Monday, January 24, 2011

Tandem nursing part 1

I nurse two children. Tandem nursing is nursing two or more siblings concurrently. This practice is still quite "hush hush" in our society and I would love to share my experience with my readers to add another "success" story and a bit more knowledge to this topic. There are a few medical reasons for stopping the nursing relationship when you are pregnant (signs of preterm labour, previously delivered a premature baby) and it would be wise to consult a physician or a lactation consultant for your specific situation.

Charlotte was nursing quite frequently when I became pregnant with Lila. She would nurse when she woke up, around nap times, and before bed. She would also nurse throughout the day if she hurt herself, felt overwhelmed in a situation or just needed to get centered emotionally. She was 16 months when I found out that I was pregnant. I did not wish to wean her at this time and started researching tandem nursing. To my surprise, there was not a lot of literature out there. The La Leche League has information online, and when I looked up tandem nursing on amazon I found "Adventures in Tandem Nursing" by Hilary Flower. I also bought "Mothering Your Nursing Toddler" by Norma Jane Bumgarner at the same time which has a section on tandem nursing. I would recommend these resources!

The feeling of nursing while you are pregnant changed over time for me. It was fine for a while, but there was definite soreness during periods. Of course, nipple soreness is common in pregnancy, so nursing just adds to that. It was never excruciating for me, and if I felt like I needed a break, I just asked Charlotte to come off and she was usually fine with that. We read stories a lot together while nursing, in fact she still usually grabs a book when she comes to nurse! So we would continue snuggling and reading or find something else to distract her. I remember a few times, wondering if I could do this, because the last thing when you want when you are pregnant (especially really pregnant in the heat of the summer) is to nurse another child. For me, it was worth it. We had a little one-room air conditioner that we used when the heat became unbearable and the bond I continued to have with Charlotte stayed strong through my pregnancy. Charlotte was not getting tons of milk and had a big appetite for other foods. It bothers me when people say "oh, she's just nursing for comfort" because well... she was nursing for comfort! She did continue to receive some nutrition, but the emotional stability and security she gained from continued nursing was equally if not more important for us. Nothing much could quell those tantrums and frustrations of wanting to do everything herself and not being able to do everything by herself. Nursing would calm her (if she would come and nurse) and she would gain a sense of emotional security because of it.

One of my biggest concerns for Charlotte was how she was going to manage while we were in the hospital without being able to nurse when she needed to. I was so nervous about this, and probably even lost sleep over it. We hadn't tried an overnight sleepover yet, as I know this may seem shocking - she still nursed to sleep. It was (and IS) the calming before bed routine and it works for our family! So I gained comfort from talking to a friend in the same situation as I was, as well as seeking out help from a well known doula. The doula explained that I would not be able to take Charlotte into the labour and delivery ward. This was quite upsetting for me, as I knew that although I probably would not want to nurse during labour, at least that option might be there for me if Charlotte was really upset. However, after my first ob/gyn meeting at the hospital, the doctor reassured me that the hospital was undergoing changes in support of families especially in labour and delivery and the maternity ward. She was part of the team that was pushing for these changes. And she said that I could bring Charlotte in as it was a special circumstance. Such a weight lifted from me and I burst into tears! She instructed me to write a letter to the head of labour and delivery after my 36 week appointment. I needed to explain that I was nursing a toddler as well as planning to nurse a newborn and needed special privileges in labour and delivery as well as the maternity ward. What a comfort this was for me at the time.

As it turned out, Charlotte did not come into the labour and delivery ward to nurse. She was happy as can be staying with Nannie and Grampie! She was confused and a bit uncertain at the hospital setting, but did not nurse until almost 2 days after Lila was born. Then upon returning home, she resumed nursing and it took time for her to make the emotional adjustment to having a sibling, a sister to share the nursing relationship with.

Also, the lactation consultant at the hospital was a huge resource for me and completely in support of tandem nursing! I had a couple of phone conversations with her in advance of Lila's birth and then a visit in the hospital and a visit afterwards. Having support is key and of utmost importance when starting to tandem nurse. My husband was (and is) supportive, and having key people in the medical field (lactation consultant, ob/gyn, and research from books) to support me was so important to our success.

What about the people that aren't supportive? In my life, that includes my family doctor, friends/family who may be uncomfortable but just don't talk about it, and those that voice their concerns. For the most part, I don't bring it up. This is a personal decision for our family and I believe it is the best one for us. It doesn't help to create conflict about it unless concerns come up that do need to be dealt with. For the most part, Charlotte nurses at home, and if she does need to nurse in public I tend to take her to a quiet, private spot to do so. Sometimes I wish I felt more comfortable nursing her openly, but I guess my fear of conflict stops me from doing so.

Have you known anyone who is tandem nursing? Are you tandem nursing? Do you feel like you have the support that you need? Please share in the comments!


  1. Fantastic post Pamela. It's amazing to hear the hospital staff is trying to accommodate those of us who are extended nursing. If you get the time would you mind sending a pm about who the OB was that was so supportive ?


  2. Did you get my e-mail, Melissa? It is encouraging... and hopefully you will have the same experience I did.

  3. Hi Pamela,

    Just catching up on your blog! Love your info and thought provoking posts! Now nursing my second child I feel very comfortable nursing pretty much anywhere. It's funny, when I think about how I go about nursing in public, I never "ask for permission". I usually just announce that Isaac is hungry (he is already doing this in his own way!) and I tell those around me that I am going to feed him. I usually do have a receiving blanket to cover us, only because he spits up so much that I need to have the blanket for burping purposes, more than conceiling purposes.

    I love the discussion that you are creating about breastfeeding, especially tandem nursing. It wasn't something I felt necessary for us, but am so glad that you are following your convictions and doing what you feel is right for your family!

    (from Heather)

  4. Thanks Heather! I'm glad you don't feel like you have to ask for permission... I don't either. I don't conceal either, but I try to keep my nursing discreet. So I only lift my shirt enough to expose what is needed to nurse (not the whole breast). I usually have a blanket close by for spit up too. I covered with a receiving blanket with Charlotte but didn't feel it was necessary with Lila and I felt more comfortable nursing my second child as well. Thanks for your input!