Sheryl Jesin

Tandem Nursing – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly


This post is part of the Carnival of Breastfeeding on the topic of “Extended Breastfeeding” hosted by Blacktating and The Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog. See below for links to the other participants’ posts.

Benjamin was born approximately 3.5 months ago, and I’ve been tandem nursing ever since.   What is tandem nursing you ask?  Tandem nursing is the term used for breastfeeding siblings concurrently.  Tandem nursing has been practiced by moms around the world for centuries.  It happens when a nursing toddlers does not wean when his or her mother is pregnant.  The toddler nurses throughout the pregnancy and continues nursing when the new baby is born.   This is what happened in our case.  Never did I imagine that when I started nursing Dylan over 3 years ago that I would be tandeming…but here I am!   I’ve tried to be as honest as possible about my experience, and hope that I can help other moms who are tandeming or considering it!

The Good

There have been a number of benefits to tandem nursing.

First, with both Benjamin and Dylan nursing, my milk came in really quickly after Benjamin was born.  Within 48 hours after birth, my milk was in.  This was wonderful! So many moms have a rough time nursing before their milk comes in, as the baby can be very fussy, won’t sleep and often wants to nurse around the clock.   This of course is normal – the baby needs to nurse extremely frequently to stimulate the milk to come in, but can be tough on moms who are exhausted from birth.  By having my milk come in quickly, I avoided those issues – Benjamin wasn’t fussy, gained weight quickly and slept well, right from the get-go!

Tandem nursing also helped with engorgement!  My milk supply was plentiful when it came in.   Whenever I was feeling a bit engorged, I would ask Dylan to nurse and the problem was solved.  This was particularly helpful at night when Benjamin started sleeping longer stretches.   Sometimes I would wake up uncomfortably full and in pain and I’d latch Dylan on in his sleep (even though he had nightweaned during my pregnancy)!  Much easier than trying to hand express or hook up a pump in the middle of the night.

Tandem nursing also helped Dylan adjust to all the changes in our lives.  It was comforting and reassuring for him to know that he could still have “mommy milk” after Benjamin was born.  Nursing Dylan during the early postpartum days was an easy way for me to give him attention – I could do it lying in bed, and it often led to a nap for him, which was a great way for him to get a bit more rest when our routines and schedules had been turned upside down!

The Bad

I’m not going to lie.  Not everything about tandem nursing is sunshine and roses.  Firstly, it’s difficult to deal with all the doubters.  My family basically thinks I’m crazy to still be nursing a three year old.  I don’t blame them – while nursing past the age of one is common around the world, it is not common where we live.

I’ve also been battling with oversupply, and I believe that it has been made worse by tandem nursing.  When Benjamin was around 6 wks old, I finally clued into my oversupply problems.  He would often choke on my milk during a feed.   It would dribble down his face and spray everywhere if he popped off during a feed.  He was extremely gassy and spit up like crazy.   He’d often be cranky and cry after a feeding, and he would rarely comfort nurse.  So while it was wonderful in many ways to have an abundant supply thanks to the extra stimulation my body was getting from a nursing toddler, my oversupply was negatively affecting Benjamin.  After recognizing that I had oversupply, we changed our nursing patterns and now my supply is mostly under control.

The Ugly

In the last few weeks I’ve felt DONE with nursing Dylan.  This saddens me because up until recently I’ve really loved our nursing relationship.  I am passionate about extended nursing and strongly believe in all of its benefits!  I believe(d) in child-led weaning and wanted to wean only when Dylan was ready.

A wonderful resource for tandeming moms is Hilary Flower’s book Adventures in Tandem Nursing.  I read it while pregnant, and recently started flipping through it again while trying to figure out how to deal with my new desire to wean Dylan.

On page 174, she lists red flags that may indicate that a nursing relationship needs some changes.   They are as follows:

  • You feel yourself withdrawing from your nursing child
  • You hear an irritated tone in your voice when you say “yes”
  • You feel you have no choice when it comes to nursing
  • You are prone to snapping at your child while breastfeeding
  • You are getting exasperated enough to consider weaning on the spot

I read this list and felt like it was written just for me!  Dylan and I have always been so close, and lately I feel myself withdrawing from him.   He just seems so BIG when he nurses, and nursing him is grating on my nerves.  It is funny really, because I could nurse Benjamin all day and not be annoyed, but when Dylan nurses for even a couple of minutes I’m beyond irritated and start pushing him off and often snap at him, as listed above!

