I watched a documentary the other night about a mother who reproduces as fast as she possibly can. This woman generally had less than nine months between pregnancies, and was also a dedicated breastfeeding mama. Throughout the show it was not uncommon to see her breastfeeding up to three of her children in succession. As the new babies were born, they just joined the ranks with their siblings and ate in turn. It seemed to me, however, that the older children were nursing less and less. Was it simply because they were getting older, or because there wasn’t enough milk to feed all of them? Can one woman’s body really keep up with the demands of several nursing children at one time?

“Tandem breastfeeding” is a term used to describe the concurrent breastfeeding of two or more non-multiple siblings by the same mother. This means two or more babies who were not born at the same time are both breastfed by the same women on a regular basis. Though many women experience decreased milk production or changes in milk flavor or consistency during pregnancy that can make it difficult for an older child to continue breastfeeding during the gestation of his younger sibling, there are many women who continue breastfeeding more than one child with great success.

Some are concerned normal lactation cannot keep up with the eating demands of two or more children, but do not consider the fact that many mothers of multiples fully support all of their children with breastfeeding. A woman’s body is designed to meet the needs of an infant depending on the demand that is placed on lactation. This means the more the baby, or in this case babies, eat, the more the mother’s body will produce. Studies have indicated, however, there may be some challenges to tandem breastfeeding that are not related to the actual lactation abilities of the woman. Stress and exhaustion are common issues encountered by mothers, particularly mothers of more than one child close in age. When such emotional struggles are not properly addressed, they can lead to the slowing of lactation. Mothers who truly wish to feed more than one child should consult with a lactation specialist to learn techniques for supporting healthy lactation and balance stress and other environmental issues that can impact her body’s ability to produce milk. These women should not supplement with formula as this will reduce the number of feedings, therefore reducing her body’s production even further.

Source: Gromada, KK. Breastfeeding more than one: multiples and tandem breastfeeding, NAACOGS Clin Issu Perinat Womens Health Nurs. 1992;3(4):656-66.

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