Misconceptions about Extended and Tandem Nursing |

Misconceptions about Extended and Tandem Nursing

admin January 14, 2011

Image by Mel ‘GW’ Stampa

I know a lot about nursing.

Okay, so, my nearly 3 year old is still nursing [a little].  We nursed through my second pregnancy, and have continued with tandem nursing for about 18 months now.  I’ve definitely “extended” nursed given their ages.  I’m pregnant again and we’re still nursing through that!  Obviously I’m a big supporter of extended and tandem nursing. 

I’ve noticed over the last couple of years that there are a lot of weird attitudes and misconceptions about extended and tandem nursing.  I think that’s sad, because a lot of women who might otherwise try it are deterred by a lack of information or the attitudes of those around them.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “I really wanted to keep going…but people thought it was weird, so I stopped.”  I’ve also heard a lot of people say, “That’s wrong.  It’s disgusting.  It’s sexual, the mom is making the kid,” and so on.  Clearly we have some serious misconceptions here!

Today I’d like to address some of the most common misconceptions and explain them.  I’d also like to note that extended and tandem nursing is not for everyone, by any means!  But for those who choose it, they should receive understanding and support.

[And yes, I really have heard all of these before!]

1. “Extended” nursing is beyond 6 months of age.  Sorry, no.  Some define “extended” nursing as past 1 year of age, which is the minimum that the AAP recommends.  Others define it as past 2 years, which is what the WHO recommends.  A child who relies primarily on milk for nourishment is definitely not in that category, which should be the case at 6 months of age.

2. Nursing past a certain age [1, 2, 3, etc.] is, by definition, just wrong.  The “normal” weaning age is no more than 1 year old.  Actually, the world wide weaning age is about 4.  Years, not months.  Nursing past a certain age may not feel right or be the right choice for you, but there is no way to set an objective standard.  A nursing relationship should end when a mother and child feel that it is time.  Remember that the WHO recommends at least 2 years, and as long after as the mother and child wish to continue.  Our perspective is skewed because very, very few mothers do nurse much beyond three months in the U.S.

3. Nursing becomes sexual and therefore inappropriate at an older age.  Nursing is never sexual.  Yes, it involves the breasts, but children don’t think about breasts as being sexual.  They are a source of nourishment and comfort.  Children don’t develop sexually, normally, until they are in their pre teen or teen years, by which time all known children have ceased nursing.  7 or 8 is the upper limit, in general, and that’s rare; most children have not started to develop by then.  The only people who see nursing as “sexual” are those on the outside who do not understand the relationship and are interpreting it through an adult’s eyes.  But between a mother and child, it simply is not like that.

4. The mom is “making” the child continue to nurse when he doesn’t really want to, because she can’t let her baby grow up.  She has weird hang ups and dependency on her child.  Anyone who thinks this has probably never nursed a child, and certainly not an older one!  And may not even have a child.  Have you ever tried to make a 1, 2, or 3 year old do anything they don’t want to do?  They are extremely contrary.  They are very stubborn.  You cannot make a child nurse, no matter how much you try [many moms try around 8 or 9 months when their babies still really need milk but are easily distracted, and it doesn’t work very well].  Many moms eventually develop a love/hate relationship with nursing.  They love having quiet moments and snuggling their children, but they hate demands for milk at odd times, acrobat behavior, and tantrums when they don’t get to nurse immediately.  Nursing is about both the mom and the child, but the mom is definitely doing it for the child, not for herself!

5. Breastmilk provides no health benefits beyond 1 year of age.  This is just ludicrous.  Breastmilk is known to be probably the healthiest, most natural substance we can possibly ever consume.  Its benefits are so lengthy we don’t even know them all yet.  This doesn’t magically cease to be true when a child turns 1!  Breastmilk continues to provide immunologic benefits to children as long as they are nursing, and it actually helps to develop their immune systems, not complete until around age 6.  Benefits are in no way negated or even lessened by a child growing older.  The only way they’re at all “lessened” is because the child slowly gets fewer and fewer calories at the breast, and more and more from table food.

6. If a mom wants to give her kid the benefits of breastmilk, she should just pump and give it in a cup.  Nursing is about far more than just the health benefits, which are important.  But it’s also about the snuggling, the closeness, the bond between mom and child.  As the child ages they will often replace nursing sessions with cuddling sessions.  On occasions Bekah doesn’t nurse now, she will say, “Okay, I want to snuggle with you instead.”  No adults have a problem with a child cuddling with their parents, nor would they suggest the child cuddle a stuffed animal instead.  Nursing is the same: it’s about the bond and closeness, and pumping milk into a cup just isn’t the same.  Also, it’s often impossible.  Many moms can never pump much, and even if they can early on, their supply regulates to the child’s demand and suction levels [which are very, very efficient, especially at an older age] and a pump just can’t match that and can’t get any milk.