I call this the “ugly” because I feel like I can’t really complain about tandem nursing, because I created this problem since I chose to nurse Dylan this long.  It is also very conflicting for me because I so strongly believe in extended nursing and in weaning when a child is ready.  However, I have to honor my own feelings towards nursing and I’m allowed to want to wean Dylan.

Hilary Flowers says “sometimes a ‘loving, gentle weaning’ describes the space the mother is holding, and leaves room for the child to go through a range of feelings and reactions”. I take this to mean that while Dylan may be upset as I wean him and put limits on his nursing and say no, it is still possible for this to be loving and gentle, because that is my intention.

Wish me luck…I will keep you posted on what happens!


Update – April 17, 2011

Since I wrote this post on April 11th, we have cut down on Dylan’s nursing sessions.   He was nursing when he woke up in the morning, sometimes in the afternoon, and always before bed.   We’ve cut out all nursing sessions except the one before bed.  It has not been traumatic at all – there was a bit of complaining on the first few days but he seems used to it now.  I’ve decided to keep the before bed one because it really is such an easy way to get him to sleep easily and peacefully.   I’m quite happy with this arrangement.  I’ve realized that I don’t need to fully wean Dylan right now…setting limits has really made a big difference in my mood!

Please be sure to check out all of the other submissions in this month’s Carnival

Mamapoeki from Authentic Parenting: Extended Breastfeeding?
Mama Alvina of Ahava & Amara Life Foundation: Breastfeeding Journey Continues
Diana Cassar-Uhl, IBCLC: Old enough to ask for it
Karianna @ Caffeinated Catholic Mama: A Song for Mama’s Milk Judy @ Mommy News Blog: My Favorite Moments Tamara Reese @ Kveller: Extended Breastfeeding

Jenny @ Chronicles of a Nursing Mom: The Highs and Lows of Nursing a Toddler

Christina @ MFOM: Natural-Term Breastfeeding

Rebekah @ Momma’s Angel: My Sleep Breakthrough

Suzi @ Attachedattheboob: Why I love nursing a toddler

Claire @ The Adventures of Lactating Girl: My Hopes for Tandem Nursing

Elisa @ blissfulE: counter cultural: extended breastfeeding

Momma Jorje: Extended Breastfeeding, So Far!

Stephanie Precourt from Adventures in Babywearing: “Continued Breastfeeding”: straight from the mouths of babes

The Accidental Natural Mama: Nurse on, Mama Sarah @ Reproductive Rites: Gratitude for extended breastfeeding Nikki @ On Becoming Mommy: The Little Things

Dr. Sarah @ Good Enough Mum: Breastfeeding for longer than a year: myths, facts and what the research really shows

Amy @ WIC City: (Extended) Breastfeeding as Mothering

The Artsy Mama: Why Nurse a Toddler?

Christina @ The Milk Mama: The best thing about breastfeeding

TopHot @ the bee in your bonnet: From the Mouths of Babes

Beth @ Extended Breastfeeding: To Wean Or Not To Wean

Callista @ Callista’s Ramblings:  Pressure To Stop Breastfeeding

Amanda @ Postilius: Nursing My Toddler Keeps My Baby Close

Sheryl @ Little Snowflakes: Tandem Nursing- The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Zoie @ Touchstone Z: Breastfeeding Flavors

Lauren @ Hobo Mama: Same old, same old: Extended breastfeeding

Tanya @ Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog: Six misconceptions about extended breastfeeding

Jona ( Breastfeeding older twins

Motherlove Herbal Company: Five reasons to love nursing a toddler

64 thoughts on “Tandem Nursing – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

  1. I appreciate how candid you are about tandem breastfeeding. I’ve been solo, tandem, and tri-andem nursing my boys over several years, now. I go through the goods, the bads, and the uglies at various times. Just keep honoring your needs and the needs of your children and you’ll find your way. You’re giving them a tremendous gift.

