Healthy Living in the North

Tandem breastfeeding: Strengthening family connections

Young girl wearing a big sis t-shirt.

Expecting a second child can raise many questions, including how to breastfeed both of them at the same time, an approach called “tandem breastfeeding.”

Baby news! Our family is growing, and soon, we’ll be welcoming our second baby. This special news has our preschooler very excited – this is the same little girl, Jovie, who helped me to learn about the many joys (and challenges) of breastfeeding.

With our new bundle on the way, I’ve been wondering about breastfeeding both children, at the same time. This approach is called “tandem breastfeeding.” As a mom and a nurse, this topic fascinates me. Until recently, I knew very little about the topic, and today I’m sharing what I’ve learned so far.

Making an informed decision

Choosing to breastfeed is a personal decision, and breastfeeding looks different for every family. Some families consider the option of breastfeeding an older child during pregnancy, as well as after the arrival of a new baby. Here’s some information that might be helpful.

Is it safe?

  • In most pregnancies, it’s safe for women to continue breastfeeding an older child. La Leche League explains more in Nursing Through Pregnancy.
  • In some situations, caution may be advised.
  • Women can share their questions and concerns with their health care team.

Bonding time

  • Some mothers feel that breastfeeding during pregnancy can promote bonding with the older child as they prepare to be a “big sister” or “big brother.”
  • This definitely resonates for me as Jovie loves to “nuggle” more often lately. She wants to keep close to me and even talks (and sings) to baby – so cute!

…and then there were two (or more)!

  • When the new baby finally arrives, continuing to breastfeed an older child can help them to feel connected as their parents tend to the newborn’s unique needs.
  • Tandem breastfeeding also supports bonding between siblings. How special is that!?
  • An experienced nursling can also help their mother to manage breastfeeding challenges after the new baby arrives, such as engorgement, a plugged duct, or a forceful letdown.

Helpful tips to consider

It surprised me to learn so many interesting tidbits about tandem breastfeeding. I’ve also discovered that:

  • Pregnancy hormones may decrease the supply of breast milk. Jovie noticed this and announced “there’s no more milk, mama.” I assured her it would return, especially when the new baby arrives!
  • Mothers can feed both children at the same time, or feed each of them in turn. Families can do what works best for them.
  • Newborns should generally be breastfed first. Breast milk is their only food source, while older children are already enjoying a more varied diet.
  • Sharing the breast can be an adjustment for the older child. Engaging them in age-appropriate activities can help, as can trying different breastfeeding positions that allow mom to have a free hand. This sounds like juggling at its best! (HealthyFamilies BC shares some general tips about how to prepare an older child for a sibling).

Tick tock…

As we prepare for our newborn, I find myself feeling giddy about the new experiences we’re going to have as a family. There’s so much to learn, and I plan to consult my support circle as the pregnancy progresses. La Leche League has mother-to-mother support groups, so this would be a helpful place for me to ask about others’ experiences with tandem breastfeeding.

Interested in learning more, too? There are other resources to explore:

Randi Parsons

About Randi Parsons

Randi has lived in northern BC since 2010 after graduating from the University of Alberta with her Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Since her graduation, Randi has held different nursing positions with a focus in maternal-child health. Her career as a nurse started on Pediatrics in Prince George before transitioning into Public Health Nursing in the Omineca area. For 5 years, Randi worked as a generalist Public Health Nurse, finding her passion in perinatal wellness, early child development and community collaboration. With her husband, daughter and two Chihuahuas, Randi lives in Fraser Lake, currently working as the Regional Nursing Lead for Maternal, Infant, Child, Youth with Public Health Practice. When she is not nursing, Randi enjoys crafting, practicing yoga, learning to garden and being a mom! She is passionate about raising awareness for mental health and advocating for women, children and families.

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Juggling the joys (and challenges) of breastfeeding my toddler

Jovie and her proud mama!

Having a mommy and daddy who work full-time is hard for a toddler. Despite a busy schedule, our two-year old daughter, Jovie, continues to enjoy breastfeeding. She always looks forward to snuggles after daycare – a time when she can have “mama num-num” (her name for breastfeeding!).

I’ve been grateful to be able to follow the recommendations from the World Health OrganizationHealth Canada, the Dietitians of Canada, and the Canadian Pediatric Society:

  • To exclusively breastfeed Jovie for the first six months of her life,
  • To introduce solid foods and other fluids around six months (her first meal with solid foods was turkey dinner at her first Christmas!), and
  • To continue breastfeeding for up to two years and beyond.