7. The child’s friends will laugh at him or make fun of him if they find out he is still nursing.  This assumes that first of all, his friends will find out.  And they probably won’t, because it’s just not something a child talks about.  Even if they do, most children will be merely curious.  Think I’m wrong?  Over Christmas, Bekah demanded to nurse in the mornings in front of our extended family.  Her 5 year old cousin was merely curious.  She did not think it was weird, and no one made a big deal of it.  No one laughed.  Younger children are truly just curious and accept things.  The “laughing at each other” stuff doesn’t happen until around age 8 or 9, by which time the child has likely long since weaned.

8. An older child nurses many times a day, and the mom will need to come to school to nurse during recess.  An older child probably only nurses once or twice a day, and may even skip some days.  Nursing is a comfort reserved for certain times of day.  Bekah typically nurses twice a day, and the second nursing is very short [sometimes only seconds long].  Usually, first thing in the morning and right before bed are those times.  Parents certainly would not ever go to school to nurse a child during recess!  The only time a child would probably nurse more frequently is during illness, in which case they wouldn’t be in school anyway.  Nursing decreases in frequency more and more until it just stops one day.

9. You can’t nurse during pregnancy.  It’s dangerous and will cause a miscarriage.  Nope.  As long as you are healthy enough for sexual activity, you don’t have to worry.  The oxytocin produced is not enough to cause serious contractions or problems.  It may, however, make your baby wake up and bounce around like “What is going on here?!”  But it won’t hurt the baby.

1O. An older child can’t nurse at the same time as a baby, the baby will not get enough milk.  While you do have to pay attention to this, especially in the early weeks while establishing your supply, you’re more likely to have too much milk than too little.  It’s important to let the baby nurse first if possible, then let your older child nurse.  Your body will produce enough for both.  As long as you’re nursing the baby on demand, your baby will not starve.

11. You’ll have increased sibling rivalry if you let the older child nurse.  Nope.  Usually works the other way.  The older child doesn’t feel forced to wean or like you’re taking “his milk” away and giving it to the baby.  He knows he can still have it when he wants it [which might be often for weeks or months after the baby comes].  He knows he will have “special time” with mom, too, so his sibling rivalry is less.  Sometimes, especially once the baby is a few months old, siblings will actually nurse at the same time, and will snuggle into each other or hold hands.  [Or fight…lol.]

12. The milk can only be made for one child at a time so it’s going to screw someone up.  No.  The milk will be made for the baby’s needs, since the baby is entirely dependent on you for nourishment and your older child is mostly eating table food.  Your older child may gain some weight from the fatty new milk, and may have loose, breastmilk poop for awhile, if he nurses often enough.  This is normal and in no way harmful to either child.

That’s all I can think of right now!  What myths and misconceptions have you heard about extended or tandem nursing?

This is the writings of:



  1. I really admire tandem nursing moms! I think that there is no substitute for nourishing breastmilk for a growing child. I have a confession to make- even though I nursed my daughter for 2 years and 4 months, sometimes I really miss it, and also I think her body really thrived having the breastmilk, especially as my diet became more nourishing. Since she's weaned, I can tell she's not getting the same nutritional benefits as she once was! Plus, the sippy cup is now her comfort- even at 3 years old. All the raw grass-fed cows milk she can drink, will still never compare to nutrients from the few ounces of breastmilk from extended nursing that she was getting. I say, go for it, with my next child, we'll probably nurse longer than 2 yrs, knowing what i'm going through with my 3 yr old now! My 3 yr olds jaw structure was more round and normal, and her teeth were stronger while breastfeeding, than they are now, from being weaned 8 months later. If I can protect my childs teeth and bone structure, i'd breastfeed as long as it takes!


  2. Great post. I think those who are able to tandem nurse should feel very fortunate. I REALLY wanted to do it, but around 15wks when my older daughter was 15 months I dried up and she quit trying. 🙁 I was devastated. That was my single concern with nursing through a pregnancy. I knew I could deal with any of the points you mentioned, but there wasn't anything I could do to make my body continue producing milk. I hoped that once baby came the toddler would resume nursing, but she hasn't shown any interest at all.


  3. I nursed DD#1 for 21 months, until I was 3 months pregnant with DD#2. It was a mutual weaning, and it was emotional when the time came. She was just comfort nursing every other day or so at the end. I hope to nurse DD#2 at least as long…maybe even try to go a full two years or longer.