  2. I really appreciate hearing about your experiences and look forward to how your weaning journey goes. I was still nursing my 2 year old son when I got pregnant and was very open to tandem nursing. But my supply dried up and it was getting very uncomfortable to nurse because of nipple soreness. Plus, my son was getting frustrated with no milk coming out and he only nursed about twice a day, so it seemed to time to wean. There was about a week or so of rough nights, but I would say within a month he was weaned and could settled down and fall asleep without his “nursies”. It’s been about six months now and I don’t think he even remembers how to nurse! I imagine his interest could be reawakened when the baby is born in a few weeks; it will be interesting to see how he responds to see me nurse our newborn.

    • Thank you for sharing your weaning experience. It sounds like things went smoothly for both of you.
      Good luck when your new baby arrives. Can’t wait to hear about it!

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  6. I can so relate to this post! I’ve been nursing at least 2 kidlets for the last five years. We are on our third round of tandeming now (actually triandeming), and it is good right now. We have been through nursing aversion, oversupply and the other issues, too. I have several posts on tandeming, and would live for you to stop by. :). Thanks again for the excellent post!

    • Another tri-andemer (did I just make that word up?) I will definitely check out your posts on tandeming…it’s always great to hear from other moms who have been through the ups and downs of tandeming!

  7. Ack. Love, not live. Silly phone. 😛

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  9. My carnival post is also about tandem nursing (3 kids in my case, which I call triplex nursing). Setting limits has been key for me continuing my breastfeeding journey. I’m also considering weaning my oldest two (4 and 3 years old).

    Your thoughts are so good here on the early days of tandem nursing and remind me so much of the start of my tandem journey as well. Thank you for sharing!

    • Triplex…love it!! Setting limits really is so important…I have been feeling so much better about everything now that I’ve set some limits too.

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  12. Great post! So nice to see you admitting to the negatives. Nursing a 3 year old is not for me and I’ve never done it but I’d guess that he feels so big because you are now nursing a smaller baby so you notice the difference more.

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  14. I loved nursing my toddlers, but definitely found that setting limits was key for my sanity in the later stages. It’s always interesting to hear what limits or routines work for other people — I kept nursing at bedtime until we finally weaned, but I know other mamas who cut down to just a morning nursing. So interesting to see it play out!

    • So far cutting out the morning nursing session has made me a happier mommy…for now we will keep bedtime…it’s been so great to hear from other moms who are nursing toddlers and/or tandeming!

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  16. Great post! I am tandem feeding my 4 year old and 16 month old. I also found this book very helpful.
    Just wanted to let you know that it gets better with time. My daughter nurses less know. One big feed in the morning, and two short feeds during the day.

  17. Pingback: Five reasons to love nursing a toddler | Motherlove Herbal Company Breastfeeding Blog and Podcasts

  18. Thank you for this–I hope to become pregnant in the next 6 months, so I would like to tandem nurse. I really enjoy hearing others’ experiences 🙂

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  22. Thanks for writing about your tandem experiences. I currently have a 9 week old and a 22 month old…and have gone through much of the same.

  23. Hello! I hadn´t actually heard the concept “tandem nursing” but its very suitable! I think it is great that you also mention the “negative”… I mean, we all know that nursing is such a wonderful experience and all of that but sometimes its just gets too much…
    Thanks for a very interesting post! Im a mother of a 8 months baby girl but we are thinking about having a a little brother or sister for her when she is a few months older..

    Julie ( Spain)

    • I think it’s important to be honest about the “negatives”! Sometimes it is hard for me to admit them because I’m such a breastfeeding advocate but it’s important to talk about them.

  24. I know very well about “the ugly,” as you described it. I tandem nursed twice and was somewhat relieved when each older sibling weaned and I could just breastfeed the baby. This time, there isn’t a baby behind my 3-year old, and I find I’m in no particular hurry for her to ever wean!

  25. Setting limits is a good thing!

    However, I would like to add that the “ugly” list also applies when you are NOT tandem nursing! My 3 1/2 year old weaned himself at 15 months, and despite signs that he might unwean himself when his little brother was born (which I was prepared to do), he decided not to have “milk a Mama” again after trying it. Ok.

    Despite not tandem nursing, I still felt like my Big Boy was too big (compared to his infant brother, who needed protecting from the smothering love!). Exasperated, snapping, exhausted, withdrawal — I have felt all those things from time to time, particularly when my Little Boy was still a newborn. Don’t even get me started on potty training!

