Breastfeeding – The Whole Truth Part 3: Tandem and Triandem Nursing

Triandem Feeding Toddlers Longterm

Planning for a second child is not always an easy decision, especially if you are still breastfeeding another baby. When you discover you’re pregnant you are now already tandem feeding and this blog will help with some points to consider. If you discover you are pregnant with twins, you may wonder if it’s even possible to breastfeed two at once. And very occasionally, you may decide you want to try and breastfeed three babies. For every Mum who wants to discover whether breastfeeding two or three children at once is possible, how to tandem or triandem feed and how to deal with unhelpful medical advice.

Can I Still Breastfeed My Toddler When Pregnant?

This is often the first question you start to consider on discovery of being pregnant. Of course you can, if you feel able to. The fetus will take priority for nutrients and the toddler’s milk supply may drop but you can still offer breastmilk for the comfort and connection side of breastfeeding, as well as the continued immunity support and nutrients for your growing toddler.

A study in 2009 researched the milk composition of lactating women – some who were not pregnant and some who were pregnant. They found that pregnant mother’s milk contained more protein but was less nutrient rich for other nutrients needed by the infant, when compared to those who were not pregnant. This may explain why my toddler’s food intake increased significantly and she was open to eating lots of nutrient rich foods.

In the same study in 2009, as the pregnancy progressed, lactating women’s milk showed increased similarities in composition to colostrum. This would explain why my toddler started pooing a lot more during my pregnancy and postnatally, due to the laxative effect of colostrum.

Another research paper, in 2012, found that there was no additional risk to the mother or baby for breastfeeding while pregnant.

What Happens If / When My Milk Supply Drops?

My toddler started being unsatisfied after breast feeding. She was only a year old so I was worried about whether she needed supplements in formula milk or other milks. When I went to ask advice from the chemist, she advised me to speak to the doctor first because putting the baby on some formulas can actually dry up your milk supply more. Well, thank goodness for her conversation, because whether it was a true comment or not I do not know. I was too exhausted with the twin pregnancy and night wakings with my toddler to go visit the doctor to find out more. She did not let herself starve – she began eating incredibly well – an enormous range of healthy solids, and a lot of it compared to before my milk supply dropped. She also continued breastfeeding on demand just as much as, if not more than, before.

Will Tandem / Triandem Feeding Help My Toddler Adjust to Being an Older Sibling?

My toddler connected to my newborn babies while breastfeeding. They were allowed to get up close and in the baby’s face, without having worried parents trying to protect the baby. Whilst you may have your hands ready for protection while feeding both, you also have no choice but to allow for them to be this close to each other. You may notice the toddler watching everything the baby does.

As a side point, I do not have a pregnancy to compare without breastfeeding a toddler to know if all babies grow fond of their Mum and the pregnant belly. My daughter got used to me asking her to be gentle with my belly that she even got Daddy to gently stroke my arm or side while we were putting her to bed at night. It showed a really sweet and gentle side to her, and I attribute that to the physical closeness that continuing breastfeeding her during the pregnancy brought.

Tandem Feeding Twins

Some parents have no choice but to tandem feed first time round if you are given the blessing of twin babies. The biggest recommendation I can make that helped me hugely with being able to tandem feed was the tandem feeding pillow. Whilst I did not use it for more than a few months, those first few months using it helped me be able to feed the twins together on the sofa and in bed at night. I think I would have struggled to latch them together without that cushion.

This is a link for a twin nursing pillow. These cushions were the best purchase I made because it meant I did not have to worry about the safety of either twin and helped with the latch positions in the early stages after birth.

Tandem Feeding a Toddler and Newborn

My first tandem feed was not with the twins together, as the girl twin had gone to intensive care. The first feed was with my 20 month toddler and the boy twin. It was phenomenal. They both fell asleep at my breasts and my toddler adored looking at the new baby in the family. I did not need a feeding pillow or cushions for feeding this way as my toddler was very used to hanging onto me at whatever angle necessary for milk.

The Toddler Is Constantly Feeding – More Than the Newborn Babies

I did not know what hit me when my toddler suddenly started asking for milk more than the twins combined. She was feeding 4 times an hour. I was not sure if this was normal. In comparison one of my twins only fed around 4 times in a 24 hour period, which was just strange for me to feed a newborn baby on demand who barely demanded it. I was worried in case I was doing something wrong. I can only assume that my toddler was the expert in bringing up my milk supply and she was working hard to do this on behalf of the twins in the first few weeks. This may have made my newborns seem like ‘easy’ babies.

I decided to start setting boundaries 8 weeks into the triandem journey though, as emotionally I found it challenging feeding 2 newborns and a toddler that much. I am not sure whether if I’d continued feeding on demand she would have naturally cut back on feeds or not. She also was getting a lot of nappy rashes from the laxative effect of the colostrum so I wanted her to get back onto solids as much as possible. For suggestions on how to wean a toddler, have a read of my blog post Longterm Nursing, towards the end I have included a section on mostly weaning my toddler.

Will I Make Enough Milk for Two Or Three Babies?

