What is Tandem Breastfeeding and Does it Have Any Health Benefits?

So, what is tandem breastfeeding? Tandem breastfeeding is breastfeeding two or more children of different ages at the same time.

Some mothers will feed both babies together at the breast or may take turns to feed one baby at a time throughout the day. Mothers with twins or triplets may also tandem feed by choosing to feed both babies at the same time...

Are There Any Benefits to Tandem Breastfeeding?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends mothers worldwide to exclusively breastfeed infants for the child's first six months to achieve optimal growth, development and health. After that, they should be given nutritious complementary foods and continue breastfeeding up to the age of two years and beyond.

What we may not know in our western culture is that if a baby/child is not actively weaned from breastfeeding the natural age that weaning occurs is anywhere from 2 to 6 years of age.

But what happens is another pregnancy occurs before your firstborn is ready to wean? The answer is tandem feeding!

Breast milk continues to provide nutrition, assists with the immune system, provides gut microbiota, comfort and social and intellectual development for as long as the breastfeeding relationship continues and tandem feeding supports both the relationship with the new baby and continues the breastfeeding relationship with the older sibling. In short tandem feeding allows a Dyad (mother and baby) to continue to feed despite a new baby coming along.

Many tandem mothers say that breastfeeding their toddler and newborn helped with the transition of the addition of a new sibling. When a new baby is born the toddler will have to make many new adjustments and the continuation of breastfeeding can help to reassure the toddler that mum is still there and that they share the same bond as they did before.

Other tandem feeders report that it helped the siblings develop a strong bond and would hold hands and comfort each other while they fed. Breastfeeding the two of them can be a real joy in terms of the interaction between the three of you.

Give yourself a few weeks to settle into a new tandem breastfeeding pattern. Your new baby will need time to learn to breastfeed, your older child will need time to adjust to the new baby and you’ll be experimenting with the most comfortable positions for all of you.

Can Mothers Continue to Breastfeed Through Pregnancy?

Yes, it is possible to continue to breastfeed throughout pregnancy; however, there are some important things to consider.

Often with a new pregnancy, a mother can experience increased nipple pain (this can often be the first sign that alerts them to the new pregnancy) and some mothers have so much nipple pain that they need to stop feeding. Some toddlers will pick up where they left off once the nipple pain has reduced, but to others, this could mean the end of the breastfeeding relationship.

About half of mother’s report that their milk supply drops with a subsequent pregnancy. This is due to hormonal changes and there is little that can be done to prevent this.

If the first baby is less than one year old, another source of nutrition may be required until after the subsequent birth. As early as 16weeks of pregnancy the milk can begin to change back to colostrum and along with this comes a change in the flavour of the milk.

Colostrum, while jam-packed full of nutrition for any baby, has a salty flavour and may toddlers may refuse to drink it. Colostrum also acts as a laxative and helps your newborn baby to have its first meconium poo. Because it has this laxative effect the toddler may also experience a change in their stooling pattern, so watch out for toddler poonamis!

Will My Newborn Get Enough Breast Milk?

Except for the first few days after birth (the only time you’re producing colostrum), it is not necessary for your newborn to breastfeed first to get “first dibs” on the milk. Both research and anecdotal evidence assures us that your body will make enough breast milk for both children because as demand increases, so does supply.

Because more milk is removed, tandem nursing increases your milk production more quickly. Feeding your toddler can also help to bring in your milk sooner, can help with engorgement and help to unblock any potential milk blockages.

Breast milk composition will adjust to what the new baby needs and your older child will receive all those same benefits. Remember, however, that if you are tandem feeding a newborn and a toddler, that baby will always take priority – after all, it’s their only source of food!

Allowing the new baby to feed first during the colostral phase until your milk comes in will ensure that your newborn receives all the colostrum that it needs.

Did you know that, if a mother is feeding one baby from one breast and the other baby from the other breast, because breasts work independently from each other, the milk that both babies receive will be perfectly tailored to their needs - how clever is that! Check out this picture showing how one mother can make two very different kinds of milk.

Keeping an eye on nappy output and weight gain is a reassuring way to know that any newborn baby is getting enough breast milk. Check out this blog to learn more about what is normal nappy output and weight gain for a newborn baby.

Feeling Touched Out!

For some mothers, tandem nursing can be difficult. The demands of looking after a toddler and a newborn are huge.

Tandem feeding is not for everyone and that’s ok! Some mothers say that the feeling of being touched out is too much and other mothers can experience stronger reactions such as nursing aversion. It’s a good idea to look at the reasons why you want to continue breastfeeding, and whether that feels right for you.

If at any stage it feels wrong or that it is not enjoyable, you could try feeding your toddler less, or having a few days where you take a break from breastfeeding your toddler and seeing how you feel then.

Most importantly, talk to someone about it and know that that’s ok. We all feel differently!

Are There Any Risks to Breastfeeding While Pregnant?

You can never be too cautious, especially when it comes to your babies. Generally, breastfeeding while pregnant is safe. Though trace amounts of pregnancy hormones can be present in your milk, these are not harmful to your breast milk feeding child.

Additionally, oxytocin is released in small amounts during a nursing session, so it is not enough to induce preterm labour. The contractions caused by this hormone are minor and rarely increase the chance of having a miscarriage.

However, there are certain circumstances when your doctor may advise weaning your child, such as:

  • If your pregnancy is deemed high risk or you are at risk for miscarriage
  • If you are carrying twins or multiples
  • If you have been experiencing uterine pain or bleeding
  • If you have been advised to avoid sex while pregnant

Consider Your Diet

By now, you know all about how eating well is important for the health of your baby – both during your developing pregnancy and after birth, while breast milk feeding. However, consuming additional calories is also crucial for you, mama! Pregnancy and breastfeeding both require a lot of energy, so it’s important to ensure you’re taking in enough calories to maintain your overall wellness. A general rule of thumb is:

  • Five hundred extra calories needed if your breast milk feeding child is also eating other foods or six hundred and fifty extra calories needed if he or she is under six months old.
  • This is in addition to the three hundred and fifty extra calories needed if you are in the second trimester of your pregnancy or the four hundred and fifty extra calories needed if you are in the third trimester of your pregnancy.

Most healthcare providers agree that no additional calories are required if you are in the first trimester of your pregnancy, which is often considered a positive for mums who are experiencing morning sickness or nausea.

One of Medela’s International Board Lactation Consultant, Kristy, chats to tandem breastfeeding mama, Maddie. Read more about her experiences and tips here.

Have you ever breastfed two children of different ages at the same time? How would you describe your experience with tandem breastfeeding? Let’s have a chat and support each other here or on the Medela Australia Facebook page.