    Still, I’d have to remind myself, that my hulking 3 1/2 year old was still ONLY THREE! Just because he was my Big Boy and not my Little Boy any more he was still my little boy and needed just the same level of attention from his mommy whenever I could give it. Having my husband and his Oma step in and help out with that really helped.

    • So interesting that you felt that way! I think it is natural – our hormones are telling us to protect the helpless infant, and also telling us that someone else can help take care of the older child. Thank you for sharing!

  26. Thanks for this post (and the comments), I’m almost 7 months pregnant with #4 and my 21 month old is still very attached to nursing. Pretty sure we’re going to be tandeming for several months (or more) once the new one arrives. I’ve nursed well into both my pregnancies with babies #2 and #3, but this will be the first tandem so I appreciate the insight from those who have been there! 🙂

  27. I am due with #2 any day and as I read this, my two-year old son is crying, reaching for me and signing “milk please.” I was nursing him until a few minutes ago when I felt the nearly uncontrollable urge to throw him across the room (of course I didn’t, I just find nursing him right now UNBELIEVABLY irritating. I can feel his tongue flicking on my nipple and it drives me nuts.) I loved nursing until I got pregnant and it has been a rough road. My husband thinks I’m crazy, his family thinks I’m crazy, but I’ve felt like it was the best thing for my son. As the arrival of the new baby becomes more imminent, I’m not so sure. I have gone from absolutely loving nursing to detesting it and now I’m afraid I won’t enjoy it as much with #2.

    I’ve read Flower’s book, maybe I need to pick it up again. It does help knowing others have struggled as well. How is it going now, a few months down the pike? I could definitely use a little encouragement at this stage. I’m really having a difficult time.

    • Nursing while pregnant can be soooo hard!!!
      Things are going better for us now…setting limits has helped my sanity a lot. Dylan nurses before bed and very very rarely at other points during the day.
      While tandeming has been hard, I’m still glad I am doing it. I try to remind myself often that the worldwide average for weaning is 4.2….somehow that makes me feel better 🙂 It’s also been great reading these comments from other moms that are going through the same thing!

      • Thank you sooo much.
        It’s much harder on the days I don’t get enough sleep (which I hadn’t when I wrote my post).
        I try and remind myself of the part of the book where it talks about it being ok to set limits around my body and that I’m teaching my child an important lesson with that as well about setting limits about their own bodies.
        I know I’m doing the best thing for my kiddo by continuing to nurse, it’s just sooooo hard, and I feel so very alone. It’s nice to hear from other mamas who are doing it. I’m also hoping that it will get better as soon as the new baby comes.

  28. I also tandemed. My boys are 26 month apart. I can’t say I’m tendering anymore ;-(. My older son turned 4 in March, and he was nursing mostly at bedtime and on the am. I can’t really say when he weaned, but he slowly started not asking to nurse at those times, then at one point I realized he hadn’t asked in a while, maybe a week. I think he went a couple weeks, then nursed, and hasn’t asked again. It’s been a few weeks, maybe a month.

    So, yeah, child-led weaning happens and was very natural and easy :-). My 2 year old is still nursing several times a day.

  29. What was the solution you found for the extra spitting up of the baby? I am having that problem with my 8 week old…my 2 year old is still nursing like crazy!

    • I did a few things to try and tame my supply. Block feeding helped a lot, as did feeling in a reclined position or side lying. While those things did help, my baby still is a spitter upper – some babies just are no matter what you do! If you want more information about oversupply, check out this link:

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  38. Thanks so much for this very honest info and for the additional resources! I am currently nursing my 18 month old and due in May with my 2nd baby. I know there is a very good chance I’ll still be nursing my son when the new baby arrives, so this kind of information is exactly what I need.


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  45. Ugh. The ‘Ugly’ is what I feel so guilty about. He is nursing like a newborn! When I refuse to let him nurse while I’m drowsy from 3 hours of sleep, he freaks out. Then I get angrier. I try to wait for a moment of peace and clarity so I don’t snap at him but it’s really difficult when he’s so stubborn and needy. Oh and when he asks in the sweetest voice, “Please?” It breaks my heart. 😦

    I’m glad I’m not alone in feeling like this though. Thanks for sharing your experiences!

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