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Tandem Breastfeeding - Is It For You?

Tandem breastfeeding is not an easy commitment at all. The term is used to describe the process of breastfeeding an older child when a baby is born and also breastfed.

Tandem breastfeeding siblings

Breastfeeding twins or higher multiples is not tandem breastfeeding. When considering tandem nursing a mother needs to weigh all the pros and cons and work out a solution best fit for her situation.

1. Older child's age

General recommendation in the US is to exclusively breastfeed for 6 months and then breastfeed during solids until the baby turns one. In Europe, 2 years is the recommended breastfeeding minimum.

You are well protected from getting pregnant during the first 6 months after the delivery, if you breastfeed exclusively day and night and your period is not back yet. This is how nature ensures that your younger child gets the best out of your milk. Visit Getting Pregnant While Breastfeeding to learn more.

Even if you do get pregnant soon after the delivery, the earliest you will have your baby is when your older one is at least 10 months old, so he/she will be past exclusive breastfeeding and on solids. Read more about Breastfeeding While Pregnant.

If the older child is getting close to the first/second birthday you can safely wean before newborn’s appearance. Make sure you allow enough time (3-4 months is ideal) after weaning and before the delivery.

The longer your older child goes without the breast, but with your undivided love and attention, the better he/she will adjust to the appearance of the baby. Weaning closer to the delivery may trigger insecurity, jealousy and desire to return to breast.

2. Your lifestyle and physical ability

Tandem breastfeeding is by definition twice as difficult and time-consuming. Some women are able to tandem feed siblings simultaneously and spend no more time and effort on it than on nursing a single baby. Hope it is your story too, but it may be the other way around. So it is best to be ready.

What has your tandem nursing experience been like? Click here to share your story with me and other moms!

If after the delivery you plan on returning to work soon, working from home a lot, or being otherwise occupied with any other time-consuming activity and your older child is past the recommended age minimum, consider weaning. It is also a good alternative if your physical abilities are somehow limited.

If you decide to tandem nurse, here are some things worth knowing:

  • Your newborn is your priority unless you master simultaneous nursing. Work out a routine to help older child with waiting for his/her turn. Think of some activities and responsibilities that only the older child and only while the younger is nursing can perform. This way your toddler will start feeling like an older sibling – responsible and a go-to person. Talk to your older child, many kids are able to understand and accept the way things are – do not underestimate them!
  • You may need help from someone in the family, especially during emotional moments of tantrums or jealousy.  I find one book by Hilary Flower particularly helpful if you want to prepare for tandem nursing more fundamentally - "Adventures in Tandem Nursing: Breastfeeding During Pregnancy and Beyond".
  • Your mature milk will turn into colostrum closer to delivery or right after. Your older child will still benefit hugely from it and will stimulate faster milk production.

Beware of stool changes. Your toddler’s stool may change to more watery while on colostrum. Colostrum is a natural laxative. This is normal and will go away when mature milk comes in.

  • If you are tandem breastfeeding simultaneously, give your newborn the fuller breast first. After a couple of feedings you will figure out what his/her needs are. Double stimulation will greatly increase your milk supply, and you will most likely have enough milk for both kids. But until you figure it out, make sure your little one gets the breast with more milk.  
  • In simultaneous nursing football hold will be your best breastfeeding position. Your newborn will be placed next to you parallel to your body with his/her feet behind you. There is more flexibility about positioning your older child at the other breast. Let him/her rule. Visit Positioning section to read more.
  • Tandem nursing, if organized correctly and with solid prior preparation, can be a great bonding experience for the kids. It may also help the older child adjust to a new member in the family. Turn feeding session into a secret act that the older child is tasked to share with the baby.

Your Older Child Wants To Nurse Again?

Some toddlers want to return to breast after they weaned when they see the baby nursing. It is especially common if weaning happened shortly before the delivery. With the arrival of a new baby, your older child may feel like breast is the best way to get your attention, love and time.

It is extremely important to squeeze spending time with your older child into your busy schedule. Do not split care of each child between you and your spouse. Even if your older child is easier to take care of now, and your baby is a priority, the older one should be involved into the process, not separated from it. If your toddler is occupied with older brother/sister responsibilities, he/she is less likely to ask for the breast.

If your toddler insists on nursing, let him/her have some of your milk in a cup. First of all, if he/she is drinking cow’s milk, breast milk will taste strange.

Secondly, having an easy access to the milk (in a cup) may very well satisfy your child’s curiosity. If your toddler likes it, there is nothing wrong with pumping or hand expressing some milk for him/her on a regular basis. Not only will it boost the immune system, it will as well increase your milk supply.

Once weaned, try not to go back to actually breastfeeding your older child. It may be twice as difficult to wean again later.

Many women choose extended breastfeeding for their older children to specifically tandem breastfeed when the new baby arrives. They view this as the best adjustment plan for the toddler. They make it so that the older child takes pride in spending this breast time with the younger sibling and the mother.

Tandem breastfeeding success depends on your personal situation and determination. It may be a great parenting tool for the older child and a great relaxation and quiet time for you.

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