Breastfeeding during pregnancy and tandem nursing
Finding out you are pregnant does not mean you must stop breastfeeding your toddler. Many mothers choose to continue breastfeeding throughout pregnancy, while others decide to wean. If you continue breastfeeding through your pregnancy, you may find yourself breastfeeding both an infant and an older sibling. Many mothers have found this arrangement, called “tandem nursing,” is a good way of meeting the needs of both children. Your local LLL Leader can give you more information on breastfeeding while pregnant and/or tandem nursing. The resources below will help you to explore your feelings about breastfeeding both your new baby and your “old” baby, so you can decide what is best for you and your family.
A concern you may have is the health of your unborn baby. It may be reassuring to know that in a normal pregnancy there is no evidence that continuing to breastfeed will deprive your unborn child of necessary nutrients. Another typical concern is that hormone oxytocin, released by nipple stimulation while breastfeeding, could trigger early labor. However, there is no reason to suggest a connection between miscarriage and breastfeeding in a normal pregnancy. According to Hilary Flowers, the uterus is “deaf” to oxytocin throughout pregnancy, and its sensitivity to this hormone only increases around the onset of labor (Hilary Flowers, Breastfeeding Today).
Madarshahian and Hassanabadi (2012), compared rates of success in reaching full-term delivery and newborn birth weights between two groups of pregnant women with more than one child: those who breastfed during pregnancy and those who did not. Results of this study found no significant difference in babies born at full-term or non-full-term between the two groups; birth weight was also unaffected. The researchers concluding that breastfeeding during normal pregnancy is safe, and “does not increase chance of untoward maternal and newborn outcomes. Overlap breastfeeding is a personal decision for mothers”. This research purposely excluded high-risk pregnancies. If you are expecting multiples, or considered to be at risk for miscarriage/early deliver, discuss your options with the health professionals supporting you.
Some mothers develop tender nipples during pregnancy. Careful attention to your child’s position can help. Breathing techniques from childbirth classes can help you cope with the increased sensitivity. The breathing techniques may also help if you become restless while your toddler breastfeeds. If your child is old enough, you can ask him or her to nurse more gently or for shorter periods of time. This will help with both your tender nipples and your feelings of restlessness. For more ideas, see the section The emotional side of tandem nursing
Needing extra rest is normal in pregnancy. Breastfeeding during your pregnancy may help you get extra rest if you breastfeed your toddler while lying down. Completely childproofing one room with a mattress or pallet on the floor would allow you to continue to rest if your toddler goes off to play.
Women who breastfeed while pregnant often find their milk supply decreases around the fourth or fifth month (sometimes earlier than that). The composition of your milk will also change slightly. These changes are associated with normal hormonal changes during pregnancy, and nursing more frequently or pumping won’t increase production in the same way it would do if you were not pregnant. If your breastfeeding baby is less than a year old, watch his weight gain to be sure he is getting enough to eat. It’s also not uncommon for the flavor of your milk to change. These changes may prompt some older toddlers to nurse less often or to wean entirely.
According to Breastfeeding Answers Made Simple, by Nancy Mohrbacher (2010), “the older breastfeeding child will not deprive the newborn of colostrum by breastfeeding during pregnancy […]. No matter how often or long he breastfeeds, colostrum will still be available after birth for the newborn”. The hormones that maintain a pregnancy are found in breastmilk, but these are not harmful to the breastfeeding child.
Some mothers express concern that their toddler may be taking milk meant to nourish their baby. These mothers may take comfort in the fact that breasts are marvellous things that can adjust their production to meet the demands placed upon them–if they are asked to produce enough milk for two, they usually can! Also, most toddlers breastfeed considerably less frequently than an infant, and get most of their nutrition from other foods.
During the first few days, Nancy Mohrbacher (2010), suggests to give the newborn first priority at the breast, so the baby can get the nutrient and antibodies present in the colostrum. This may be particularly applicable if the older sibling breastfeeds frequently, and is less of a concern if he only breastfeeds occasionally. Tandem nursing may also help minimise engorgement and increase milk supply.
Some children will ask to breastfeed more often in the early weeks, because they see their newborn sibling breastfeeding. Many want to breastfeed every time the baby does; this increase in breastfeeding frequency may change the way his stools look (they could become more similar to those of an exclusively breastfed baby). Besides, food, breastfeeding provides the child with comfort and closeness at this time of change. Many mothers suggest allowing this for a period of perhaps a few weeks. After that time, try telling the older child that you prefer to be able to really pay attention to him/her while breastfeeding, and request that he/she wait until the baby is done before he/she breastfeeds. This will not eliminate the constant double-nursing, but may very well cut it down.
Nancy Mohrbacher (2010) suggests that there is no need to have any special breast hygiene measures during tandem nursing, just “reasonable cleanlinnes. Even in the case of the older sibling has a minor illness, both children (and the whole family) will have been exposed to the bacteria or virus causing the illness, by the time the visible symptoms appear. The exception would bea serious or highly contagious illness; in this case, it may be worth “assigning” one child to each breast.
