A complete guide to tandem nursing for mums in Singapore

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Did you know that while 99% of Singaporean women attempt to breastfeed their babies, only 5 to 10% of them venture into tandem nursing? Arm yourself with knowledge to make an informed choice of whether or not to give it a try!

We have come a long way from the all-time breastfeeding low in the 1970s. Even then, our society still struggles to embrace breastfeeding. As such, many mums still have reservations about breastfeeding, let alone tandem nursing in Singapore.

So here we are, on a quest to promote awareness and give mums the confidence to try tandem nursing. Let’s get the basic facts in order to begin.

What exactly is tandem nursing? 

Tandem nursing or tandem breastfeeding is the process of feeding a newborn and one or more older children. It might refer to feeding both children simultaneously with one child to a breast or the baby and the older child taking turns to breastfeed.

What are the advantages of tandem nursing?

  • Bonding between siblings. Tandem nursing is a great way to reduce jealousy and facilitate the process of bonding between siblings. Breastfeeding an infant is time consuming. Consequently, older children may feel neglected. Tandem nursing is the perfect solution. An added benefit is that siblings learn to share from a tender age.

  • Free time. If you choose to nurse them simultaneously, you get to free up some time for yourself. Think efficiency. It’s almost like hitting two birds with a stone. It also saves you the trouble of keeping your toddler occupied while you breastfeed your newborn.

  • Milk supply regulation. It is easier to regulate the supply of breast milk. In the first few days following delivery, many mums either struggle with their milk coming in, or with breast engorgement. With the efficiency of the older child’s sucking, these problems are less likely to occur.

  • Benefits of breast milk. The older child can continue to receive the myriad of benefits that breast milk offers.

  • Weight loss. We all know what they say about breastfeeding a child and weight loss. So you can imagine if it’s not one, but two that you are breastfeeding.

What are the challenges of tandem nursing? 

Breastfeeding may not always be enjoyable for the mother.

  • Nursing all day. If the toddler and newborn are taking turns to breastfeed, mums may feel that they are spending the most part of their day breastfeeding. This may leave them hardly any time for themselves or other things.

  • Criticism. Many of us are familiar with the older generation’s unwavering belief that we aren’t producing enough milk. This is an added reason for tandem nursing in Singapore to be less welcomed. More conservative family members may be uncomfortable with the idea. So mums, before embarking on your tandem nursing journey, be prepared to deal with criticism and lack of support.

  • Over-stimulation. Some women may feel that their hormones are over stimulated when they feed both children at the same time. In such cases, taking turns to feed the children might work better.

To provide our mums with more information on tandem nursing in Singapore, we have compiled a list of pressing questions from mums who are considering or are in the process of tandem nursing in Singapore.

We approached Uma Thambidurai, midwife lactation consultant (IBLC), Director of Mother and Child, Singapore’s prenatal and postnatal education centre since 1994. Uma is a British trained nurse/midwife who started her career 30 years ago and has been a lactation consultation in Singapore for the past nine years.

Is there enough milk? 

For most women, the supply of milk is plentiful. Breastmilk operates on a demand and supply basis. If the older child nurses more, if anything, your supply is most likely to increase. Your toddler will also clear any engorgement that the baby can’t clear. The result? Bountiful supply!

Having said that, Dr Uma also cautions that the newborn always has priority over the older child to enable him to receive the nutritional and immunological benefits of breastmilk.

How about the initial colostrum?

Again, the newborn needs priority for the colostrum and it is best to feed the newborn before the older child. For the initial few days, it might be a good idea to limit your older child’s nursing sessions to once in the morning and once at night.

This is a good time to make full use of the paternity leave that our Singaporean Daddies enjoy. Get them involved in keeping your ever-active toddler busy.

Is the colostrum safe for the older child’s consumption? 

Most definitely it is! Don’t be alarmed by the possible increase in runny stools though. This occurs due to the laxative effect of the colostrum and will resolve in a few days when the mature milk sets in.