    What do you think of "demand" nursing past a year? I was forced to get DD#1 on a schedule early on because I went back to work full-time, and I had to have certain times for her sitter to give her my pumped milk and for me to pump at work. I still kept to somewhat of a schedule when I quit work when she was 6 months. Her weaning was very gradual, cutting out a feeding every few months, etc.

    My sister laughed at me for nursing "so long," but now she's still nursing her 16-month-old–on demand! She literally nurses him the same amount as I nurse my 12-week-old. The only milk he has ever had is hers. He is so attached that she literally cannot go to the bathroom for 5 minutes without him screaming for her. She has never gotten a babysitter for him or put him in the church nursery. She and her husband even took him–and had him sleep between them–on their anniversary trip.

    Is it possible to be too attached, or should I just say "To each his own"?


  4. In response to #4 – I sometimes can't "make" my 4 month old nurse when he's distracted by something (which incidently can be anything from the dog to the sunlight shining in the window!) LOL

    Thank you for this post. It encourages me to keep pressing on with breastfeeding. I have supply issues and at times I've felt like giving up but after much crying and prayer I know I am to continue until the Lord releases me from nursing and if that's past 12 months so be it!



  5. Thanks for this; it's such an encouragement!
    Here are the comments I hear (not necessarily directed at me and my nursing toddler, just in general from people who probably don't know my 2.5yo still nurses along with her 5mo brother)

    "When they're old enough to ask for it, that's too old"
    Seriously? What baby doesn't "ask" for it? Just b/c my older child can put it into words is not much different. And btw, she asks very nicely in full sentences… Can I please nurse, Mommy? 🙂

    "When they get teeth, it's time for real food."
    People that say this don't know when babies get teeth or when doctors recommend that even formula-fed infants get weaned from their bottles. My two preveious babies have gotten teeth later than average, around 9 months, and still, they were not ready for exclusively solid-food diets. It seems that bottle-fed babies get teeth a little sooner on average, and even formula-fed babies are not dr.-recommended to be exclusively on solids before a year.

    That's all I can think of for now. I'm sure there's more though 🙂



  6. I've changed my vocabulary (at least how I THINK of it) to full-term breastfeeding, instead of extended breastfeeding. This changes the perspective from doing something weird and unusual to doing something natural and healthy.


  7. Misconception I've heard recently you mentioned above. My sister-in-law asked if I would be breastfeeding past a years as she thinks it's "gross". I told her of course I would be, why would I suddenly switch to cow's milk. She looked at me like I had two heads. I told her there is nothing magical about turning "1".


  8. Erin,

    As to your sister's son, I think mine could have been like that. He is SUPER attached to me. I was, unfortunately, sick last night, and although he wasn't (and isn't), he would not sleep because he sensed that something was wrong. He screams "MAMAMAMA!" if he hasn't seen me in awhile. He shoves his hands down my shirt and begs to nurse. Now, this isn't constant behavior, just if he has been away from me awhile.

    But he's also very social, so some of this is driven by his need to just have attention. So I encouraged him to develop relationships with others too. I did put him in the nursery, though not till 8 months.

    I think that it's good to allow and foster independence without trying to "force" it. I also think demand nursing is generally a good thing, but the older the child gets, the more nursing is a partnership. So I'd say up until 18 months or so, maybe 2 years, I'll nurse "mostly" on demand. Not every time, but when I know the child is tired, or upset, or needs to connect with me. After that I'll restrict it more and more depending on the situation. My 3 year old WOULD nurse more often, but I tell her no and she doesn't fight me about it. I think that once a baby is able to demand "wants" and not "needs" that balance needs to be struck.

    Would I leave my kids overnight? No…I have never done it. That's what I'm comfortable with, though. But I certainly leave them with grandparents for an afternoon or in the church nursery. Every parent has to decide what they are really comfortable with. Maybe your sister LIKES how her son is, and he won't be that way forever (I hope!).


  9. I think this is a fantastic article. I don't have children yet, but we are planning to start a family in the next few years and I am starting to educate myself on all things baby. Nursing is a subject that is a little intimidating to me. But, it's because it's foreign, I've not had to do it yet, and it's something I've never really talked about or researched, other than saying yes, i'll nurse because I know it's the best possible thing I can do for my baby!

    I love reading your articles. I'm learning so much from you!


  10. Thank you so much for this post! My little man is just over a year old and I'm about 25 weeks pregnant with our second little one, due at the end of April. I'm planning on and want to tandem nurse when the new baby comes, but my one-year-old kind of lost interest in nursing when my supply went WAY down in the second trimester. He now only nurses before naptimes and bedtime and when he wakes up in the morning and often it's only for a minute or two. I've heard of that happening to a lot of women and then when the supply comes back when the new baby is born, the toddler is often very interested again, but I've also heard of things going the other way too. So it will be interesting to see what happens… Did you have problems with your supply dropping when you nursed through your second pregnancy (or with this pregnancy)?


