Before my second child was even conceived I had dreams of tandem nursing. That is breastfeeding two children at once. Given that twins were unlikely and that I already had one child it seemed realistic to expect that this would manifest in feeding two children of different ages.
Doing the research on tandem feeding
After the initial turbulence that was getting my firstborn to actually latch on and get some milk out of my humungous breasts, I fell in love with breastfeeding. I wanted to know as much about it as I could and set myself a personal challenge to find out everything.
Personally, I think I did pretty well. I am now a self-professed boob nerd and even the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers (ABM) was happy to allow me to call myself a “Mother Supporter.”
Part of my research included natural term breastfeeding and there is lots of research out there. Most of it suggests that humans, without cultural, medical, physical or other influences, would naturally wean between 4-7 years. (About the same time that children lose their milk teeth. What a coincidence? Or perhaps not!)
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that all children should be breastfed until at least two years old. Clearly the experts feel that there are many benefits to feeding older children and having read the research for myself I agree.
Now my husband and I had always said that we would like a two year age gap between our children. This meant that to have that age gap and breastfeed my eldest beyond two years I would need to continue feeding through pregnancy and beyond. And I was really excited! Not many people get to do that! It felt like that was the ultimate breastfeeding experience. To feed during pregnancy and then to feed both children together.
But the subject of tandem nursing, due to its rarity, is not well-studied and consequently not well written about. I tried desperately to get hold of Hilary Flower’s book “Adventures in Tandem Nursing” but failed miserably. Therefore, I relied on social media to direct me.
Using Facebook groups for breastfeeding support
As with all support groups, these online ones did not let me down. I learnt that breastfeeding during low-risk pregnancy is perfectly safe. I learnt that there might be some changes in my supply (there were). I learnt that the increased hormones in pregnancy might make my nipples more tender and therefore breastfeeding uncomfortable (correct!).
Preparing my older child for tandem feeding
However, I also learnt that tandem nursing is quite a magical experience for all parties. And I completely agree. On the lead up to the birth of my second daughter, I explained to my eldest that once the baby was born that she would need booby too and a lot of booby. She wouldn’t be able to eat cheese on toast like her. My eldest said that that was OK and that she was going to show the baby how to have booby.
Becoming a breastfeeding triad
The day my youngest was born, we got off to an excellent start with feeding. But then I’d never stopped. I’d done it everyday for over two years. When my eldest came to visit she gave her new sister a quick hello then jumped on the bed for milk. It was a strange day for her. A scary day. A new member of the family that had previously just been mummy, daddy and her.
We had lovely cuddles and she got reassurance knowing that somethings would stay the same. She was also true to her word and when the baby needed feeding she gave her instructions like “put it in your mouth!”
First experience of feeding two
Once home I got that magical moment of feeding both my children at the same time. It was hot, awkward and complicated. But at the same time so sweet. Watching my eldest stroke her sister’s head as they both fed just made me melt. On other occasions they would hold hands and once they even fell asleep together. A rare peaceful moment!
Looking back on tandem feeding
Over two years on and my four-year-old has now weaned. We gradually reduced feeds at her own pace and we reached a natural conclusion at 3 years and 9 months.
Obviously, my now two-year-old still wants milk all the time but she’s happy to go without if there’s something more interesting going on.
If I am being honest, I didn’t really enjoy feeding them at the same time. As they both got bigger it was just a mess of poking and wiggling and fits of giggles and squabbling. I’m happy with those snuggly newborn memories.
Best of all I now know that I will be able to feed my youngest until she is ready to move on. Breastfeeding is amazing for so many reasons, but for me, it is a special time for mothers and their children. And I’m glad that my children were able to enjoy it together.
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