A Beginner's Guide to Tandem Breastfeeding

A labor and delivery nurse gives you five tips to help you feed your newborn, toddler, or twins at the same time, because after all, breast is often best.

A Beginner's Guide to Tandem Breastfeeding Vitalinka/Shutterstock

If you're a pregnant mom with a nursing toddler, congrats! Many mothers who start breastfeeding don't continue, and you have defeated the odds. If you don't want to stop nursing when Baby #2 comes along, you don't have to. Tandem nursing—or nursing two babies at once—is becoming more popular with the rise in breastfeeding rates and it's perfectly safe to do: Your toddler won't hog your newborn's milk because the breast has the amazing ability to adjust to the demands it's given. Plus nursing both kids has been shown to improve the bond between siblings and relieve engorgement for moms.

So if you're thinking of giving tandem a try, here are five tips to help all your little ones enjoy the benefits of breastfeeding.

Find the right position

Breastfeeding both children at once means getting creative with positions and pillows. There are two main positions to consider: One is the "football hold" and the other is the "cradle position." When latching for the football hold, you bring the baby to your breast and position her so her legs and body are under your arm, with your hand at the base of the head and neck—as if you were holding a football. For the cradle position, you cradle the baby's head in the bed of your arm with his abdomen against yours, keeping him in line with the rest of his body.

Once you get these positions down, you can choose a number of combinations when you're breastfeeding the two babies. For example, the baby can be held in a football hold and the other child in a cradle position or you may choose to double cradle, where both children are held in a cradle position, with the newborn's legs resting on top of the toddler's.

When it comes to nursing twins, positioning is especially key, says Michelle Carsen, a lactation consultant in Concord, Ohio. "The babies will flourish, as will mom, when she is not doing 'double duty' with feeding at separate times," and the football hold is ideal. But before you attempt simultaneous feeding with newborn twins, make sure to spend one-on-one time with each infant, to make sure they're individually able to breastfeed. This is especially important with preemies.

Have an order in mind

If feeding a baby and toddler, try to feed the infant first because of his more immediate nutritional needs, at least until your colostrum is gone and transitions to a lighter milky color (you will begin producing colostrum in month 4-5 of pregnancy, even if you are breastfeeding another baby—your toddler may notice, but it's absolutely fine for them to have it). If feeding twins, feed the one who fed last, so they get first dibs on your milk this time around, and alternate between breasts.

Take a break

Tandem nursing can be exhausting—especially if you feel like you never get a break. A good way to cope is to try to sleep when the newborn sleeps and get the toddler to nap at the same time. The toddler will not feed every 2-3 hours like a newborn, so if you can, once milk production is established, ask a family member or friend to feed them a bottle while you nap. If tandem-nursing twins, ask for help latching the babies—and don't be afraid to request a snack or glass of water while you're at it.

Get ready for the critics

Since tandem breastfeeding is less common than nursing one-on-one (and moms get enough flack about that), you may get the occasional irritating comment from friends, family members, strangers, or even hospital staff. Jackie Ludwig of Mayfield, Ohio fielded her share of comments when she breastfed her twins simultaneously, including "Aren't they taking all the food from you? You need to eat more!" and "Why don't you have your husband just feed them a bottle?" "They would feel bad that I would be feeding two infants," she remembers.

It's good to have a response ready for these moments. Something like "I have researched the pros and cons of tandem feeding and found it to be safe, plus it works well for our family" works because those judging haven't typically read-up on the method.

Find the right support

Not even all midwives and obstetricians are up-to-date on the benefits and safety of tandem feeding, so it's important to find a provider who's on the same page as you even before you give birth.

Meeting with a breastfeeding expert is also particularly helpful for tandem mamas. "I have seen so many women give up because they did not have the support," Carsen says. "It is quite sad because many times it was a simple position change and the baby and mom were back on track."

Finding a support group also helps surround you with people who support your decision. La Leche League is the go-to organization when it comes to support for breastfeeding and a great resource for local groups. Otherwise, don't be afraid to ask about groups at your hospital.