Thursday, July 09, 2009

Tandem nursing

Several people have asked me about my experience nursing through pregnancy and then tandem nursing a toddler and a newborn. So here goes:

I got pregnant with Dio when Zari was about 21 months old. A few months before that, she had started sleeping in her own room. This helped her sleep longer and better, sometimes the whole night through and other times waking up just once to nurse. Before then, she was still waking up every 2-3 hours to nurse. I think the near cessation of night nursing had something to do with my being able to get pregnant with Dio. My cycles returned at 17 months postpartum, and I had 4 or 5 more before I got pregnant again.

During my first trimester of pregnancy, nursing was uncomfortable. Some women have reported a creepy crawly sensation when they nurse during pregnancy, others say it's terribly painful. It wasn't that bad for me--just sore and tender at times. Fortunately Zari was old enough to understand when. during a nursing session, I told her it hurt a little bit and she needed to stop. During this time we were working on both her sleeping and nursing routines and there were some frustrations. I started having Eric try to get her back to sleep when she woke up at night, and for a few months she would cry for me and ask to nurse. If she became increasingly frantic, I'd come in and snuggle with her. But for the most part, I was done nursing her in the middle of the night. We talked about how "when it's dark outside, we sleep. When it's light outside, we can nurse," since she usually nursed when she woke up in the morning. I found some very helpful tips in Elizabeth Pantley's book The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers and Preschoolers. I can't remember exactly how many times she was nursing at this point, but I'd say 3-4 times a day: when she woke up, going down for a nap, going to sleep, and maybe once more depending on the day.

I noticed a fairly dramatic decrease in my milk supply when I became pregnant. By the second trimester, I couldn't express any milk at all. I guess there may have been a few drops of milk when she was actually nursing, but nothing I could see. Zari didn't seem to mind at all, though. My colostrum started coming in around 7 months pregnant. By time Dio was born it was fairly abundant, definitely more than when I was pregnant with Zari.

Our nursing sessions during pregnancy were not very long, due to my decreased supply and the increased discomfort. I'd take Zari off after just a few minutes. And she'd often come off the breast herself and say she was done. By time Dio was born, she was nursing just twice a day: at naptime and bedtime. I definitely encouraged this pattern, because I knew that I'd be busy nursing the new baby after it was born. We talked a lot about the upcoming birth: how mama would make noise, how the baby would come out of mama's belly, how the new baby would nurse a lot.

For the first two weeks after Dio was born, my mom stayed at our house to help out. She often put Zari down for naps and bedtime, so I was nursing her even less. When she left, the adjustment period started. Every time Zari was tired or frustrated or hurt, she'd throw a fit and ask to nurse. If Eric tried to calm her down, especially at night, she'd scream and get frantic and irrational. Which was just a tad frustrating because I was also dealing with a newborn and now I also had to get up at night, sometimes several times, to calm Zari down. This lasted several weeks. Thankfully we're over it now, and she doesn't ask to nurse every time something happens.

I like having a nursing toddler; for example, when I am engorged and Dio has just gone to sleep, she's more than happy to nurse it off for me. Normally, though, I let her nurse for just a few minutes and then I take her off. If not, she'd keep nursing forever, and it's not the most comfortable thing with a full mouth of teeth. I've only nursed both children at the same time once or twice, and it was quite the circus trying to get them both positioned; I was lying down on my side, so that made it particularly challenging. I definitely prefer one at a time! Zari is really sweet when Dio nurses. She saw me doing breast compression in the first few weeks after he was born, so she began "helping" me by placing her hand on my breast or squeezing it gently. She likes to give me "nursing kisses" (kisses on my breast while Dio is nursing) or to kiss Dio's head while he's nursing.

I don't know how long I'll keep nursing Zari. I'm pretty laid back about it--as long as it's mutually enjoyable for both of us, we'll keep going. There has been some tension, though, between Eric and me over Zari continuing to nurse this long. He thinks she needs to stop, that she's too old, and that she will become too dependent and too attached the longer she continues to nurse. I'm not too worried about that. I've been around enough women who've nursed toddlers and preschoolers to know that they (the children) turn out just fine. And the moms seem okay too!

