Breastfeeding for Two: Tandem Nursing

By Debbie Page, RN, IBCLC, CEIM, director of

tandem nursingDid you ever think you would be considering nursing two children at the same time? Probably most of us haven’t thought about that, but many women have done it. Known as tandem nursing, it happens all the time with twins and triplets but can be done also be done with children of different ages – for example, nursing your newborn while continuing to nurse your toddler.

Depending on where you live, tandem nursing may be looked upon as strange and done only for the mother’s sake: “She is just too attached to her children.”

Here, we go again – everyone wants to tell mothers how to mother. That’s not all bad, typically, but many of the mothering or parenting styles in the last 60 years have been all about detachment – a desire to create a completely independent child from birth: “You don’t want your children to be clingy or immature. You want strong, intelligent, mature adults and that only comes if you start teaching your babies or children to separate from you from birth.” Whoa…wait a minute. According to whom? Isn’t it really the opposite? It is the children that are held, cooed to, whispered to, nurtured, and allowed to breastfeed until they are ready to wean that blossom into these incredible adults with their emotional needs having been met.

Many women become pregnant before their nursing child has weaned. They continue to nurse throughout the pregnancy, and when the baby is born, they tandem nurse. Breasts that make milk can make more milk; therefore, you can nurse several children and have plenty of milk for each. I recently read an article written by a mother tandem-nursing all four of her children.

Why Tandem Nurse?

Tandem nursing allows your older nursling to continue breastfeeding until he weans himself, which, for humans, takes place on average at two and one-half years old, although children have been known to breastfeed naturally to seven years old.

For the mother, the longer you breastfeed, the more protection you have against breast, cervical, uterine, and ovarian cancer. Sitting or lying down to nurse during your pregnancy can also help you rest and relax for a few minutes throughout your day.

Letting a child continue nursing provides all of the huge benefits nursing affords, including:

  • Continuous supply of antibodies for protection against illnesses.
  • Healthy building of all the cells in the body and therefore all systems in the body. Breast milk is only 10-percent nutrition; the other 90 percent is designed to build every system in the body. In contrast, formula is only nutrition.
  • Ability to continue to meet the emotional needs of the older child.
  • Development of the lower jaw and palate, which means more room for teeth and may mean no orthodontia needs.
  • Fewer allergies and/or delayed reactions to allergies.
  • Nutritionally superior food.

Tandem nursing will ease the arrival of the new baby into your nursling’s life. It can help with any engorgement in those first days after your milk comes in. Nursing the older sibling at the same time as the baby will occupy her when you are feeding the baby.

What Can I Expect in the First Weeks after the New Baby Arrives?

For starters, anticipate that anytime you bring a newborn baby into your home, it is going to be intense, chaotic, and labor intensive. A new baby equals a huge adjustment for all. Fatigue, fatigue, and more fatigue is the story of all new parents, especially parents of the second, third, or so on child. With nursing two or more children, you may experience more fatigue.

There will be a learning curve of figuring out how to make tandem nursing work. Also, your older child may have more frequent stools due to the laxative effect of colostrum.

How Will Tandem Nursing Change My Current Nursing Relationship?

Siblings of the new baby, depending on their age, often regress into infantile behavior. This may still happen with your older nursling. Your older child may suddenly want to nurse all the time. You either go with the flow or set limits. The older nursling may also have temper tantrums or whininess around nursing. Having to share the “num num” may not be within the older child’s comprehension. Your older child may not want to wait for the baby to finish.

You may find yourself feeling irritated with nursing your older child. If you find yourself short of temper, you will want to revisit the idea of tandem nursing. It may be that weaning the older child is in the best interest of the family.

How Do I Breastfeed Two Children?

You will probably nurse the newborn first, although some mothers find that nursing both children at the same time works great. You may want to assign each child a breast. Try lying on your side to nurse your newborn. Your older nursling can lean over your side and nurse on the upper breast.

Something that is very important is support. Make friends with other mothers that either are or support tandem nursing. It will help if you encounter any criticism.

Relax, let the housework go, let your friends and relatives help you, and enjoy these brief periods of your children’s lives. Tandem nursing may just be your answer to letting your children wean naturally as nature intended. They grow up all too quickly. Let’s not pressure our children into premature weaning.

3 thoughts on “Breastfeeding for Two: Tandem Nursing”

  1. I am struggling with tandem nursing at the moment. My older son is 2 and a half and his brother is 6 weeks. My older child nursed right through my pregnancy even though my milk diminished at the end. He tended to nurse at bedtime and naptime (when I was home). Now it’s hard to be available to nurse him at these times, it depends on what his brother is doing, if he needs to be fed, held, changed etc.

    I’ve not had much luck with tandem nursing because my older child wants to nurse mainly lying down as this is what he was used to for the last year. I will try the suggestion of having him lean over me but we tried this once and I found it awkward. Anyone have any other suggestions? I know he is not yet ready to wean and want to make sure he feels included and loved and doesn’t develop resentment towards his brother.

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