A lot of people I’ve talked to express surprise when they hear that I am still nursing my 4 year old son along with my 22 month old daughter. Maybe surprise isn’t the right word. Some express shock. Just the other day I was on the phone with a virtual stranger talking about a freecycle exchange when it came up. The woman was totally disbelieving when I told her I was nursing a 4-year-old, no less that I was also nursing my toddler at the same time. So I figured, why not get it out into the open a little more and write about it? It’s called tandem nursing, and it’s working for our family.
Tandem nursing simply means breastfeeding two or more children simultaneously. They don’t necessarily have to be at the breast at exactly the same moment, but it means the woman nurses the children during the same approximate time period. It can happen when a woman has multiples (like twins, for example), or when a woman has been nursing an older child and then gives birth to an infant.
Tandem nursing happens more than you may think. Just off the top of my head, I can think of several different woman who live near me that have nursed multiples, and two others that have, like me, breastfed children of different ages in tandem. It happens.
Here’s how I ended up nursing my own children in tandem… I exclusively breastfed my son right from his birth. When he was almost 2 years old, I got pregnant. Neither of us were ready for M to wean. I knew that M was very attached to nursing, and frankly, the thought of weaning made me sad. I knew there was a chance that M would wean as my milk supply naturally declined during pregnancy, and I really didn’t want that to happen yet. He was still my first baby and he seemed so little still. I wasn’t ready to give up the closeness of nursing him.
As luck would have it, M didn’t wean while I was pregnant. Even though I was willing to let it happen if it was meant to be, M showed no sign of completely weaning during pregnancy. He did night-wean, however, and that was fine with me in my sleep-starved pregnant state. My milk supply did go down drastically at about the 20th week of pregnancy, which is common, but M nursed on without a care in the world, which is also somewhat common. As time went on, I felt relieved that I didn’t have to give up the closeness I felt with my youngest as the birth of my second child approached.
Since J was born, we’ve all had our ups and downs with tandem nursing. Nursing is a relationship after all, and some days are harder than others. I’ve had days of exhaustion for sure. I’ve also had days when I look at the two of them, smiling at each other and holding hands as they nurse together, and I realize that I am the luckiest mother in the world.
Some links about tandem nursing:
Great book: Adventures in Tandem Nursing, by Hilary Flower