Speaking of extended breastfeeding, have any of you read the article in the July-August issue of Mothering by Ruth Kamnitzer about breastfeeding in Mongolia? Really fascinating.


  1. thanks for this post. i've been wanting to hear moms' experiences with nursing during pregnancy and tandem nursing because i will most likely be getting pregnant while asher is still nursing and would like to continue it. I hope I'll be able to.

  2. Thanks for posting this. I too am continuing to nurse North through a pregnancy and hopefully beyond. So far, we both have been able to adjust our nursing needs in a positive manner. I feel positive he and I will continue to do well with the added bonus of a newborn and more milk! I also felt the nipple tenderness throughout the pregnancy and was able to night-wean North so that I was more comfortable. I am very appriciative to North that he was able to take the change in a such a postive manner, I think he "grew up" a little faster then I might have expected if I hadn't been pregnant. Yea! for flexibility.

    A few months before Dio was born, you posted a review of a tamdem nursing book that I later used as reference to bolster up my confidence with the decision to continue to nurse. Thank you for that posting. That posting and being part of a great community of parents that pretty much accepts all styles of families has helped me feel supported and valued as a mother. It is good to hear that you and Zari are still doing great with the nursing relationship as well.

  3. Your experiences are very similar to mine. I was surprised to end up tandem nursing as it wasn't really my plan. It just sorta happened. I'm still nursing my almost 4 year old and my 15 month old. I'm not sure the first-born is ever going to give it up as long as her brother is still nursing. I had read a few things, but not much at all, about tandem nursing and everything talked about how close it made the kids. I haven't experienced that though and was surprised at how tough it has been at times. The first couple of months were very rough with the first-born wanting to nurse ALL THE TIME. Now, she still wants to nurse a lot and there is some jealousy involved despite special cuddles and mommy-time. I've put some boundaries around it because I'm pretty ready to be done with nursing her. I have very different feelings about nursing her vs. nursing my now-toddler. Thanks for sharing your experiences. Its great to know my experience isn't completely weird. BTW, I don't tell anyone IRL that I'm still nursing the oldest child...I've gotten real criticism. Luckily, DH completely supports our extended nursing. Oh yeah, and I really disliked the handful of times I've nursed both at the same time. Makes me feel a bit like an animal with a litter.

  4. I wrote a blog post a while ago about tandem nursing & colostrum, and interestingly, a lot of searches come my way because of it ( it always makes me hope I've encouraged someone!

    I got pregnant with my son when my daughter was ~26 months old, and nursed thru the pregnancy (like you, only tender/uncomfortable, with a major supply decrease). I did use the time to get my daughter down from nursing a bunch of times a day to wake-up, nap, post-nap, and bedtime. By the time my son arrived, it was mostly just at wake-up (she was a month from three). We tandem nursed for a year, but almost never at the same time. I loved being able to do that for her. My milk came in very soon, with no engorgement, and I didn't leak like I did with her (for a full year!), so that was nice for me. My son is now four, and weaned a few days before his birthday. I really treasure the years I nursed my babies/little kids!

  5. I am all in favor of nursing toddlers. Hey "milk is good food." And many Mother's of toddlers are constantly worried about their eating habits. If they are nursing a couple of times a day, you know they are getting some good nutrition.

    Also when our society gets comfortable breast feeding toddlers, they will definitely be comfortable with breast feeding infants....I don't see any down side to it.

  6. Roan would squeeze my breast for me when I was nursing Willem. it was really sweet.
    and once when I was pumping, I wasn't paying attention and he pushed the pump handle for me and it startled me. It was quite funny. He enjoyed pushing the handle, he felt like it was something important, made him feel like he was apart of it all.

  7. I was planning to tandem nurse, but in the first trimester I had overwhelming feelings of wanting to "run away and never breastfeed again" at every feeding, and I decided to listen to them and wean over a period of a few weeks. I admire anyone who can stick it through and tandem nurse.