After the new baby is born, it’s not unusual for the weaned child to want to taste the milk or ask to nurse again. Some may not remember how to suckle, others will complain about the taste and there will be some who would be happy to resume a breastfeeding relationship. If you do not want to breastfeed the older sibling, you could offer a taste of your milk in a cup or spoon.
If you decide you want to wean your toddler, it’s easiest to proceed gradually. The approach of “don’t offer, don’t refuse” is one that has worked for many mothers. See if you can anticipate when your child is likely to ask to nurse and offer a distraction or a healthful snack instead. Avoid sitting in your favourite nursing chair. Be sure you give lots of extra hugs and attention. For more ideas on weaning, see our article: Weaning – I Want To.
(The following is an extract from the article “Love, limits and tandem nursing” by Hilary Flower, first published in New Beginnings, Vol. 20 No. 3, May-June 2003, p. 86)
The decision to breastfeed two children after the new baby is born is a personal one. If pregnancy hormones don’t disrupt breastfeeding too much, breastfeeding can be a special way for you and your older child to stay connected while you contemplate the changes to come. Similarly, breastfeeding your toddler alongside your newborn can be a special way for you to stay connected with your older child during this exciting-and somewhat disorienting-time in your family life.
But if your breastfeeding relationship comes under strain for whatever reason, adjustments may be necessary. Be aware of some red flags that may indicate your breastfeeding relationship needs your help:
- 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.
If you see these signs, re-visit your decision about weaning or continuing to nurse. If the answer is weaning, it will be a good decision for both of you. If the answer is that continued nursing is definitely worth it, you may find that your attitude becomes more positive. A renewed conviction that continued nursing is for the best, combined with a little self-care, may go a long way toward soothing a frazzled soul and body. Setting limits that take your own feelings into account is a big part of self-care, and self-care is the key to enjoying mothering!
Limits can help in other ways as well. Breastfeeding is an exchange between two hearts. A gentle “no” when nursing feels wrong creates the possibility of a clear “yes” for a session when you are truly up for it. Taking your own feelings seriously and allowing yourself to freely choose when to offer breastfeeding can maintain the openness and joy of breastfeeding for both you and your nursling.
Remember that more is not always better. Your child needs you to honor your bottom-line limits. If nursing is for comfort, the emotional quality of the exchange is of great importance. It is hard to disappoint your child, especially during a difficult family transition. But as the mother you understand something that your child does not-you are protecting your child from the mixed messages and resentment that can build up when you say “yes” but really mean “no.” In this way, loving limits serve your child as much as you, even when your distress is the initial catalyst.
An increase of maternal voice in the breastfeeding relationship can evolve gradually and naturally. It is important to show your child that you take care of yourself and that your needs are important, too. This can be a meaningful way for a child to begin to learn to respect the needs of others. One mother tandem nursing her older daughter said:
I am very careful not to lose myself in this process, because then what would I be teaching her? I cannot be a good mother if I’m resenting her all the time. So as gently as I can, I do let her know when I need space. We try to compromise how “close” we are during those times. For instance, if she wants to nurse but I just can’t handle it right then, we’ll sit closely and quietly for a little bit. Or we talk about how sometimes she feels grumpy and wants to be alone, and so do I.-Bianca K., Ohio
Necessary boundaries around nursing can provide a rich learning experience for your child. You can support your child in coming to terms with a reality that is not exactly as he wishes but one that is still “safe.” After all, there is no limit on your love.
Once you begin experimenting, you will find a limit that works best for you and your child, even if it’s not ideal for either of you. Two-way compassion is the key. Ask yourself what level will allow you to:
- Genuinely enjoy nursing your child?
- Feel glad you’re still nursing?
- Open your heart most fully to your child?
When you consider your child’s desire to continue nursing, what level of nursing can you live with? What is going on for your child emotionally right now? Is this a relatively tranquil and settled time for your child, or will there soon be a better time to institute changes? If you feel your child is mature enough, engage him or her in problem solving this with you. Your child may surprise you with a generous offer or an innovative solution. Giving your child some voice in the nature, the level, or the pattern of reductions can help him feel empowered and valued in his relationship with you. Age-appropriate limits allow the breastfeeding relationship to remain workable for both parties.
Considering and validating children’s feelings does not always mean that they should do everything their own way. In my case, setting some limits saved the nursing relationship with my older child when we were tandem nursing. If I had not limited him, I probably would have weaned him. It does not have to be an all or nothing situation. As it was, by limiting his nursings to times that I could deal with, we were able to enjoy it more, and our nursing relationship lasted much longer.
Generous but realistic boundaries are a balance between respecting your own needs and those of your child, on behalf of your fundamental relationship.
Recently, I’ve talked with Sarah, my three-year-old, about preferring to nurse only one of them at a time. I’ve explained that this feels better for me. I’ve explained to Sarah that I want to continue to nurse her as long as she needs it. In order to do this, we need to make sure that both of our bodies feel good about it. This means nursing for a shorter time (to avoid the ring of teeth marks around my nipples) with lots of snuggling or doing other things that we enjoy together. Sometimes this also means waiting until seven-month-old Malcolm is happy playing while we nurse. I feel that Sarah is learning healthy boundaries about our bodies and that she is capable of choosing to feel relaxed and happy. She is also learning that she is able to do this by means other than nursing.-Wendy M., Ontario, Canada
Good communication is essential. Many mothers find a low-key but direct way to let the child in on what’s happening for them.