The immunological benefits of colostrum and subsequent breastmilk are of great importance to your toddler especially if he is attending school, which exposes him to a host of infections.  

How about working mums?

Working mums are busy and stressed but hey, they are masters at multi-tasking!

If time permits, go ahead! But keep in mind that balancing work, home and nursing two children is a tall order. It can be incredibly exhausting. A possible way to go about it would be to pump while at work and limit tandem nursing sessions to only morning and night feeds.

When to wean the older child?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends up to two years of breastfeeding. However, there is never an ideal age to wean a child. It is a decision solely driven by the mother and child. No one should pressure her to wean early. The mother’s health and ability to sustain her supply should also be taken into consideration.

When is tandem nursing not recommended?

While tandem nursing has many benefits, it may not be for everyone. If the nursing relationship feels strained or forced, adjustments, or stopping may be required. Here are some red flags to look out for:

  • Withdrawal. Feelings of withdrawal from the nursing child signal a problem that needs to be addressed.

  • Irritation. You should not be feeling irritated or find yourself snapping at your older child when agreeing to nurse.

  • Nursing feels like a chore, something you have to do, not something you want to do.

  • Feelings of wanting to abruptly stop nursing.

If you are experiencing one or more of these red flags, it is time to re-think your decision to tandem nurse. Remember that above all, a happy and sane mum is most important. If the best decision is weaning, then so be it.

And if you decide to persist, try reminding yourself why you decided to tandem nurse in the first place. When you realise that it is worth the effort, the negativity may translate into positive feelings. So hang in there mama!

Breastfeeding is a beautiful concoction of emotions for both the mum and her children.

On a concluding note Uma wants all mums who are tandem nursing in Singapore to know that to tandem nurse, a mother needs a positive attitude, creativity and a sense of humour.

Uma also stresses the importance of support. In order to achieve the goal of tandem nursing, a mother needs the help of her husband, parents, in-laws and if possible, the helper to handle the household chores and keep the older children occupied.

Tandem nursing may take you on an emotional rollercoaster. There will be times when the mother enjoys tandem nursing and there will be times when she just does not feel like feeding the older child. This may lead to feelings of guilt. Feeding the children individually may help in such a situation, by allowing the mother to bond with each child on their own.

With all of these going on, mums need to ensure that they have some time of their own to wind down and relax. They should seek the support and help of other family members to ensure this happens.

Lastly, when the time comes to wean, it will be a tough and emotional period. It is of great importance that they have sufficient support to get through it.

A personal insight 

To give you a more personal insight into tandem nursing in Singapore, we spoke to Angie. Angie is a former junior college teacher who is now a stay-home-mom and successful Singaporean mum blogger (http://simplymommie.com) who tandem nursed for nine months before weaning her daughter at four years old.

Angie was initially apprehensive about tandem nursing as she was not entirely sure how to go about it, and wondered if her supply would be sufficient. She got over this and found confidence by reading a book that compiled other mums’ tandem nursing experiences and helped her to understand the various tandem nursing positions.

One of the challenges she faced while tandem nursing was finding the right position for suckling. She was so eager to tandem nurse that she did not latch her children correctly. This led to cracked nipples. With time and practice, she got the hang of it and things got better.

Nipple creams may come in handy for mums with sore or cracked nipples

Nipple creams may help with sore or cracked nipples caused by breastfeeding.

“It’s an indescribable feeling, being able to provide milk for both my darlings” she mentioned.

Angie’s message to all mums who are considering tandem nursing is to not be afraid to ask questions and clarify any doubts that you might have. And for those who are tandem nursing, continue to enjoy the process. She assures you that while it won’t be easy, it will definitely be fulfilling!

There you have it mummies, a comprehensive guide and a personal account of tandem nursing. Go forth and venture into tandem nursing and find out if it is for you. Remember that there are many support groups and books that you can refer to for help, so you are never alone!

Featured image credit: tempestbeauty (Instagram)

References: https://breastfeedingusa.org/content/article/tandem-breastfeeding, www.lalecheleague.org

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