Stories from the Land of Tandem Nursing by Jade Anna Hughes


Sometimes I feel like all I am is a human milk-making machine.  One after another, day in, night out. I twist and turn at night between the two, on the one side a talking toddler, on the other side a mumbling baby. We’ve been doing this for over 8 months now, this thing they call tandem nursing. Although technically I’m not really tandem nursing, I’m nursing two children but never at the same time. Always one after the other. I admire the ladies who manage to nurse both baby and toddler together; I’ve just never managed to acquire the skill of dealing with both squirmy baby and toddler kicks simultaneously.

There are days when I really wonder why I do this. While the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends breastfeeding up to at least two years of age and beyond, I find myself more and more frequently hoping that my toddler will decide all by herself that she doesn’t need her mother’s milk anymore. Luna was only 7 months when I got pregnant with Aurora and my first concern was that I was going to deprive her of what seemed to be her main comfort in life, breast milk. As weeks turned into months it appeared that I would most likely be nursing all the way until the end, and although the sessions were reduced to 3 or 4 over the space of 24 hours, Luna still didn’t give up. Nursing during those last few weeks wasn’t comfortable but by that point I wasn’t ready to give those moments up. When Aurora arrived, her fast and somewhat easy birth lead to a very fast and easy nursing relationship. None of the pain and latching issues and the hour long, on the hour, nursing sessions that I Luna and I went through during her first few months of life. My milk came in within 24 hours after Aurora’s birth, and with that Luna’s voracious nursing appetite also returned.

All of a sudden I was nursing a hungry newborn and a hungry toddler. A hungry toddler who didn’t understand why a squirmy little being was taking her favourite spot in her mother’s arms. It took a while, navigating through tantrums and tears, figuring out routines and late night feedings, diaper changes in the dark on tiptoes, hoping Luna would sleep through any sudden noise. Our neighbours must have asked themselves time and time again why our toddler would wake up screaming in the middle of the night, and there were moments when I just felt so overwhelmed and exhausted, lying on the bed between the two, scared to even breathe too deeply in case one of the them would wake. I would look at beautiful photos on Instagram of women nursing two children, looking down on them peacefully and I wondered how they got there. Was I failing at something? Was there some kind of tandem nursing memo that I hadn’t read?

Then, after a few weeks, it kind of all clicked into place. I gave up on the idea of nursing them both simultaneously and proceeded to follow their cues, navigating our way into a harmonious routine that worked for us all. Within two months of Aurora’s birth bedtime became a well-oiled practice and I began to enjoy a few hours of uninterrupted mummy time every single evening. Having two under two can be a challenge even in the easiest of moments, and those evenings gave me the breathing room to find myself, put pen to paper and keep our home looking slightly livable if not tidy. Oh, and to eat. When you are feeding two children you are constantly hungry. Ravenous in fact. So hungry that you want to eat ALL of the things ALL of the time. For those who lose weight while nursing: lucky you! I don’t. Not during the first 6 months anyway, and as I was often running on 2 or 3 hours of interrupted sleep most nights, exercise was the last thing on my mind. So much for nursing myself back to that svelte figure that I maintained before pregnancies!

But those routines were only temporary…
Three months ago, when Aurora was 5 months old and Luna 21 months old, we moved across the country. Luna still wasn’t sleeping through the night and Aurora had gone from sleeping in 5-6 hour stints to waking every few hours. Right before we moved Luna would nurse every 3-4 hours during the day, and Aurora every 2-3 hours. Aurora settled back into her routine as soon as we landed in California, but my always sensitive little toddler took things a little harder, and with that, upped her need to nurse. She began to talk around the same time, and the word “dootie” appeared in her vocabulary as her way of expressing her need for breast milk.  Dootie, dootie, DOOTIE!!!! And that word keeps coming out of her mouth, some days every 10 minutes, others every hour. The first thing she says when she wakes up is “dootie” (followed by Peppa), and I groan, turn around and nurse her, more often than not hoping that she will get bored within a few minutes and run off to play, or even better, will go back to sleep for another hour. Aurora has been teething like a maniac for the past few months and while she is a little less demanding, she also needs to nurse frequently, sometimes for comfort, mostly because she has been going through a constant growth spurt from birth.

We will never be that picture perfect image of maternal breastfeeding peace, Luna and I.  We may have been at some point in time, but nowadays it feels like a bit of a tug of war, a battle of wills, me pulling her hand out of the “free” side of my bra, her shoving it back in again, until one of us gives up and relaxes. Aurora is now a distracted nurser, more often more interested in what her sister is up to than nursing, but still easier to handle. I was told that nursing them together would help create a deeper bond, but I feel that they already have their own sisterly bond and they don’t need my breasts for that. Maybe one day we will be able to capture a peaceful moment where sisters nurse and hold hands while I look down on them, but I doubt it. In reality I will sigh when I hear the word “dootie” and then my heart will melt when Luna cocks her head to one side, smiles at me and then climbs into my lap. She still needs me, and she definitely still needs my milk, so we will continue as long as I can. I’m no martyr though, one day it will get to be too much and then we will start a real weaning process. I just hope that she can decide when she is done by herself though. Either way, I doubt we will be nursing past three years of age, and the same goes for Aurora. I think it will always be a mental battle for me as I want to continue but at the same time I do feel a little tapped out at times.

So, here we are, 8 months in and I’m not so hungry all of the time anymore. The weight has finally fallen off and we have created new routines whenever the old ones needed changing. While breastfeeding both children takes a lot of my time and energy, and means that there are times that I cannot just rush off and do something by myself, I also know that as long as they ask to nurse I will let them. Tandem nursing, extended breastfeeding, nursing two, whatever you want to call it, in the end I just say that I am doing what works for us as a family and wouldn’t change a thing if we had to do it all over again. But for those who ask us when we are having another, let’s just say that there is no way on earth that I will be nursing three children together!!

Jade Anna Hughes is a writer and photographer who was born in the UK, grew up in France, called NYC home for a decade before recently relocating to the California sun.  She has two young daughters and spends most of her “spare” time writing, reading and pulling her toddler off of her baby.  Jade commenced her blog in 2007 to push herself to be more open with her writing.  You can view it here.