A Few Thoughts on Tandem Nursing

Monday, October 02, 2023

Primary Blog/A Few Thoughts on Tandem Nursing

     As I go in to writing about this, the first thought that comes to mind is, “I never thought I’d be a tandem nursing mom.” I’m not sure any mom has that thought or intention going into their breastfeeding journey with single babies, let alone imagining nursing more than one. Planning to breastfeed one is hard enough. When we think of tandem nursing, often we think of moms of multiples, and even then, the narrative I hear many moms of multiples are told is that they likely won’t be able to make enough milk for both/all of their babies (false most of the time, but sets them up for an expectation of formula or a combo of formula and breastfeeding). We often don’t have the belief that our bodies are capable. It feels like far too high of an expectation.

     Often times when we hear the words “tandem nursing” we think one baby in each arm, simultaneously nursing. Beautiful, but not always how it’s done. Many moms have found that nursing two babies at the same time, be it twins, or a toddler and infant, to save time and prevent meltdowns; still, it can be physically taxing to nurse this way every time. Often we find ourselves eventually in a rhythm of nursing one and then the other. Sometimes, babies will self designate a side. Sometimes they don’t care. Sometimes we designate one a side. Amazing that when a toddler nurses on one side primarily, and an infant nurses on the other side, each breast will make a different composition of milk suited to meet the needs of that child. Wow!

     I have found tandem nursing to be both beautiful and exhausting; helpful and trying, and I have both loved it and hated it at times. Tandem nursing has been a useful tool. I believe it has helped my daughter transition to having a younger sibling. It has immense immune system benefits for both babies and toddlers. My ample supply from nursing a toddler led to less breastfeeding difficulties in the early days with my son, and thankfully, my daughter also helped relieve engorgement, clogged ducts, and helped prevent mastitis in the early days, when my son was still so little (tongue tied) and getting used to nursing. The times I’ve nursed them both at the same time I can count on two hands. It’s gotten significantly harder on my body now that they’re both toddlers (nearly 4 and nearly 2) but each time I’ve done it I felt like a superwoman. Whether you’re nursing one, two, three or however many babies for however long you nurse for it’s an incredible task. Meeting a human being’s physical and emotional needs in that way, being there to support them through immense physiological and mental growth and development is incredible and important work. The most important work I’ve ever done. The most physically demanding, the least compensated in terms of money, but the most fulfilling by far.

     This takes me into my next thought, what do I tell someone who wants to know about tandem nursing? Much of what I tell mamas who are going into tandem nursing is the same I tell those who nurse singletons. With the main difference being, yes, your body is capable of making milk for two babies. Be that twins, or a newborn and a toddler, your body can make that milk.

1.  There are a lot of ways to do it right. With tandem nursing, there are a variety of feeding positions, rhythms, versions of feeding/pumping, and you will find out what works best for you. My job is to support and help in whatever feels best for each nursing triad (in this case). Some moms of twins prefer to nurse both babies anytime one is hungry, to help them get on a similar feeding schedule and save some time. Some moms prefer to never really nurse both babies at the same time and find that one at a time works best. For mamas who nurse an infant and a toddler, often we recommend feed infant first. But in these cases there is often ample supply and toddler feedings can be shorter and more efficient and can help get things flowing for the infant. So yes, rule of thumb is to nurse newborn first, but in the midst of chaotic newborn days, if that is not always how it works out and baby is growing well, don’t let it be a source of added stress.

2.  Set boundaries. Whether for yourself, your older child, your partner, it’s okay to set boundaries. I often still remind myself of this. Tandem nursing can leave one feeling very touched out by the end of the day. It’s okay to take a break. The pump can be a handy tool for protecting supply if you need that break. We want to remove milk frequently enough to protect that milk supply, but sometimes you just need a good few hours where no one is on a boob and that is okay. If you’re going into a tandem journey with a toddler and infant, you may likely need to set boundaries with your toddler. It’s common for toddlers to want to nurse every time they see baby nurse. Telling them when they can nurse, and being clear can really help. Instead of saying “you can nurse later” or “baby brother is nursing now.” Saying something like, “I love nursing you, and I will nurse you after lunch, or before nap” can help set boundaries and give them the comfort of knowing they will get a turn. Setting up nursing baskets for older toddlers - baskets filled with little toys they can play with while you nurse baby - is a great way to help keep them occupied while you are stuck on the couch (or bed, or chair, or wherever you may be).

3.  Let go of guilt. It’s okay to not love tandem nursing all the time. As I said previously, I have both loved it at times, and hated it at times. And many tandem nursing mamas have said the same. There can be times of agitation followed by guilt for that feeling. Don’t feel guilty. It can feel like a lot, and it can be such a blessing. The two are not mutually exclusive here. However you feel in that moment, know that you and your body are absolutely pulling out all the stops to nourish two babies. It is a physical and mental feat that is nothing short of a miracle. Please let go of any guilt about how you may feel about nursing in any given moment. You’re an amazing mom whether you nurse for 1 day, 1 month, 1 year, nurse 1 baby, 2 babies, never nurse a day in your life. No matter what, you’re a wonderful mother and your baby is so blessed and already loves you so much. Being present for your baby, sitting and holding them, being there as they sleep and develop and grow, and learn all that they are learning. It’s important work. It’s work that may not seem productive on the outside, but it’s incredibly productive and may just be the most important work you do. So let the dishes go, and the laundry pile. You are being productive simply by holding your baby(ies).

4.  Trust your instincts. You don’t owe anyone an explanation. You know what’s best for your babies. Trust that and don’t worry about what anyone else may think.

5.  You may need to eat extra and hydrate more. Breastfeeding is a highly metabolic activity. It requires a high amount of extra calories and fluids to nurse a baby, and even more to nurse two. Be prepared for that. Eat snacks. Have water readily available. Know that your appetite and hydration needs may be heightened for a good amount of time while you are tandem nursing. Eat to hunger and drink to thirst and if you need to implement a household rule (as I did) that “Mom always gets seconds” do that.

     With tandem nursing and nursing singletons, it’s okay to take it one day at a time. We can have a goal in our mind of how long we want to nurse for. We may have visions of these beautiful nursing journeys, and when our expectations aren’t met, we get disappointed. Have those visions, but let go of expectations. Your journey will be beautiful no matter what, I promise. It may not go exactly how you envisioned it before having children, but it will be magnificent nonetheless. Our feeding story, like our birth story, can take unexpected turns, it can bring up emotions we didn’t want, it can supply a perseverence we didn’t know we had, but no matter what, it makes us stronger, and prepares us for exactly the mother we need to be for our children - a role no other will ever be able to fulfull. This journey is yours and your babies’ only. Ride that wave together and know that no matter what, you will look back one day and know you worked incredibly hard, pulled strength from the deepest parts of your soul, the parts that were born when you birthed your babies, the parts that dance between the heavens and the earth, the parts that are truly capable of anything.

Photo Credit: Meg Konig Photography 

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Hi, I Am Donielle

CEO Of Breast to Table

I am a registered dietitian and international board certified lactation consultant. I am also a mom of two. I had a very difficult breastfeeding journey with my oldest and after much support and education, I realized my desire to help others in their journeys. My expertise is in helping women optimize their nutrition during pregnancy, postpartum and throughout their breastfeeding journey. I also help families introduce solids to their little ones through a baby-led approach. I love working with families from preparing the body for breastfeeding, to eating solid foods and weaning - providing support from breast to table.