Breastfeeding moms and professional athletes have much in common. To be successful at either requires time, commitment, practice and endurance. After breastfeeding twins, I felt just as deserving of a gold medal as Olympian Michael Phelps. People often ask how I managed to nurse Mila and Eli – as if it were a great mystery. It’s simple: two babies, two breasts and a lot of time hooked up to an electric breast pump!
Those first few weeks were overwhelming. By the time I fed my twins every three hours, followed by pumping to increase my milk supply, I barely had time to eat, sleep or go to the bathroom before it all started again.
Feeding times definitely were a sight to behold. I would sit on the couch with a super-size nursing pillow for twins strapped around my waist, burp cloths strung across my shoulders and two babies usually exercising their pipes at full capacity, as I awkwardly tried to get them positioned for feedings. I usually nursed one baby and held a bottle of breast milk or formula to the other baby’s mouth. In dire straits, I nursed them both at the same time, but I never felt like I had the coordination to do it on a daily basis. When I did, I’d spend five minutes after I had breastfed in a panic searching for my shirt … only to discover it around my neck!
Nursing Multiples 101
Lactation consultants often recommend nursing twins by placing Baby A on the right breast and Baby B on the left breast and then alternating the babies at each feeding. When your babies outnumber your breasts, you have to be even more creative. Triplet moms often nurse Baby A on the right and Baby B on the left, and then pump and give a bottle to Baby C.
Gretta Blythe, lactation consultant and manager of A Nursing Mother’s Place at Presbyterian Hospital, says alternating feeding sides is important. “This give the babies a different line of vision and helps regulate milk production more equally. Also, one breast might make more milk and alternating sides ensures the babies get the same quantity.” She adds, “While there are more benefits to exclusively nursing, there are several options when you have multiples.” In addition to breastfeeding, Blythe says some mothers supplement with formula or pump breast milk and bottle-feed their babies. “Breast milk is of great value for a baby, but it’s even of more value to preterm babies,” she explains, adding that multiples are at higher risk for premature birth.
Getting Support, Setting Goals
Huntersville mom Hattie Kissel mastered the art of breastfeeding her twin boys, Charlie and Ben, simultaneously. She says it was a necessary time saver.
“You have to practice it at first and have loads of help when getting started,” says Kissel. “Because my boys were born two months early, they were in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit). The lactation specialists were amazing. They worked with me every day, answered all my questions, and even took my calls when we left the NICU.”
Kissel says setting small goals helped her succeed at breastfeeding. “I told myself, nurse for three months, then it was onto six months, and so on. After it was all done, I realized I needed some serious jewelry for making it to a year.”
Kissel says moms who breastfeed multiples should take pride in their accomplishment. “People would say to me, ‘You are amazing.’ I would say ‘I know!’ It is worth tooting your own horn. Just knowing that you are giving your babies the best start, bonding with them and saving money – it really doesn’t get any better than that.”
Nursing on the Go
Megan Matz, a Denver resident and mother of twin girls, Molly and Maddie, adjusted the way she nursed her babies as they grew. “When they were newborns and still pretty small, I breastfed them at the same time because it took half the time that way. When you spend most of the day and night breastfeeding, any time-saver is welcome!”
Matz adds, “When I first started, I had to have my husband hand me a baby, but as we all got better at it, I could latch and unlatch on my own.” Matz nursed her twins for nine months. “I did the football hold most often, with their heads facing each other and their bodies on the sides of my body. As they grew and it became harder to hold them with just one arm, I switched to (feeding them) one at a time. I valued this a lot, too, because it was truly one-on-one time with each.”
Though it was challenging at first, Matz says nursing soon became second nature. She became confident enough to breastfeed on the go. “From the time they were a few weeks old, I liked to go shopping, get groceries, meet friends for lunch and go to play dates. I’d have to feed the girls while out, and I’d often sit in my car and nurse them. I always covered up, but there was one time when the girls were still very little and I was getting the hang of it, I gave a bunch of construction workers quite an eyeful while getting situated.”
Pumping for Three
An electric breast pump often becomes a valuable possession for breastfeeding mothers of multiples. When Charlotte mom Sonia Szymura’s triplets were born eight weeks premature, they were too small and weak to breastfeed. She pumped breast milk every three hours and brought it to the hospital in storage containers each day. After coming home from the hospital, her triplets, Isabelle, Sophia and Nick, continued to struggle with nursing. Szymura continued pumping until they were 7-1/2 months old. She fed them bottles of breast milk by propping them up with Boppy pillows and blankets.
“Pumping was very time consuming and frustrating at times, especially when they were sleeping through the night, and I was still getting up at 2 a.m. and then again before they woke up in the morning to pump,” says Szymura. “I’d get up half asleep and sit in the bathroom and pump. Once I fell asleep pumping and the bottles were overflowing when I woke up, and I was so mad that I wasted this precious stuff.”
Szymura’s advice to mothers of multiples is not to give up on breastfeeding or pumping too soon. “It’s easy to throw in the towel. Give it an honest 100-percent effort, and then if it’s only 25 percent breast milk (that you can produce for your babies) and then (the rest is) formula, well that’s still something,” she says.
5 Tips for Breastfeeding Twins, Triplets
1. Gear up to pump … and often. Pumping stimulates milk production and allows moms to stockpile extra milk when the babies need a bottle. Use an electric double pump to express milk from both breasts at the same time, and consider renting one from a hospital or medical supply company to try it out at first.
2. Keep trying and experimenting with different positions and logistics. Try lying down and sitting up, or consider using a nursing pillow for the babies to lie on.
3. Use a feeding log to keep track of when each baby is fed and on which side, or if one baby gets a bottle. Also, recording how many wet and/or dirty diapers the babies have in 24 hours indicates if they are getting enough breast milk (newborns should have six or more wet diapers a day and four or more bowel movements a day).
4. Accept help and support. From cooking to laundry, let grandparents and neighbors pitch in as often as they can. Don’t be too proud and then become exhausted by going it alone. Also, be sure to find the support of other parents of multiples, and call for professional help if problems arise by contacting a lactation consultant.
5. Nurture and pamper Mommy. Stay hydrated – drink lots of water to produce milk for the babies, and then drink more to quench Moms thirst. Eat a balanced diet, and consider munching on small meals or snacks throughout the day, as nursing burns a lot of calories. Rejuvenate with fresh-air walks on nice days, and rest whenever possible (when the babies sleep!); short power naps definitely help.
Holly Becker is a freelance writer who blogs about motherhood. A resident of Davidson, Becker tries to stay sane while raising three children ages 3 and younger.