Tandem nursing is a term used to refer to a mother who is breastfeeding two babies at the same time-usually siblings, an older baby and the newer, younger baby. Sometimes this term is used to describe a situation where a mother is breastfeeding twins, but it usually refers to two siblings of different ages. Tandem nursing is not uncommon for mothers who breastfeed, but mothers may have a variety of opinions and emotions about the circumstances.

If children are born close together, an older baby or child may not be ready to wean before a new baby is born. Or, a toddler who has recently weaned may react to seeing the new baby at her mother’s breast and want to return to the breastfeeding experience. These are both normal situations. While it is also common for a child to wean himself during a mother’s pregnancy due to the changes in the taste and quantity of milk, some continue nursing.

Managing tandem nursing can be a challenge for a mother. With the birth of a new baby and two or more children to care for, she may feel exhausted and overwhelmed. Since the older baby is likely getting most of her nutrition and calories from solid food and other sources, the newborn should have first priority at the breast. So, there may be some negotiating and “sharing” that needs to be worked out between the mother and her children. Additionally, even if a mother feels positive about and intends to continue nursing her older child when the newborn arrives, she may feel differently when faced with the challenge of breastfeeding the two.

While there are challenges, some mothers have found tandem nursing to be a good way to combat some of the early jealousies and rivalries the older child might have and give the two siblings a comfortable, nurturing time they can share with mom together. If an older child has already weaned and is reacting to seeing the newest family member at the breast, letting him regress and return to nursing will likely be short-lived and a reassuring way to help him adjust to the new arrival and share in mom’s time and attention.

All breast feeding mothers need the support and encouragement of a good support team, but a mother who is nursing two children will certainly need help and positive affirmations. If the mother should decide tandem nursing is too tiring or difficult, she’ll need additional support in helping to gradually wean the older child while still dealing with the changes and emotions of new motherhood. Each mother, and each family is unique-some find tandem nursing to be a natural, positive experience, while others may find it uncomfortable and tiring. More information about tandem nursing can be found by contacting a lactation consultant, or La Leche League (www.lalecheleague.org)