Learning to mother through breastfeeding has been an important part of my journey as a first-time mom. I’m constantly amazed by the many health benefits it has for both toddlers and mommies alike. Here are some of the reasons why I’m continuing to breastfeed Jovie during her toddler years, even while juggling a busy work schedule.

The benefits for breastfed toddlers can include:

  • Enhanced emotional security and comfort, as it helps them to achieve independence at their own pace.
  • Better jaw and tooth development for improved speech and oral health.
  • Strengthened immune systems and protection from chronic diseases and acute infections (especially with all the exposure they have to germs at daycare!).

The benefits for breastfeeding moms include:

  • Improved mental wellness – it’s a great opportunity for her to practice mindfulness, connect with her toddler, and tune into her own body.
  • Lowered risk of breast and ovarian cancers – the longer she breastfeeds, the lower her risk of cancer.
  • Help adjusting to being away from home while working (when Jovie was younger, I visited her daycare during my lunch break to give her “mama num-num”!).

There’s another benefit that may not be regularly considered: it helps to normalize breastfeeding in our society, especially when done in public.

Women have the right to breastfeed their toddler anytime, anywhere.

I’m thankful my daughter’s and my journey has been generally positive, but I’ve definitely experienced a few raised eyebrows myself along the way! In our Western society, breastfeeding toddlers are less understood and much less accepted than in other parts of the world. This is why it’s so important to support mothers along their breastfeeding journey.

Evidence shows that women who receive continued support are more likely to breastfeed their children for an extended period of time. Unfortunately, many families are lacking the support they need. Wondering how you can help? Check out the Growing for Gold program that’s improving breastfeeding support for moms across the North!

As a breastfeeding mom, I know how important support has been for us. Do you know of a mother-child dyad who is breastfeeding beyond infancy? Here are a few resources to help you on your journey to strengthen your support for them:

Randi Parsons

About Randi Parsons

Randi has lived in northern BC since 2010 after graduating from the University of Alberta with her Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Since her graduation, Randi has held different nursing positions with a focus in maternal-child health. Her career as a nurse started on Pediatrics in Prince George before transitioning into Public Health Nursing in the Omineca area. For 5 years, Randi worked as a generalist Public Health Nurse, finding her passion in perinatal wellness, early child development and community collaboration. With her husband, daughter and two Chihuahuas, Randi lives in Fraser Lake, currently working as the Regional Nursing Lead for Maternal, Infant, Child, Youth with Public Health Practice. When she is not nursing, Randi enjoys crafting, practicing yoga, learning to garden and being a mom! She is passionate about raising awareness for mental health and advocating for women, children and families.

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Sustaining breastfeeding together: She can do it, you can help

breastfeeding momA cup of hot tea. A tasty meal. A much-needed foot rub. In my early postpartum days, these supportive gestures from my husband helped while I was learning how to breastfeed our daughter, Jovie.

Like most moms, I was feeling the exhaustion that accompanies a new baby. Yet, I can recall feeling empowered and well cared for by my family, friends, and health care providers. My confidence as a mother gradually increased and together, Jovie and I grew and learned through our breastfeeding journey; today, even though she is now a busy toddler, we continue to breastfeed.

We know that most women want to breastfeed their babies; nature has equipped mothers and babies with strong instincts to help them get started. Yet, it’s more common to hear that “breastfeeding is natural” rather than its potential challenges. Moms and their little ones will need time and practice to learn how to breastfeed, and support from others during this time can be so valuable.

What types of support do women benefit from?

  • Family support. For all moms, learning to breastfeed can be easier when women have the support of their family. All relatives can have a role: grandparents, parents, siblings, and extended family. Offering emotional support through active listening will be deeply appreciated by new moms. Practical support is equally important, such as doing housework or picking up groceries. I’m grateful for my family; their support truly made a difference for Jovie and me, both in the early days and over the last two years more generally.
  • Spousal support. Getting support from her significant other can help a woman to build her comfort and confidence with breastfeeding. Husband and wife, boyfriend and girlfriend, or a same-sex couple: all mothers benefit from support. As a child, I was raised in a single parent home and learned about breastfeeding by watching my mom care for my younger siblings. Even at a young age, it was apparent to me how much my mom benefited from having support, including help with simple household tasks and a visit from a close friend.
  • Peer support. A friend, a neighbour, or any other mother who has had a positive experience with breastfeeding can be a great source of support. They can offer emotional support, encouragement, and simple tips and tricks. I found peer support online through a Facebook group of other moms; some of these gals are my dearest friends today!
  • Community-based support. Beyond their close circle of support, women may appreciate other supports in their community. Health care providers, breastfeeding groups, and advocates (such as Lactation Consultants and La Leche League leaders) are additional resources that can enhance a woman’s knowledge, skill, and confidence to breastfeed her baby. Attending groups with Jovie was one of my favourite sources of support; it’s empowering to be part of a community of breastfeeding mothers.