  11. I am currently nursing my 19 month old and 22 weeks pregnant. I'm pretty surprised my milk has dried up. I still seem to have enough for my daughter! The biggest comments/questions I hear are:

    How could I possibly have gotten pregnant while breastfeeding? ummm…yeah, my cycle returned when my daughter was about 4 months old, so it wasn't so hard. I'm always surprised by this question since people constantly talk about how breastfeeding is not an effective form of birth control.


    How do you still have milk during pregnancy? Like I said, I'm kinda surprised myself, but always knew it was a possibility that my milk would never dry up. I'm sure my supply has decreased, but it doesn't even seem like it's done that much. My daughter's a snacker though, so it's kinda hard to tell.

    Thanks for the article!


  12. I have a question- I was wondering about colostrum. For the new baby,would there be any colostrum? I've always heard that is one of the most beneficial things a baby can have.

    My son is about to turn 1, and I always thought that this is when I would stop. Now..I'm not so sure. I'm definitely open to keep going, and I don't even know how to make him wean! I know that my parents and many of my friends will find it weird or gross, but I don't want that to be the reason I stop.


  13. This is my first visit to your blog, and I just wanted to drop a comment and let you know I've been really enjoying it. I haven't tried tandem, but would definitely love to, depending on timing of kiddos- our (only) daughter is 7 months old. I'm really appreciating all your info; I'm a health nut and all things natural wife/mom… 🙂 I've just recently dug into some topics you have a lot of info on, which I'm grateful for- like keeping milk supply up through pregnancy (I'm not pregnant, but would love more as the Lord gives), best nutrition for me while nourishing one or two, baby's first foods, etc. So much info; I could spend hours and hours here!


  14. It's definitely good to read stories like this. I was listening to BBC news this morning and they had a spot on this morning from doctors saying one should not nurse past six month. Was just shaking my head through the whole spot and thinking that whenever I have kid(s), I am going to let them decide.


  15. Wow this message came at the best time! My son just turned 2 on the 4th and everyone and their mother is questioning me about his nursing habits. Oh is he still nursing? You are planning on stopping soon right? I am in no way ready to stop and he is defiantly no where near it. My dad asked me today if i was going to nurse him until he was 16:/ I said "really dad? He just now started talking.. and not even in sentences! and for your opinion children loose their sucking ability around 6 to 8:) This was all light hearted with a air of disappointment. Britton still nurses as much as he did when he was prob 10mo old! No joke! Its kinda wearing on me and I am wondering what I should do about it because if it wasn't for him nursing 3 or 4 plus times a night it would be perfect! I cant tell if I am doing that part for me or him… partially because when he wakes its so much easier to just turn over and nurse him back to sleep.. 2nd I really will fall apart hearing him cry so heartbroken for hours until he gives up I will ever come to his rescue. 3rd Britton has always been a light sleeper .. so I thought! Every time he spends the night with my mom (which he asks to do! he loves her as much as me) he sleeps all through the night!!!! what is that? he has never done that with me or my husband. Thats why I feel we need to do something a little different.. Just not sure what yet. Thanks for the great post! I feel part of a big ,caring, healthy, and loving family:) Oh and any suggestions are welcome!


  16. Thanks for a fantastic post! I am hoping to TTC soon and plan to nurse throughout pregnancy, tandem nurse and do extended nursing until they feel they want to wean. Who knows, maybe I'll be asking you for advice in the months to come! 🙂


  17. Great post – I'm 8.5 months pregnant and still nursing my almost-two-year old, at least before naps and occasionally at bedtime. One comment to add to your misconceptions is one I had that goes the other way – I have always been open to tandem nursing, but never realized how difficult nursing during pregnancy would be.

    My daughter was three when baby #2 arrived and she weaned several months earlier when my milk basically had dried up and it was getting really painful. I was totally open to her starting up again, but when she asked after baby arrived, she couldn't remember how! This time I think my son, who's younger, still really needs to nurse so I didn't want to wean him altogether but it's definitely been a challenge, again, given the pain. Tender breasts plus less milk plus bigger kid… yikes. In comparison, I can hardly wait until baby #3 gets here so I have some milk again! So my misconception was that the hard part would be the tandem nursing itself … but nursing while you're waiting for the next baby seems harder so far. 😉


  18. Thank you for writing this post! I too was an extended nurser and nursed through my pregnancy with my second daughter! I posted a similar post on my blog about it: http://jewelsandtreasures.blogspot.com/2010/02/you-what.html But thank you for spreading the word about something so important!