I think my nurslings understand my feelings in an intuitive way, and they are more cooperative when I am honest, but clear and firm. -Cheri S., Minnesota
Many mothers take great pains to keep the baby and their pregnancy out of their explanations, not wanting the child to blame the problem on the baby. Some explain that it has to do with the pregnancy. And similarly, many mothers take extra care to help the toddler know it wasn’t his fault, either. Pregnant mothers often say, “Mama’s nee-nee’s are sore, tired, or hurting,” or “Too ouchy, nursey all done.” You may even put Band-Aids on your breasts and explain that you have “owies.”
I tried very hard not to tell Jake that he hurt me, or that nursing hurt me, rather that certain actions hurt. I didn’t want Jake to be afraid of nursing. I would tell him that Mommy wasn’t in the mood to nurse, and we could nurse again in a little while. Or that he could nurse only if he was very still, and didn’t wriggle or kick, because being wriggly hurt Mommy’s tummy.-Sarah G., Texas
Meanwhile, the tandem nursling’s mother may be faced with the question, “Why does the baby get to nurse all the time but not me?” Such a question can really tug at your heart, since you want to provide your child every possible reassurance that he or she has not been displaced from your heart. And a mother can’t help but worry that saying “no” will fuel resentment of the baby or feelings of rejection. And yet, communicating openly and non-defensively with your toddler around the “double standard” of nursing your newborn can be a rich opportunity for you to process the shifting realities of your relationship with the older child. Mothers may say:
- “Newborn babies can only eat ‘nursie,’ and they need it in order to grow.”
- “Big boys and girls get to eat special foods, such as apricots and toast, that babies can’t eat because they don’t have teeth. In fact, babies aren’t allowed to eat things like that at all!”
- “You used to nurse all the time when you were a baby, too.”
- “Someday the baby will be able to eat other foods and will be nursing less.”
Your child may benefit from the opportunity to understand better what is happening-chances are he has noticed that something was different. The main thing your child probably wants to know is that it he is not at fault. Children do not want to cause their mothers’ pain.
My two-year-old did not know about nausea, so I told her I was sore, which she understood. At first, she became distraught when I told her I was too sore to allow her to nurse, so I “gave in.” I then realized why she was distraught-she thought it was her fault that I was sore. I explained to her that I was sick and that my breasts were sick and would get better if she did not nurse. From then on, she was contented to cuddle with me instead of nursing, and to fall asleep like that. She would ask to go on the breast just once in the evening, but she would simply put her mouth around each nipple once for a few seconds. She simply needed to know that I would not stop her.-A.E., Scotland
Remember to acknowledge and praise your child when he does find a way to take your needs into account.
Short and sweet can be easier to manage when nursing is painful or hard to juggle. Some pregnant and tandem nursing mothers have reduced the duration of feeds by saying to their child:
- “We’ll nurse for a count of 10. Shall we count butterflies or dinosaurs?”
- “You may nurse for the length of the ABC song.”
- “You can nurse for a few minutes and then you may have some water in this special cup.”
- “You can nurse while I count to 10-who will finish first, me or you?”
- “I am turning over the egg timer, and when the sands are all down, we’re done for now.”
- “Just a few more sips.”
Give your child choices whenever possible, and don’t be surprised if your toddler finds unexpected ways to participate in reductions once he gets the idea. One toddler instituted “nursie for second,” in which she momentarily put her little mouth to the breast.
Saying, “Yes, but later” can be a gentle way to extend the interval between nursing sessions, and particularly helpful to the younger child for whom the word “no” may sound like “never.” As you reduce the number of sessions, you and your nursling may find that working toward a set policy works well.
Gradually, we reduced nursing times to something Brennan could say and understand. Once in the morning, once at naptime, once at bedtime. It became our little song. If only I could count the times one of us recited this to the other! -Crystal O., South Carolina
With experimentation and some patience on both sides, mothers and children can often keep the breastfeeding relationship moving in a direction that is helpful for the larger mother-child relationship.
Breastfeeding and Pregnancy
Hilary Flower (2003) Adventurers in Tandem Nursing: breastfeeding during pregnancy and beyond. Published by La Leche League International. ISBN: 9780912500973
La Leche League Great Britain, Pregnant and Breastfeeding? https://www.laleche.org.uk/Pregnant-and-Breastfeeding/?/
Madarshahian F., Hassanabadi M. (2012) A Comparative Study of Breastfeeding During Pregnancy: Impact on Maternal and Newborn Outcomes
Journal of Nursing Research, 20 (1) p 74-80. doi: 10.1097/JNR.0b013e31824777c1
Mohrbacher (2010) Breastfeeding Answers Made Simple, Hale Publishing, ISBN-10: 0984503900
Flower H. (2016) Breastfeeding during pregnancy and tandem nursing: is it safe? Recent research, Breastfeeding Today, 11 April 2016