I thought I would share my personal adventure in tandem nursing during Black Breastfeeding Week 2020. Tandem nursing is when you breastfeed siblings of two different ages. It started when I found myself pregnant with my second child while still nursing my 2-year-old. What?!?! Breastfeeding a toddler? With teeth? Yes, extended breastfeeding is common and recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. There are many benefits to breastfeeding beyond 12 months: increased immune system function, added nutritional benefits, improved brain development, and lower anxiety. Additionally, nothing heals a boo-boo or stops a temper tantrum in its tracks like a mouthful of boob! Also, keep in mind that toddlers don’t nurse nearly as often as infants. Our nursing sessions were primarily before naps and before bedtime, about 3-4 times a day.
When I found myself pregnant while my not-quite-2-year-old was still breastfeeding, neither of us were ready to discontinue our breastfeeding relationship. I continued to safely breastfeed throughout pregnancy. What was that like?
Oftentimes, nurslings are the first to know when you are pregnant. The taste of your milk changes, becoming slightly salty. Some toddlers do not like the new flavor and will refuse to nurse. My toddler did not let a little funny-tasting milk stop her. She continued to nurse throughout my first trimester. As we approached my second trimester, my milk production began to decrease and eventually disappeared altogether. This is common during pregnancy. About 70% of women report decreased milk production during pregnancy. Still, my toddler persisted. This was the most difficult part for me. Dry nursing felt like nails on a chalkboard. Sometimes it was painful. But my toddler strongly desired to soothe herself with suckling, and breastfeeding interaction was still cordial. We worked through this challenge together. I agreed to allow her to continue to breastfeed but in limited increments. I would set a timer for 3 minutes. I would explain that she can have some milk but only for a little while because it hurt Mommy. She was very careful. Sometimes she was upset when the timer beeped and I would cuddle her instead of nursing for a few minutes. Then allow her to nurse again if she was still awake in 10 minutes. It was difficult for both of us.
During the third trimester, my daughter would nurse and feel her sister moving in my growing belly. She would smile and rub my belly while nursing. We would talk about how when the baby came, she would need to share milk with her new sister. When the baby was born, they both nursed together in the hospital bed with me. I was amazed at how big my toddler looked compared to my 6-pound newborn! My toddler was so happy to meet her new sister. Even better, my milk was back! It was like a kid on Christmas Morning when she latched on and milk came out again! She was so happy to have the gift of her mother’s milk! The oldest stroked the baby’s head as they nursed together. As months passed, they would hold hands and exchange glances. They shared this experience for a while until one day, my milk tasted salty again!
Kira Kimble is a doula trainer, certified doula and doula mentor. She is the owner of MINE-R-T Doula Company in Charlotte, NC