Seeing a mother and her baby thrive in their breastfeeding journey is rewarding. By offering support, this can enhance relationships and improve the health of mothers, babies, families, friendships, and communities. You don’t have to be a breastfeeding expert to provide support to a mom and her baby; we can all have a role in “sustaining breastfeeding together.”

Eager to learn how you can protect, promote, and support breastfeeding? Check out these resources:

Randi Parsons

About Randi Parsons

Randi has lived in northern BC since 2010 after graduating from the University of Alberta with her Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Since her graduation, Randi has held different nursing positions with a focus in maternal-child health. Her career as a nurse started on Pediatrics in Prince George before transitioning into Public Health Nursing in the Omineca area. For 5 years, Randi worked as a generalist Public Health Nurse, finding her passion in perinatal wellness, early child development and community collaboration. With her husband, daughter and two Chihuahuas, Randi lives in Fraser Lake, currently working as the Regional Nursing Lead for Maternal, Infant, Child, Youth with Public Health Practice. When she is not nursing, Randi enjoys crafting, practicing yoga, learning to garden and being a mom! She is passionate about raising awareness for mental health and advocating for women, children and families.

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Are you a SmartMom?

Becoming a “mama” was the best thing to ever happen to me! As a nurse working in public health, I thought I had all of the knowledge, tools, and skills I needed to be a “smart” mom. I honestly thought it was going to be easy! During my pregnancy, I chose not to attend traditional prenatal classes due to transportation issues. Instead, I sought pregnancy, breastfeeding, labour, and delivery information from a variety of other credible sources including books, videos, websites, and our birth doula. Although I felt prepared, I was lacking a stronger support system that I did not even realize I needed.

pregnant women holding cell phone

SmartMom is a free text-based service that guides soon-to-be mothers through every week of pregnancy. Texts are tailored to their due dates and information is from trusted health sources.

When I returned to work after my maternity leave, I learned about a new prenatal education program that was coming to the north: SmartMom. SmartMom is a prenatal education program that texts evidence-based pregnancy information to women via phone or computer. It is the first program of its kind in Canada! As soon as I learned about SmartMom, I realized that this program would have been so helpful for me and my spouse during my pregnancy!

As my own experience suggests, nowadays, women are choosing to get their prenatal information in a variety of unique ways above and beyond traditional prenatal classes. The texts from SmartMom are meant to complement the prenatal education women are already accessing in their communities through group prenatal classes, one-on-one sessions with a health care provider, or their own research of credible sources. The beautiful thing about SmartMom is that it delivers text messages tailored to a woman’s stage in pregnancy.

How it works

sample of text messages

SmartMom will text you information tailored to your due date via cell phone or computer. To enroll, text “SmartMom” to 12323 or visit www.smartmomcanada.ca

Women sign up to receive text messages with information that can be helpful when discussing concerns with their health care providers, as well as supporting them in making choices about their health. In addition to receiving supportive prenatal information, women also have the option of subscribing to supplemental messages, including topics of specific interest to them: alcohol use in pregnancy, nutrition and exercise, substance and tobacco use, exposure to violence, being an older mom, and information about labouring after a caesarean section. These supplemental streams of messaging can assist women in making choices specific to their health and their pregnancy. The ultimate goal of SmartMom is to have healthier mommies, babies, and families!

SmartMom is available now! There are three ways to sign up:
• Contact a health care provider for information
• Text “SmartMom” to 12323
• Visit www.smartmomcanada.ca

As I came to realize, becoming a”smart” mom is a learning process; it takes time to learn how to be the healthiest version of yourself for your children and your family. A program like SmartMom can really help a new mom increase her knowledge and prepare for the wonderful journey that lies ahead!

Randi Parsons

About Randi Parsons

Randi has lived in northern BC since 2010 after graduating from the University of Alberta with her Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Since her graduation, Randi has held different nursing positions with a focus in maternal-child health. Her career as a nurse started on Pediatrics in Prince George before transitioning into Public Health Nursing in the Omineca area. For 5 years, Randi worked as a generalist Public Health Nurse, finding her passion in perinatal wellness, early child development and community collaboration. With her husband, daughter and two Chihuahuas, Randi lives in Fraser Lake, currently working as the Regional Nursing Lead for Maternal, Infant, Child, Youth with Public Health Practice. When she is not nursing, Randi enjoys crafting, practicing yoga, learning to garden and being a mom! She is passionate about raising awareness for mental health and advocating for women, children and families.

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