Tandem feeding, or continuing to feed your toddler while also feeding your new baby, is not the most common practice, but it can be done.
As with many other parenting choices, tandem feeding is a very personal one. You may find the idea completely unappealing, or it may be exactly what you need in your situation. Here’s useful information to help you explore if this may be an option for you.
Why tandem feed?
The very first reason would be to still give your baby all the advantages of breastfeeding. The smaller your baby is, the bigger the benefit would be. The World Health Organisation recommends breastfeeding babies until the age of 2 years.
But even for toddlers older than two years there are advantages like immune protection, a lower risk of illness, better brain development and superior nutrition.
Breastfeeding provides comfort and security, and helps to knit a close bond between mother and baby. Many moms who are pregnant feel they’re not emotionally ready to stop breastfeeding their baby. It will also help your baby with the adaptation of getting a sibling.
Lastly it is a helpful tool to keep the first one occupied while the new baby is feeding, and it can give mom a few minutes of much needed peace and quiet.
Finding support on your journey
You will experience some judgement from friends and family when choosing to tandem feed. This is mostly because they are uninformed, and you may need to simply grow a thicker skin. It will really help if your partner and those in your close circle are supportive.
You should choose a doctor or midwife who is supportive of this option to provide your care in pregnancy.
But is it safe to breastfeed in pregnancy?
Breastfeeding involves oxytocin, the hormone that also causes contractions in labour. From this has come the notion that breastfeeding in pregnancy could trigger a miscarriage or premature labour. This risk is theoretical only and there is currently no scientific evidence to prove it may be the case, not even in women with a previous history of these pregnancy complications.
In fact, the body has mechanisms that protect the uterus from the effects of oxytocin in pregnancy. Oxytocin is the main hormone responsible for orgasms during sex, and most couples remain sexually active throughout the pregnancy. Considering how many overdue pregnant women unsuccessfully attempt to bring on labour by having sex, it’s probably ok!
But to play it safe most doctors will suggest you stop tandem feeding if you start experiencing any symptoms of a miscarriage or premature labour.
Will I have enough nutrients for myself, the pregnancy and breastfeeding?
In most cases, yes. Sometimes nausea early in pregnancy may result in a mom not gaining weight or even losing weight. This is not necessarily a problem and it will depend on what your weight was before you fell pregnant. Nausea should settle early in the second trimester of pregnancy.
You can take a pregnancy nutritional shake (which nauseous moms sometimes tolerate better than vitamin tablets), and can get assistance from a dietician as well. But if you have such bad nausea that you really struggle to ingest the nutrients that you need you may consider stopping breastfeeding.
Sore nipples in pregnancy
Many women experience sensitive nipples in pregnancy. This may pass as time goes along. If it is severe you may have a yeast infection on your nipples for which you will need treatment. Try to also distract yourself by reading a book or watching television.
Will my milk change?
Pregnancy hormones do affect milk volume and composition. It can change the taste of your milk and some babies wean spontaneously when mom falls pregnant again.
Many women experience a reduced supply early to midway through the pregnancy. Your baby may want to feed more frequently, and this may or may not stimulate and increase your supply again. If your baby is under a year old you should keep in mind that milk is still the main source of nutrition, and you should carefully monitor his weight gain. If he is gaining weight well, he is obviously getting enough. If not, it may be necessary to add some formula milk. For an older child it is OK to simply add more solid foods.
Around halfway through pregnancy your breasts will start making colostrum. This is not harmful for your baby, and he won’t ‘use up’ the new baby’s supply. Your body will simply make more on demand. And owing to colostrum’s high fat content, he may have looser stools in the last weeks of your pregnancy. This will return to normal after your birth when your body stops making colostrum again.
What happens when my new baby is born?
The same things that happened after your previous baby’s birth. Your new baby will get colostrum, and 3-4 days after birth your body will start switching over to mature milk again. You will still make milk on demand and should have enough milk for both your babies, just as another mom’s body will make enough milk for twins or triplets.
In the early days your newborn would need preference in feeding to ensure he establishes a good latch and gets enough colostrum. Even though you are a pro at this by now, for him it’s still new and he needs to get it right. After that period, you will find ways and times to feed them both that suits their individual needs.
Will tandem feeding spread germs between children
Remember that your new baby will be exposed to the older one’s germs in any event. When a baby is on the breast, some of their saliva enters mom’s milk ducts and triggers mom’s body to make antibodies to any germs found there. In this way, a mom’s body can make antibodies to whatever germs arw found in her baby’s saliva. Baby then gets these antibodies in mom’s milk, turning it into the medicine baby needs. This is one of the greatest miracles of breastfeeding. By breastfeeding both your children you can protect your new baby from the older one’s germs through this system.
One exception to this rule is a thrush infection, which they can spread to each other via the breasts. For this you can choose to feed each baby on a side.
There is no need to disinfect the breasts between feedings. Normal washing during shower time is enough.
Tandem feeding is probably not the easiest thing to do and will require some creativity and flexibility. But the reality is that having a newborn while your older child is still small is going to be challenge, whether you breastfeed both or not. Tandem feeding will actually help to ease some of these difficulties, with many advantages lasting for many years to come.
Christine Klynhans is a nursing sister and South African Certified Lactation Consultant (SACLC). She currently works at Parentwood Baby and Family Wellness Centre in Pretoria as a well-baby clinic sister and antenatal teacher. She also has a breastfeeding practice and a Breast Pump Demo Centre. She is passionate about supporting parents on the journey of pregnancy, breastfeeding and the early childhood years. Learn more about Christine Klynhans.