze at one another. My toddler will hold the baby’s hand, pat his head, rub his back. They share a connection on a level that even I don’t understand.
The Challenges of Tandem Nursing
As with any new thing, change, or transition in our lives, there takes some adjusting on all parts and I think that some of the challenges are what any new mother, tandem nursing or not, experiences with adjusting to life with a newborn, such as lack of sleep, hormonal changes, and post-partum recovery. The most challenging aspect of tandem nursing was my toddler’s desire to nurse 24/7, so be prepared for your toddler to want to nurse like a newborn again. This is something that I hadn’t prepared myself for and I think that knowing this beforehand (and that it would only be a part of the transition) may have made it more manageable for me. My toddler who had been nursing once or twice a day during my pregnancy starting nursing all day long (and even waking a few times at night to nurse). Anytime I was nursing the baby, my toddler would stop whatever he was doing and run straight over to join in and there was no diverting his attention. My toddler was nursing every single time my newborn nursed and even in between the nursing sessions. I found myself overwhelmed and frustrated that he wanted to nurse so frequently. There were times I had wished to just connect with my new baby without the juggling involved with tandem nursing. Although, this behaviour only lasted for the first couple of weeks. My toddler is no longer interested in nursing every single time the baby is nursing and has gone back to his usual nursing schedule of once or twice a day. In hindsight, it would have been easier to adjust to his increased feedings if I would have known it was simply a transitional behavior.
Tips for Tandem Nursing
Drink lots of water. You will be thirsty, almost all of the time. At the beginning I felt as though I couldn’t satisfy my thirst.
Let your newborn nurse first to ensure that he or she is getting enough to eat. During the first week, you will be producing colostrum so it’s important to let the baby nurse from the fullest breast first and offer the toddler the same breast afterwards. After the first week or so when your milk comes in, it’s not as important. I usually offer one side to my newborn and one side to my toddler.
Take care of yourself. Tandem nursing is a lot of work, not only physically, but emotionally as well. Your body is producing milk for two and there are days that you might feel like all you do is breastfeed. As any new mom will tell you (tandem feeding of not), you will likely feel exhausted and worn down some days. Take some time to yourself whether it’s a long shower, a walk around the block, or heading to a friend’s house for an hour.
Give your toddler empathy. The transition to a new baby in the house is a huge change for everyone, but even more so for a toddler who might not fully understand what is happening. When it comes to tandem nursing, your toddler will need to learn to wait as the baby latches, take turns with sides, and share something that was once only his or hers. Be aware that a lot of what is hard is having to teach your toddler about waiting, patience, and taking turns which is something that you would need to teach them regardless of tandem nursing. During those stressful confrontations, it’s hard to remember, and easy to say “I wouldn’t be dealing with this if I wasn’t tandem breastfeeding” but you would, eventually. It is important to remind yourself of these things and that this is the perfect opportunity right here.
Tandem nursing is a very rewarding experience for not just myself, but also for my two little ones. Even with the challenges involved, I cherish the peaceful moments where I sit back on the couch with two of my babies’ bodies pressed against mine and we bond in the midst of our busy day. I know these moments when our children are young are fleeting, so I try to soak it all in and enjoy every minute.