  19. Brittney

    [Keyboard missing keys thanks to kids! Sorry for weird message.] You coud try snugging him when he wakes up instead of automaticay nursing him. I did that with my son around 15 months. I had been just automaticay nursing him but sometimes he didnt even seem to want it! So then I started offering a cup of water or a snugge instead and he sept better. Then we moved him out of our room a coupe weeks ater because he was no onger nursing at night but was sti waking up! Now he usuay wakes once or twice a night if he cant find his cup and occasionay wi want to nurse but not a the time. I sti comforted him and sti do never et him cry. But I just stopped offering nursing as the first option. If he asks/insists I wi but try not to. I bet you can make it work! I am going to post on seeping babies again soon and how we got my son from waking every hour or more to seeping at east a good 5 to 7 hour stretch most nights.


  20. I have IGT and nurse using a supplementer until our babies get enough other food for me to stop supplementing at the breast. I had less information and misinterpreted a nursing strike in our eldest daughter, who nursed for seven months. Our second nursed well into her third year, even though I know I didn't make very much milk toward the end, if any at all. She called it 'silver milk' and now, at age five, claims to remember those cuddly times spent together. She's glad our new baby nurses, and I'm glad we can decide together how long we intend to do so.


  21. I was very interested in tandem nursing, but I was unable to get pregnant without quitting nursing and actually had two early miscarriages because I didn't have enough progesterone since the prolactin was over-riding it. Unfortunately. My son was nursed for 27 months and he had shown some signs he was ready to wean. It wasn't a horrible thing for him, he began sleeping through the night, and he always knows the "nursies" are there for him. Over the summer he would ask from time to time and I nursed if he asked. He was hospitalized and put under for three days for croup (completely swollen airways, had to be intubated) in November (after he had been weaned for five months) and when he came to out of his heavy sedation, the first thing he asked was "Carry you (me) and nursies?" Guess what, I didn't hesitate to nurse him at all. The nurse was from South Africa and we had great conversations about extended nursing, the horrors of circumcision, REAL nutrition and a bunch of random other stuff. He nursed off and on that day and has only asked one or two other times. The best thing is I got pregnant in October, and Jameson is getting a sibling which is very important to me. Perhaps he will ask to nurse when the new baby comes along, and that's great, but he may also feel more grown up "passing on" the nursies to his new baby brother or sister.


  22. Aimee,

    Sometimes my son (18 months) demands to nurse, but then just snuggles against my breast. He seeks it as an all-around-comfort almost more than for milk, really! And hey, that's something we can all do. 🙂


  23. I have been a faithful follower through all the vaccination stuff…..and agree with many of your points…..this post has just crossed my mental line. I just cannot wrap my mind around the image of a child who is physically able to obtain their nutrition on their own being dependent on their mother for that. I know being the mother of an only probably disqualify my opinion, but I happen to know of a mother who has continued to nurse for up to 5 years – and in MY opinion (and it is just mine) that is a bit too much…..I honestly think my son and I would have both been harmed mentally if I had continued breastfeeding past the 1.25 year mark. If you all can do that – bless your heart…..but please don’t rag on those of us who chose, and who had children who “managed” to thrive even if we didn’t pass the two+ year mark.


  24. I’m so glad you posted this! I was told as a young girl that once you get pregnant you have to stop nursing the older child because you will have a miscarriage. Thank you, I now know the truth! I also thought it was gross that my aunt was still nursing my three year old cousin, because that’s what I was taught. That was when I was in college before I had kids. Now I’m an advocate for extended breast feeding but haven’t had the opportunity to experience it yet. My first two weaned themselves at 10 months and 12 months respectively. We’ll see what happens with numbers three! The odds are in my favor this time-I don’t have to work outside the home this time. Six months and still chugging along!


  25. […] Traditional cultures say that babies should be weaned between ages 2 and 3 and that mom should spend six months to a year building up her nutrient stores before getting pregnant again, with children spaced 3 – 5 years apart.  Or, at least, this is what everyone seems to say (based on Dr. Weston A. Price’s research). […]


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Hi, I’m Kate.  I love medical freedom, sharing natural remedies, developing real food recipes, and gentle parenting. My goal is to teach you how to live your life free from Big Pharma, Big Food, and Big Government by learning about herbs, cooking, and sustainable practices.

I’m the author of Natural Remedies for Kids and the owner and lead herbalist at EarthleyI hope you’ll join me on the journey to a free and healthy life!

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