August 2019 Issue: Tandem Nursing an Infant + Toddler

By Elaine Chow, BMSG Vice-President

This month, we speak with our Vice-President, Elaine Chow, who gave birth to her fourth baby this year. Read the heartwarming moments as she shares how she manages and overcomes the roadblocks of tandem nursing her baby and her three-year-old toddler while managing her own emotions and expectations.

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I am a stay-at-home-mum (SAHM) with four children aged 11 years to five months. I was working full time when I had my first two children (and breastfed them both till age four, including tandem nursing them for nearly a year) but I have been a SAHM for the last four years. During that period, I have also been busy being part of BMSG’s EXCO and as a volunteer breastfeeding counsellor.

Tandem Nursing and Bonding

When I found out that I was pregnant with my fourth, I was still nursing my third child who was two years old at the time. Having nursed my older two children until the age of four, I felt it would only be “fair” if I continued nursing my third child. I also felt that he was too young to wean. Having already been through the experience of tandem nursing once, I knew that it would help manage the emotions of the older child through the rough transition of having another baby in the family. And so I made the decision to continue nursing through pregnancy.

After the gruelling nine months of nursing through pregnancy – when I endured nursing through sore nipples, dry nursing and nursing aversion – I was looking forward to tandem nursing. However, nothing beats the rollercoaster of emotions since the new baby was born!

At first, I was happy to nurse my toddler. It felt really nice to have both children at my breasts. I knew that continued breastfeeding was helping my toddler to stay connected with me during a time of immense change and upheaval, and it also helped him bond with his baby brother. I felt happy to be able to still be able to provide that bit of comfort and attention for him. Of course, breast milk is fantastic nutrition for children of any age; I loved that he could benefit from that instead of drinking other types of milk or beverages.

The Adaptation Period

Elaine’s fourth baby <3 Elaine had to adapt to the presence of her new baby while managing breastfeeding her older child.

But as the weeks wore on, I began to feel worn out by my toddler’s constant requests to nurse. I had wanted to let him nurse on demand, to meet his needs for comfort and security after the birth of his baby brother, but it turned out to be more demanding than I had expected.

Nursing aversion also made a return. Even though I had tandem nursed after my second child was born, I didn’t experience this at that time so it was a shock to me when it happened. It became very trying for me to nurse my toddler.

Finding Support is Key

I sought solace in a tandem nursing group chat in BMSG’s Facebook group. It helped so much to know that others were going through the same experience as I was. I even received some breastfeeding counselling myself from one of our fellow counsellors. I was really struggling. There were moments when I even contemplated doing cold turkey weaning. My commitment to child-led weaning was the only reason that kept me going.

With the support of my husband, I have night weaned my son and also weaned off nursing for naps. We now nurse three to four times a day, and this is much more manageable for me.

Managing Feeds and Taking Turns

During the day, I will try to get baby to switch sides. Nursing from both sides is important for baby’s even growth and development. I was initially worried about baby drinking too much of the watery milk and not getting to the cream, but it stopped being an issue after the first couple of weeks. Having my hungry toddler around was definitely helpful during the early days, and helped prevent any issues with engorgement or blocked ducts.

At night, it does get a bit tricky. I used to get baby to switch sides at every feed, but my toddler would usually come into my bed in the middle of the night, and I would worry about him stepping onto baby. So, I now fix baby on one side so that my toddler will know where he should go. With my toddler being night weaned, I am a bit lopsided now as one side remains full till morning. But I hope it will even out after some time.

Tandem nursing is a learning experience for everyone in the family, including toddlers.

Words of Encouragement for Other Mums

Tandem nursing can be really challenging. It usually means that you have two children who are close in age and that, in itself, is exhausting. On top of that, tandem nursing is mothering two children at the breasts and that is an even greater drain on you, so be kind to yourself. It is okay not to love every moment that you are breastfeeding but there will be moments which will touch your heart and make it all worth it — hold on to those. For me, it is seeing my two children nurse together. They are now able to hold hands when nursing and that is just the sweetest thing to witness every day.

Deciding to tandem nurse is part of the decision to embrace (or at least try) child-led weaning. Too often, society, and even other breastfeeding mothers, may find it hard to accept full-term nursing i.e. breastfeeding until your child decides to wean on his or her own. You are a hero for choosing this path: do not make light of this.

For mums who are trying to tandem nurse for the first time, I would highly recommend reading the book “Adventures in Tandem Nursing”. It helped me prepare my heart to bring another baby into my family and gave me practical tips on nursing two children at a go. I loved reading the many heartwarming stories in there. I cannot recommend it enough.

Through the challenges of tandem nursing, one thing that has kept me going is the realisation that my toddler is still very small. He may seem big next to my baby but he really is still a very small person, with a brain that is still developing, and who still needs lots of intense mothering at close quarters. I know my decision to continue nursing him will help him with that. And it is my hope that we will be able to continue breastfeeding until he is ready to wean on his own. Until then, I will enjoy the view of two babies at my breast – watching them hold hands, poke each other and give me milky smiles.