Did you know it’s completely possible to breastfeed while pregnant, and even to nurse two children at once? You may not hear about it often, but tandem nursing can actually be a beautiful, rewarding experience.
I got pregnant with my second when my oldest little girl was only about 14 months old. General Leia was only 23 months old when her sister was born, but I knew that the World Health Organization recommends nursing for two years or beyond. Besides, both of us were still enjoying nursing. So we kept it up.
On top of it all, I was exhausted when I came home from work every night. Nursing Leia was the easiest way to get her to be still so I could lie down and rest!
Nursing while pregnant
I don’t go out of my way to publicize my choice to nurse while pregnant or to tandem nurse, but there was one incident in Walt Disney World where I was “caught.”
We were in the Magic Kingdom. I was six months pregnant with my second and already huge. General Leia was tired. She needed a nap, and I hoped that nursing her would help her go to sleep.
I took my little girl to one of the baby care centers that had a nice, quiet nursing room, hoping that the dark would lull her to sleep.
As I walked into the room that was labeled “For nursing mothers only,” a little old lady “cast member” asked, “Are you going to nurse her?” Puzzled, I told her yes, and she let me by. I walked in and got cozy with Leia in a rocking chair.
A little later, it dawned why this woman singled me out. She may had never seen a breastfeeding woman sporting a baby bump! I guess she thought I was just wanting to snag one of those cozy chairs.
Questions you may have about nursing while pregnant
If you just found out you’re pregnant but you’re still breastfeeding another child, you’re in the right place! I’ve got answers for you here.
Is nursing while pregnant safe?
There’s not a lot of research published in the scientific literature about nursing while pregnant. What there is, though, concludes that nursing while pregnant is safe for the developing fetus (assuming no complications).
And even though there aren’t many scientific studies of nursing while pregnant, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence.
However, not all OBs are aware of this fact, and some are uncomfortable with the idea of a pregnant woman breastfeeding. In fact, the OB I had first chosen told me I “had to wean” by 14 weeks of pregnancy. I knew this simply wasn’t true, so I chose to change providers.
Can nursing while pregnant cause you to go into labor early?
When people are concerned about nursing while pregnant, they’re often concerned that the oxytocin release could cause premature labor. Fortunately, our body has safeguards against that.
While nursing does release oxytocin, (as does, ahem, other activities that pregnant people may choose to engage in), the uterus doesn’t have nearly the number of oxytocin receptors needed for oxytocin to bind to until 38 weeks of pregnancy.
What I can tell you, though, is that if your body is ready for labor, nursing will definitely kickstart the process and make it more intense! For example, mothers desperate to see their new baby are told that nipple stimulation could get labor going. Well, breastfeeding is definitely a form of nipple stimulation.
When your body is ready, the number of oxytocin receptors on your uterus multiply by the hundreds, meaning the oxytocin can bind and start productive contractions. Let’s just say that I woke up in labor at 6:30 AM, nursed General Leia, and then had a really intense experience in which we got to the hospital about 45 minutes beforeBella Bean was born at about 9:15 that same morning. I know that second labors are generally faster anyways, but the morning nursing session definitely sped up labor!
I also nursed Bella Bean through my third pregnancy. This time, I chose to keep her nursing sessions very short at the tail end. While I appreciated how quickly labor with Bean passed, I also wanted to have a less intense labor the third time around!
What is nursing two children like?
So after this, I had two nurslings. While this situation is more common for a woman with twins, it is also possible to breastfeed two children who are different ages. Since this is what I have experience with, it is what I will focus on.
Usually, I only nursed one child at a time, but there were occasions where I nursed them both at once. Here’s what you need to know about having two breastfeeding children:
1. Tandem nursing won’t “steal” milk from your youngest.
People would often ask, “How do you know your newborn won’t be hungry?”
Breastfeeding works off of supply and demand. The more your breasts are drained, the more milk they will produce. So there’s no problem nursing two children as long as you’re staying well hydrated and fed.
By the way: if you are worried that your baby isn’t getting enough to eat, here’s a free check list of simple reminders of how to be confident in your breastfeeding.
2. Tandem nursing can help you avoid a clogged duct or mastitis.
It actually can be helpful to have a nursing toddler on days where you’re feeling a bit engorged. She can take care of that problem in a couple minutes flat.
On top of that, if you feel that you are getting a clogged duct, a toddler’s stronger suction can help you clear it out easier than your newborn. Just let your little one lie on her back while you are in table position with your breasts above her. This position, while awkward, will let gravity help her get the clog out.
3. Tandem nursing can be a fantastic way to get both kids asleep simultaneously
My husband often works until 8 or 9 at night, so I have to do many nights alone. When we upgraded to two children, I was so stressed by this! I couldn’t keep my toddler quiet while getting my baby to sleep, and it was such a struggle.
But there were a few times that I nursed them both to sleep. I had Bella Bean propped on top of me in a laid-back position on one breast, and I was lying slightly on my side so that General Leia could get to the other.
Once they had both fallen asleep, I gently rolled B. Bean off of me and managed to crawl out of bed. This picture chronicles my crowning achievement. The space between them is where I was wedged between them.
When my husband got home, I let him make the transfer from bed to crib. Until then, I just hung out in my daughter’s room, watching to make sure they were both okay.
4. Really sweet moments can happen while your children are both nursing.
There are some precious moments I remember from tandem nursing my children. There were times when my toddler would hold the baby’s hand.
Occasionally, my toddler would rub the little one’s back as they nursed.
But then there were other times. When one sibling wanted to stake a claim on mom and the na-nas, she would shove the other’s face away. No one got hurt, and it was kind of funny.
5. Tandem nursing can cause nursing aversion with your oldest child, but not the youngest.
Often when Leia nursed (especially when I was tired, which was basically always), I would feel really annoyed. It’s like my skin was crawling and it was driving me insane. But I didn’t have this problem with Bella Bean!
Long story short? I had nursing agitation. I have a whole post about this journey too (including ideas to alleviate NA if it’s happening to you!).
What I can tell you is this: Nursing aversion doesn’t mean you’re a bad mom or that you don’t love your older child. It is just an effect of hormones and exhaustion. Listen to your body and get some rest.
(By the way, if you’re looking for other ways besides nursing to connect to your older child, especially when you’re both irritated with each other, sign up to receive tips including the exact phrases you can use to reconnect and regain your toddler’s cooperation!)
My final thoughts: Would I do tandem nursing again?
Absolutely! In fact, that’s exactly what I did. We found out the day after B. Bean’s first birthday that I was pregnant (again), so I once again nursed through pregnancy before breastfeeding two children at once.
I love the fact that I was able to bookend Bella Bean’s nursing experience with each of her siblings. Letting them share such special time together has also allowed them to bond.
In a very tangible way, my children have seen that even with a new sibling, there’s still enough of mommy to go around.
Are you or someone you know tandem nursing or nursing while pregnant? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments!