When I first set out on my breastfeeding journey I thought we wouldn’t make it to 6 months. If you told me that not only would I nurse through one pregnancy and then tandem nurse after that, but that I would go on to tandem nursing through a third pregnancy and then triandem nurse, I would have laughed. But here we are, three and a half years after I had my first child, still nursing her, her two year old sister, and their 4 month old brother. Turns out I’m not alone either! While triandem nursing is a little more on the rarer side, tandem nursing isn’t THAT infrequent. I have found however that many women have felt that they needed to wean before nursing another, even if this wasn’t really what they wanted to do.
According to the CDC’s 2016 Breastfeeding Report Card, just over 81% of babies are breastfed at least once, a little over 50% are still breastfeeding at 6 months, and just a third at 12 months. The percentages of exclusively breastfed infants are a bit lower: 44% through three months, and 22% through 6 months. Numbers are consistently on the rise though, and hopefully over time women who want to breastfeed will find greater support through their medical professionals and peers, and through websites such as this one. So what happens if you get pregnant while you are still nursing a child? What happens when you get pregnant within the first year of your child’s birth? The AAP and WHO both recommend that breast milk and/or formula remain the main source of nutrition for our children through-out the first year, so how does one proceed?
In my case I really wanted to continue to breastfeed. I felt extremely guilty as I was worried that my milk supply would drop completely and breastfeeding was a real source of both nutrition and comfort to my child, and she had always refused a bottle and pacifier. We also had a pediatrician who admitted to being anti-breastfeeding and constantly pushed us to formula feed our daughter. So I found a brilliant women’s health clinic near our home which also had a pediatrician’s office attached to it, and they were fully supportive of my breastfeeding through pregnancy. They helped answer a lot of my worries and supported me through-out my pregnancy.
Here are some of the main concerns that many women have:
Will your supply disappear? When you are nursing milk supply is regulated by supply and demand, but once you move into pregnancy hormones take over, and no oatmeal, fenugreek, or Gatorade is going to make a difference to your supply. Some women find that their milk dries up rapidly, others are able to continue to nurse for the most part of their pregnancy. I made sure to keep an eye on diaper output and weight to make sure that my daughter was still getting what she needed. She turned a year old when I was about halfway through my pregnancy, so at that point she was eating a good amount of regular food as well as some cow’s milk anyway, so we did not feel the need to supplement. I also had a huge stash of pumped milk in my freezer that we never needed to use, so I ended up donating that.
Is it dangerous? As long as the pregnancy isn’t high risk, then there really shouldn’t be any issue with breastfeeding all the way through. I didn’t notice any more Braxton Hicks than what was considered normal and I gave birth to my second and third children at 41 weeks. That said I had low-risk pregnancies, so it always important to discuss pros and cons with a doctor (as long as they are breastfeeding advocates!). I actually breastfed my first while in labor with my second! And my milk came in within one day of giving birth to my second daughter.
Is it painful? If you are considering nursing during pregnancy you may find yourself faced with some aversions, and also sometimes actual pain. During the last trimester it became uncomfortable for me, not exactly painful, but enough for me to slowly reduce nursing sessions down to a few during the day and night. Some women I have talked to have to stop altogether because it is too much, others don’t notice a difference.
Is it tiring? Nursing during pregnancy didn’t affect me at all, but tandem nursing itself did at first. It’s important to drink, eat, and sleep enough, which is pretty hard when you are recovering from childbirth, waking up all hours to nurse two children, and trying to entertain a toddler while taking care of a newborn. I WAS lucky because while my firstborn was extremely high needs, my second was a wonderful sleeper, so I managed to get us all on a schedule super fast. However, literal tandem nursing (nursing together) was very uncomfortable for me, and both children seemed to dislike it too. So we nursed separately, and still do today. Some people told me that nursing them together would help the siblings bond faster, but in our case separate mama time seemed to be the preference! I do recommend trying to stick to a routine, and I found that bedsharing or co-sleeping helped, but obviously that’s a personal choice.
I know that it’s not for everyone – I did worry about people’s comments when I was out and about at first, but nobody seemed to notice, or if they did they didn’t say anything. We were actually recently at a music festival and I nursed my middle child, then my infant, then my eldest, and a woman who was standing behind me commented on how great it was to see something like that! It did make me happy because I’m often on edge waiting for someone to say something negative. We are preparing to wean my eldest now, and will probably continue tandem nursing the youngest two for a little while longer, and while it was never something I imagined doing 4 years ago, it has been a very interesting, beneficial, and bonding experience all around!