Tandem Breastfeeding – Pregnant or Newborn

A guide to tandem breastfeeding: you can start by eating more calories per day!

Breastfeeding is like a full-time job – one mum recently added up the time she spent breastfeeding her little one over a year and found she had fed over 1,825 hours!

Now, close your eyes and imagine breastfeeding TWO or MORE babies?! This is called tandem feeding; breastfeeding two or more children of different ages at the same time. There are a few different ways mums can tandem feed, some babies will feed together at the breast or others may take turns to feed throughout the day. Mothers with twins or triplets may also tandem feed by choosing to feed both babies at the same time.

Why tandem feed?

It is recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to exclusively breastfeed babies for the first six months of life, and after that,  nutritious complementary foods can be introduced while continue breastfeeding up to the age of two years and beyond.

The natural age that weaning occurs is between 2 to 6 years of age, so if your baby is not actively weaned and you have another pregnancy, you may need to tandem feed! 

As you can imagine, the addition of a new little family member can be overwhelming for some toddlers. In this time, there are lots of new adjustments to make, such as mum being more tired, visitors dropping in and less room in the house! Many tandem feeding mums say that breastfeeding their toddler helped with this transition by reassuring the toddler that mum is still there and that they share the same bond as they did before. Other tandem feeders say that it can bring the relationship closer and help the siblings develop a strong bond. 

Pregnancy and breastfeeding

If you’re pregnant and wanting to breastfeed your firstborn throughout this time, it is possible. However, there are some important things to consider.

Nipple pain is often the first sign of pregnancy, so when you tie that in with breastfeeding WHILE pregnant, your nipples can feel extra sensitive and can lead to a break in feeding or stopping altogether. In these circumstances, while some toddlers will pick up where they left off once the nipple pain has reduced, for others, it can mean the end of the breastfeeding relationship. 

Hormonal changes can affect your milk supply and about half of mother’s report that their milk supply drops with a subsequent pregnancy. Unfortunately, there is little that can be done to assist with this. If the first baby is less than one year old, another source of nutrition may be required until after the subsequent birth. 

As early as 16weeks of pregnancy, the milk can begin to change back to colostrum and along with this comes a change in the flavour and volume of the milk. Colostrum, while jam-packed full of nutrition for any baby, has a salty flavour and many toddlers may refuse to drink it. Colostrum also acts as a laxative and helps your newborn baby to have its first meconium poo. Because it has this laxative affect the toddler may also experience a change in their stooling pattern, so watch out for toddler poonamis!

Are There Any Risks to Breastfeeding While Pregnant?

You can never be too cautious, especially when it comes to your babies. Generally, breastfeeding while pregnant is safe. Though trace amounts of pregnancy hormones can be present in your milk, these are not harmful to your breast milk feeding child.

Additionally, oxytocin (the hormone responsible for you milk let down) is released in small amounts during a nursing session, so it is not enough to induce preterm labour. Some mothers do feel tightenings while feeding; however, they are usually are mild and rarely increase the chance of having a miscarriage. Once the feeding session ends the symptoms should stop. If you ever feel concerned or experience tightenings during pregnancy, you should contact your Health Practitioner.

There are certain circumstances when your doctor may advise weaning your child, such as:

  • If your pregnancy is deemed high risk or you are at risk for miscarriage
  • If you are carrying twins or multiples
  • If you have been experiencing uterine pain or bleeding
  • If you have an irritable uterus

Will My Newborn Get Enough Breast Milk?

A concern that many mothers have, tandem feeding or not, is whether they will have enough milk for their baby. However, the amazing thing about your body is its proven ability to adapt to the changing demand for breast milk. As such, when you have another baby, your body will naturally increase its supply to keep up with the extra workload.  Except for the first few days after birth (the only time you’re producing colostrum), it is not necessary for your newborn to breastfeed first to get “first dibs” on the milk. Breast milk composition will adjust to what the new baby needs and your older child will receive all those same benefits. Remember, however, that if you are tandem feeding a newborn and a toddler, that baby will always take priority – after all, it’s their only source of food!

Allowing the new baby to feed first during the colostral phase until your milk comes in will ensure that your newborn receives all the colostrum that it needs.

Did you know that, if a mother is feeding one baby from one breast and the other baby from the other breast, because breasts work independently from each other, the milk that both babies receive will be perfectly tailored to their needs – how clever is that! Check out this picture showing how one mother can make two very different kinds of milk. And remember to keep an eye on nappy output and weight gain to be reassured that your newborn baby is getting enough breast milk. Check out this blog to learn more about what is normal nappy output and weight gain for a newborn baby.

Consider Your Diet

Another awesome thing about tandem breastfeeding is that you need to consume as least 500 extra calories per day to maintain energy levels! 

For a general guide:

  • Five hundred extra calories are needed if your breast milk feeding child is also eating other foods or six hundred and fifty extra calories needed if he or she is under six months old.
  • This is in addition to the three hundred and fifty extra calories needed if you are in the second trimester of your pregnancy or the four hundred and fifty extra calories needed if you are in the third trimester of your pregnancy.

Most healthcare providers agree that no additional calories are required if you are in the first trimester of your pregnancy, which is often considered a positive for mums who are experiencing morning sickness or nausea.

If you’re new to tandem feeding, don’t forget that, like with anything related to breastfeeding, it’s not always easy in the beginning. Give yourself a few weeks to settle into a new tandem breastfeeding pattern. Your new baby will need time to learn to breastfeed, your older child will need time to adjust to the new baby, and you’ll be experimenting with the most comfortable positions for all of you.

If at any stage, you are not enjoying tandem feeding, you could try feeding your toddler less or having a few days where you take a break from breastfeeding your toddler, and seeing how you feel then.

Most importantly, talk to someone about it and know that that’s ok. We all feel differently!

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