I certainly did, and had no issues with their growth. In fact, the twins’ weights boomed. One went from 8th percentile at birth to over 80th percentile only a few weeks later. His weight stabilised back down, but it goes to show I definitely had the milk supply. Several studies have shown that Mum’s are able to produce enough milk for multiple babies.

Knowing that it is possible to feed 3 babies was enough to give me the confidence to try it. Some could say I was determined, not just willing to try. At times in the early triandem journey I was like a passed out zombie, and at other times I was like Super-Mum! On reflection of the whole journey, I would do it over and over again in a heartbeat. My children are so close and loving, to me and each other. I honestly do not think I would have been any less of a zombie one minute and Super-Mum the next if I used bottled formula instead. My lack of support network would have not given me any rest anyway, as preparing the formula all would have still had to come from me. It was the one great benefit from no support network being available to me, that it gave me the incentive to continue breastfeeding through the really difficult stages.

Will My Toddler Steal All The Colostrum?

A big part of our UK medical world, or the one I was exposed to anyway, is obsessed with the colostrum being the essential milk, the gold dust of breastmilk. I was told by medics, without any scientific research to back their statements up, that my toddler would take all of that and my twins wouldn’t get enough. That I was being selfish for continuing to feed her as my twins really needed me at my best.

I could not find any research that studied the effects of milk on toddlers and babies postnatally, to support or disprove their comments. My gut told me this surely could not be true. Actually, when the colostrum turns to milk, there is still colostrum in there for several weeks after birth. However, this article in 2017 found that breastfeeding during pregnancy did not affect the way the pregnancy ends or the birth weights of the babies. A study in 2012 found no link between breastfeeding in late pregnancy and small gestational weight. I speak on a small sample of only 3 babies, but all 3 of my babies are incredibly healthy, at their correct weights and, most importantly, happy.

Dealing With A Baby (Or Multiple Babies) Crying While Feeding Another

After my daughter started having a phase of wanting to climb on top of the babies, I stopped tandem feeding as no longer felt safe having two newborns on a pillow and a toddler throwing herself around it. Getting a newborn baby off a pillow in speed is not as easy as you imagine – and I’m sure you weren’t imagining it to be easy. I used a bouncer for one crying twin to calm them and rotated with the other twin until the one in the bouncer was not crying. It was a gruelling time for my leg muscles and I did wonder if an automated bouncer, such as the one on this link, would have been a worthy purchase. Looking at the price though, I am glad I saved our money as the newborn stage was a short phase that did eventually pass.

Link for an automated bouncer that I did wish for while manually bouncing a baby with one foot, while breastfeeding another baby, and keeping a toddler off the babies with a hand or the other foot.

Tandem at the Same Time or On Their Own Clocks?

I was used to nursing my child, as recommended, on demand. Therefore when my twins were first born I worked really hard at doing this for them too. I would nurse one and leave the other sleeping or happily awake, until that one cried for milk too. I also still breastfed my toddler on demand for the first 8 weeks. As time went on, I got so tired that in the night if one had woken, I would feed them and then roll over and feed the other as I did not want to be woken again shortly after. They still gained a healthy weight and I do not think the fact that it was not always in response to the baby’s demand made a huge difference to the twins.

Using Your Partner As Support

Not everybody is lucky enough to have a budding support network full of grannies and friends to take the load off you. Even if you have built a strong village to support you through these times, let’s be realistic, there may be moments you struggle to cope. You may need to use your partner to help with older children in the night, or simply make you meals and clean up the house. This is where even the men that struggle with becoming a Dad have the opportunity to really become fathers in my opinion. Until we became parents to our second and third babies, my husband’s life had not really changed at all. On arrival of the twins, his life changed as much as mine did with our first born, although he did seem to still enjoy a better night’s sleep than me. As they say, I breastfeed because my husband can’t, and he sleeps because I can’t.

Questioning Medical Advice

I had a huge range of medical responses to my plan to continue breastfeeding my toddler during a twin pregnancy, especially because I was also aiming to control my type 1 diabetes. I did a quick search on Google as the medical team at the hospital said I needed to wean my daughter as it was putting risks on my pregnancy. The unscientific Google results implied the same thing, but nothing gave any scientific rationale for this. They just stated that if you’d had a previous premature labour (which I did) or had a higher risk pregnancy (which I was) that you should not continue breastfeeding while pregnant. I needed to understand why, what risk this posed to me or my babies. I could not find any factual answers and so I followed my gentle parenting gut instincts to continue.

I personally feel my diabetes was better controlled by continuing to breastfeed than suddenly stopping. Plus I would have got so tired physically getting up in the night to prepare a bottle of milk for my 1 year old. My twins were growing well, as was my toddler. I only got ill because of a couple of mistakes of the medical team, but even being ill I continued to breastfeed. I felt breastfeeding made my relationship with my daughter much closer, and it could fix most things for her. Plus I wonder if I would have succeeded initiating and breastfeeding my twins longterm had it not been for my daughter’s breastfeeding having helped establish and maintain my supply.

I may be one of few who continue breastfeeding a toddler and twins. If you are reading this because you are worried about comments a medic has made about your consideration to tandem feed, probe them for their research as to why you should not. You may find they do not have any basis for their recommendations.

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