  8. Well, tell Eric that they really, really do stop nursing...and all those attachement philosophies such as attached kids will be independant, NOT dependant, its all true stuff.

    i am tandem nursing a 3 1/2 year old and a 13 month old. It was alwasy annoying during pregnancy but it was the only time during pregnancy when I could lie down and stop chasing toddlers -- when they would agree to nurse!

    It is a cuddly time that seems long and then boom its over and it was short. I promise you. My Mickey and Casey are such big, big boys now and it was literally just a couple of years ago that they were nurslings...its normal, its nice, its cozy, and keep it up.

    I never did have a big "you are weaned now" event with any of the kids...its truly did just taper off. and for the record, the weaned ones (3 out of 5 of them now) were all just shy of their fifth birthdays. Seems insane/never planned it...but no regrets.
    : )

    and its totally ok to say not right now --alot--I tell Charlie no to "nursies" many many times a day.

  9. I've tandem nursed twice. Six seems to be the age when my children wean. I see quite a bit of tandem nursing in my practice. More than one would imagine. Thanks for this post.

  10. Thanks for posting this. I was very curious about your experience. My husband says absolutely NO tandem nursing, but I am 8 weeks pregnant and still nursing my 24-month old, so we'll see. :) So far, I haven't had much pain or discomfort, but my milk has decreased down to almost nothing (except for first thing in the morning). I thought that would end it for my daughter, but she is still interested. Thank so much for sharing!

  11. I just wanted to thank you for sharing your husband's trepidation about your extended nursing of Zari. It seems like most people I know through LLL and blogs who are nursing toddlers have husbands who are behind it 100%. Mine has been supportive, but is getting more uncomfortable with it as we approach her second birthday. I don't have any advice or anything... just a little empathy for you! :^)

  12. My first two tamdom nursed (23 1/2 months apart in age). However, my second born weaned on her own around 18 months (about the same time her older brother finally gave it up). I always credited my son's stubborn determination for why he persisted through months of low milk supply to tandem nurse. I don't think it would have been the same if my daughter had been born first. But it sure was helpful to have a toddler to help pull off some of the milk because I usually make a lot and get engorged easily.
    But it's been a while since I've heard from anyone else who has tandem nursed...I'm glad to see I'm not the only one. :)

  13. My 2 year old weaned because of decreased supply and horrible biting when she was 12 months old (a decision that was very difficult and sad for me). A YEAR later, when the twins were 7 months old, she asked to nurse again! And she does nurse a little bit, every few days. It's so nice that it didn't end on the sour note that the biting and bleeding and crying caused when she was still such a baby.

    I think it weirds my husband out just a bit. But he's so used to toddlers climbing all over me to nurse at this point (the twins are acrobatic these days) that it's just old hat at this point? They are my last, I may never wean. ;)

  14. if i had only known one person who tandem nursed, i would have! as it was, i let my 14 month old wean sometime in the second trimester. i have often regretted not encouraging him to continue and tandem nursing, but i really had no one else to look to for advice. since then, i have met several people (in real life and via internet) that have done/are doing it. i am nursing my 19 month old who shows no signs of stopping. i love it except for at night time.

  15. I nursed through my 2nd pregnancy even though in my 3rd trimester there were times I wanted to tear my hair out because it was so uncomfortable. I read "Adventures in Tandem Nursing" which made it all sound like so much fun...I tried a few times to nurse both kidlets at the same time (20 months apart) but I did not enjoy it. I was fretting over how/when to wean my toddler when I got unexpectedly pregnant with #3 - no way was I going to be able to tolerate pregnancy and nursing two kids. Plus I knew ds2 (5 months at the time) would need all the milk he could get before my supply went south...

    I'm totally about extended nursing, but it wasn't a great experience for me. I was well-supported by my husband and peers. I just found it too uncomfortable.

  16. Your post made me set down and think. I tandem nursed my two ones. My oldest right through the pregnancy and after for a year. And then my second for her own a year and half after that. It was a strange, missing and liberating feeling when it finally came to an end. 4 and 1/2 years of nursing was an experience for sure.


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