Tandem Nursing: Balance and Boundaries

Mother breastfeeding baby while hugging older childBalance. In parenting, we often hear about the struggle to find balance, whether it’s balancing the needs of our children, our time spent with work or household chores and our family members, or taking time to care for ourselves while meeting our other responsibilities.

Boundaries. That’s another term that pops up often in parenting conversations, especially as our children grow older and become more independent. For many parents, the need to establish boundaries first occurs with tandem nursing, when a new baby joins the family and an older sibling has not yet weaned.

Recently, Ashlie reached out to share her current parenting situation and asked how she can continue to tandem nurse while balancing the needs of her two children and establishing a few boundaries with her toddler:

“I have a two-month-old and a two-year-old. My two-year-old has had a lot of big, emotional changes lately, so I don’t think weaning is the right choice, but I am so tired of her throwing fits when I say no to nursing, including trying to push the baby out of the way, latching when I’ve asked her not to, etc. The list seems endless. If she sees my breast, she will do all she can to try to gain access. I’ve tried explaining that baby can’t eat all the things she can. She also was doing well with a timer but has started to ignore it or latch back on if I’m helping the baby. How have others maintained a healthy breastfeeding relationship with their toddler while tandem nursing?”

Parents who have experienced tandem nursing were eager to jump in to share how they have established boundaries and found ways to balance the needs of their young children. Each nursling is unique, and each nursing parent discovered the boundaries they put in place differed depending on the age and personality of each child.

At the end of this post, you’ll find a list of resources about tandem nursing and sibling relationships. The original Facebook post, which includes more responses, is at www.facebook.com/LaLecheLeagueUSA/posts/4102806219747893.

“Distractions. Distract them and tell them that you will come to them when possible. Then do spend time only nursing them, too. Sometimes you can have them both and sometimes it’s just not feasible and that’s all right. You are doing your best! My boys are four years old and two years old. I have been nursing for four years non-stop and tandem nursing for two years and three months since my youngest was born. I wouldn’t change it for the world.” – Nicole P.

“I have a four-month-old and a two-year-old. It was rough at first. I just constantly explained that the baby needed me to take care of him because he can’t do all the things big brother can. At first, he would try to unlatch his brother and throw a fit. I told him when you are done throwing a fit and patient, you may nurse when I’m ready. Sometimes I do let them nurse at the same time, but only after baby has latched well. Now he waits his turn and will come up and ask me which side he can be on. When I am done, I explain to him that I am going to count down from 10 and when I reach 1 we are all done. I think it has taught him a lot about sharing. I will ask him to listen if he is nursing and baby starts crying and he will hear him and say, ‘Baby!’ He then comes and helps take care of him. At first I would say, ‘Listen. Do you hear baby crying? He needs Mommy and big brother to help him. Let’s go see what we can do.’ Some days he still throws a fit and wants to nurse NOW! This is when he’s tired and he has some molars coming in so he has been nursing more.” – Natalie O.

“It sounds like a big part of the struggle is in the (adult) staying calm and regulated in the midst of the little ones’ emotional upset. I really relate to this. I have such a hard time staying calm when my kids are crying, etc. Maybe look at it from a different light: that it’s okay for the two-year-old to be upset when you say ‘wait’ or ‘not yet’ or hold the boundary that they can’t latch at certain times, because that’s their job-learning boundaries and expressing their feelings. And it’s okay for you to say those things, as it’s your job to calmly hold those boundaries with empathy. My little one tries to pull up my shirt and help herself, and I have to tell her ‘Only mommy pulls up her shirt’ while removing her hands and empathizing as she gets upset about it. ‘You really want to nurse right now! It’s so hard to wait/to hear mommy say no, not right now, etc. I hear you. We will nurse again soon’ or something along those lines.” – Erin B.

“Unless you’re prepared to wean your older (child), let her nurse. Ultimately it will help her nurse less, funnily enough. I constantly reminded myself why I was doing it: to give my older a sense of safety and security even with a new baby, and to build and strengthen the bond between new baby and older, and between all of us. Constantly fighting it and trying to limit the amount of time the older nurses ends up defeating your purposes.” – Anne C.

“I have been tandem nursing for almost nine months. My older nursling was and is still very attached to ‘his’ nursies, and establishing boundaries was hard but essential for saving our nursing relationship, because I developed nursing aversion very shortly after my baby was born. (Disclaimer: all nursing boundaries are for my toddler, and my infant has no limits at all.) I started with night weaning. That may or may not be the right choice for you, but I found it helped tremendously with how I felt about nursing him during the day. After that, I insisted we could only nurse in the ‘nursing chair,’ which helped make nursing less of a free-for-all. When the baby needs to nurse and I can’t/won’t let my toddler nurse, I try to make sure a snack and drink are available for my toddler, and distract him with books, toys, and sometimes a movie.

It’s so hard in the early days but I’m glad I pushed through it. You’ve got this!

There are tandem breastfeeding support groups online, and I found the Adventures In Tandem Nursing book very helpful.” – Rosanna S.


Please send your story ideas to Amy at [email protected].

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