In this interview, one of Medela’s International Board Lactation Consultants, Kristy, chats to tandem breastfeeding mama, Maddie. She shares her amazing breastfeeding journey and the benefits to herself, baby and toddler while also addressing some challenges.
Could you tell us a little about what led you to tandem feed your two children?
My breastfeeding journey with my first child was one that was very difficult to establish. At one week postpartum, I had such extensive nipple damage that I had lost half a nipple on both sides; I quite literally had a hole where my nipple was meant to be.
I enlisted the help of an IBCLC because I was very motivated to breastfeed and with some changes to positioning of me and baby, a truck load of lanolin cream, as well as, some reassurance that using a contact nipple shield was absolutely ok, I was on my way. I used the contact nipple shield until Harvey was 4 months old and after that, it was pretty smooth sailing.
When Harvey was 9 months old, I got pregnant with my second baby and that’s when I knew it was likely I would be tandem feeding a toddler and baby. My goal was to feed Harvey until 18 months, which was the exact gap my babies were going to have, I knew there was no way I could wean a toddler as he got a brand new baby sibling so I decided to continue to follow his lead and as long as he wanted to feed, I was going to continue.
Were there any challenges that you faced?
The early stages of my second pregnancy definitely presented challenges. Breastfeeding a baby that fed around the clock, and was often permanently latched overnight whilst dealing with the vomiting and unrelenting nausea that came with early pregnancy made for an exhausting couple of months.
I noticed a pretty big drop in my supply around 16 weeks. I still remember the day so clearly; Harvey was crying and hitting my boob and I was bawling my eyes out with him, feeling so guilty that my milk had dried so significantly. I remember wondering where this left us and if he would want to continue feeding.
Thankfully, after that, Harvey was happy to continue nursing despite my supply being low. When I was about twenty weeks pregnant (Harvey was 14 months), I decided it was time to night wean him. It was earlier than I had originally planned, but once my supply had dropped and Harvey was still dry nursing all night on nipples that felt like they were on fire. I knew it was time to set some limits.
Night weaning went pretty smoothly and we started getting some bigger blocks of sleep which definitely helped.
I started to look forward to what breastfeeding two children was going to look like and what changes I was going to have to make for it to be feasible.
When Harvey was 16 months, I gently weaned him off feeding to sleep. Instead, he would have a breastfeed and then we would cuddle to sleep instead.
I then decided that setting some limits during the day was probably a good idea. I went from demand feeding during the day to feeds before and after nap as well as before bed and when he woke in the morning. He adapted to these changes pre-baby really well.
Once baby was born, Harvey was pretty keen to have feeds whenever baby Olive was having breastfeeds. So, I decided to go with the flow and he basically went back to demand feeding during daylight hours.
It wasn’t as exhausting as I initially thought it was going to be and I think it helped that Olive was an absolute dream feeder. I didn’t have so much as a sore nipple with her feeding, so that definitely made it easier to continue tandem feeding both on demand.
One challenge that did eventuate was when Olive was eight weeks old. All of a sudden, she decided she would only latch when we were nursing lying down. We saw a Paediatric Osteopath with no real improvement. This did make it slightly difficult when I was feeding them both at once, as trying to get them both in a position whilst I was lying down where Harvey wasn’t squashing Olive was definitely a challenge. But, once again, we overcame it with time.
I am currently still feeding both Harvey (2 years and 4 months) and Olive (10 months) and it’s mostly seamless now. Harvey is down to one feed a day whilst Olive feeds on demand and I am so glad that we got through the early challenges and have been able to make it work.
What benefits were there to tandem feeding?
The benefits of tandem feeding are many. The fact that I was able to continue the connection and comfort with my toddler while he adjusted to the monumental change of a brand new sibling was probably the main thing.
I suppose really it’s just a continuation of what I see as the benefits of breastfeeding; it’s a quick and easy way to calm a fussy baby as well as a grumpy toddler, easing the pain of sore gums, a great sleep cue, amazing nutritional benefits for both toddler and baby, as well as definitely shortening the lengths of illnesses like coughs and colds that are inevitably picked up.
And, undeniably it provides beautiful bonding time for me with both of my babies.
How did your friends and family react to your decision to tandem feed?
I think it was around the time Harvey turned one that the questions started surfacing about when I would wean him. I would politely say “Oh, well, the WHO recommends breastfeeding to two years and beyond, so, we’ll just continue until it feels right to stop.”
I think people thought I was crazy to continue feeding while I was pregnant, let alone breastfeed a toddler AND a baby. My family were very supportive; my Grandmother breastfed 7 children into toddlerhood, as did my Mother with her 6 children.
The questions and curiosity came more from friends that weren’t mothers and didn’t understand it was possible to continue breastfeeding while pregnant… or to breastfeed two children at once.
There is a lot of misinformation around breastfeeding. Some people even questioned how I had fallen pregnant if I was still breastfeeding Harvey.
The whole situation really provided me an opportunity to educate my friends, my partner’s friends and our families all about the amazing benefits of breastfeeding.
Thank you to Maddie for sharing her amazing tandem breastfeeding journey. For more information on tandem breastfeeding read here.
Have you breastfed two children at the same time? How would you describe your experience with tandem breastfeeding? Let’s have a chat and support each other.