Breastfeeding: Tandem Nursing in Theory

In a little over a week, I’ll be delivering Gareth.  Despite reading that some toddlers naturally self-wean during the pregnancy, it appears that Gavin is one of those toddlers who has chosen not to.  That means we’ll be tandem nursing after Gareth is born.  Up until now, I hadn’t really given it much thought, but as D-day approaches, I thought I’d probably better brush up on some theory so I’m not completely lost when the time comes.  It won’t be the same as the actual experience but I figure some knowledge will be better than no knowledge.

What You Should Know About Tandem Nursing

1. One of the major concerns about tandem nursing has always been the question: “Is there enough milk for two?”

I realise I’ve only ever had the experience of nursing Gavin so it’s difficult for me to speak on behalf of other mothers, but I have never felt short on supply where Gavin was concerned.  If anything, during the early days of nursing Gavin as a baby, I was often waking him up to get him to nurse because of engorgement!  So I guess as far as milk supply goes, I can’t imagine I’ll have a problem.

I’ve always read that milk is produced on demand.  If there is a willing mouth to suckle, then the body will continue to produce the milk.  During the early days of nursing a new baby, the body will need to adjust to the baby’s requirements.  Engorgement is simply the result of the body’s overcompensating and producing an oversupply of milk.  Personally, I think that if you can get engorged, that’s a pretty good sign you have more than enough milk for two.

If you’re not convinced, just think about the mothers who give birth to twins and successfully breastfeed both babies at the same time.  It happens all the time in nature.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – if Mother Nature was careless enough to make it a common problem for women to have insufficient milk to nurse their children, it would have been evolutionary suicide for the human population.

I’ve probably written about it to death about how some mothers might have inadvertently killed off their milk supply through a lack of understanding of how breastfeeding works.  In the early days after delivery when it appears there is no milk (in reality it’s just colostrum), a lot of well-intentioned people will suggest offering formula until the milk arrives.  If Mum heeds that advice, she unwittingly reduces baby’s time on the breast which then signals her body that she doesn’t need to produce as much milk.  As a result, Mum has just created the problem of insufficient milk supply.

The other way I see can see a mother’s milk supply diminishing is if she attempts to express milk and bottle feed rather than by nursing directly.  Personally, I found that when I express, I can never extract as much milk as Gavin could if he nursed directly.  There would be times when I’d pump until my fingers were sore and nothing would come out.  All I had to do was put Gavin on the breast and the milk would start flowing again.  In short, there’s simply no better breast pump than your baby.

If you’re struggling to breastfeed both children, I’d suggest throwing out the breast pump and nursing directly.  Of course, if you have to work, that’s a different story altogether… even suggests getting your toddler to nurse to stimulate more milk production for the baby if you find your milk supply to be insufficient.  According to Beltran on eHow, tandem nursing mothers usually complain of overproduction rather than underproduction.  The only time when a mother might not have enough milk is if she has a medical condition or procedure that inhibits milk production.  You can also read what KellyMom wrote about the oversupply of breastmilk while tandem nursing.

2. What about Colostrum?

The only thing you probably have to be worried about is colostrum.  Since colostrum is produced only in limited quantities – usually about the first 3-4 days after delivery, it is important to make sure that the newborn gets first dibs during that period.  Chances are you’ll be alone with your newborn in the hospital anyway, so that shouldn’t be a problem.  If your toddler is around, then you have to make sure your newborn gets more time on the breast.

Once the matured milk comes through, it’s pretty much anything goes.  About the only time when you may want to restrict your toddler’s nursing at the breast is just before your baby wakes.

More about Tandem Nursing in the next post…

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

6 thoughts on “Breastfeeding: Tandem Nursing in Theory

  1. my son weaned off the breast when i was preggy – and somehow i felt liberated! but only for a short period before i was at it again….and am still at it…..

    anyway, i find that moms/moms-in-laws/confinement ladies tend to be worried about baby gaining weight/getting enough milk. they tend to push for extra feeds with formula. *sigh* the vicious cycle then begins……nipple confusion/lack of supply etc etc etc


  2. Yes, sometimes it would be nice to have my own body back but I have to admit that nursing Gavin has its advantages, too. Sometimes when I’m too tired to engage him, nursing seems to make up for my lack of focussed attention.

    Yeah, there were a lot of concerns in the early days too about my milk supply for Gavin. Thankfully, he was putting on so much weight at the start that his growth was jumping off the charts! Couldn’t really complain then that he needs more milk could they? Had he been a skinny baby, we might have encountered a lot more resistance.

    I often find it strange that I am the one who studied healthcare, yet no one believes me when I assure them that there will be no problem with breastfeeding. Even my father kept asking if I was sure I’d have enough milk! There was an overwhelming pressure for me to get ready with milk formula and bottles “just in case”! Almost felt like asking him why he bothered to send me to school! :-p To add to the irony, they are the ones giving me advice on breastfeeding when none of them have had any experience or first hand knowledge about it since both my brother, our cousins, and I were weaned.

    I guess it just goes to show that the misconceptions about breastfeeding is so ingrained. And there I go starting to rant again… I just get so frustrated when I hear how discouraging people can be about breastfeeding towards a new Mum. It’s tough enough trying to figure it out so little support without having other people undermine your confidence.


  3. My MIL was very concerned about my milk supply when I started breastfeeding and each time she saw me she will never fail to ask me in Cantonese “Do you have enough milk?”. I sure wished I could just answer her curtly “Can’t you see your grandson is growing so well that he’s got thighs the envy of Michelin Man???”


  4. Yes, I find it amazing that there can still be questions about whether breastmilk is sufficient even with all the visual evidence that the baby is growing well.


  5. guess all parties meant well but i actually thought of all possible diplomatic replies before i gave birth to respond to well-intentioned comments/questions which, to me, interfered with how i want to feed/bathe/care for my child…a simple “i understand & appreciate ur concern but the paed/dr said my child & i are doing great”…if that doesn’t shut them up, just ignore them with a smile then….works like a charm! well at least for me lah… ;o)


  6. The problem I find is that no one “hears” what I say. It’s like I can repeat myself hundreds of times but they completely disregard me. Only after they see the evidence with their own eyes or when they hear it directly from someone else, they believe. Like I said, quite annoying and tedious when I’ve had to repeat myself like a broken record.

    Passive-aggressive – good tactic. I must remember that next time!


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