Whether or not to breast feed is a difficult decision to make and for mothers of multiples because it is also complicated by the need to adjust to caring for multiples.
I found that for me, the advantages of breastfeeding far outweighed the disadvantages. Nutritional value and money savings aside, I love how breast feeding allows for closeness between mother and baby. After the babies were born, I never felt like I had the same quality time that I enjoyed with their 18 month old brother. Yes, things were crazy, but the 30 minutes we had together to nurse helped me to connect with the babies. First we connected as a team, “We can do this!” Now that they are bigger and eat much faster, I enjoy my one on one time with each baby.
Physical exhaustion will play a toll and make you want to quit at times, however I felt wiped out just thinking about the alternative pumping and bottle feeding. Things were not easy for us at first. My boys were born at 32 weeks gestation and spend two weeks in the NICU. The best thing you can do in that situation is not to panic when you are not able to breastfeed. I know there is a lot of discussion on the interwebs about people lamenting about how they weren’t able to breastfeed because the baby had to have formula first. Preemies will most likely start out with a feeding tube and progress to bottles, but I want you to know that just because they can’t nurse directly from your breast does not mean that they never will.
So how do you prepare once you decide that you want to breast feed your multiples?
Prepare to Pump: The average gestational age at birth for twins is 36 weeks and the average NICU stay for premature twins is 14 days. Mothers who deliver their babies at 40 weeks should consider themselves lucky, although they may not be feeling all that lucky by 40 weeks (Yikes!)
The reality is that your multiples will be born earlier than a singleton baby and will likely spend a week or so in the NICU. If you decide that you want to breastfeed your babies, your first goal should be to prepare to pump because it is very likely that your babies will not be ready to nurse from the breast the minute they are born.
60% of mothers used a breast pump at some time. You will probably need to use a pump. If you can’t afford to rent or buy a hospital grade pump, check with your local WIC department. You may be eligible to use one of their hospital grade pumps for free. If you are planning on returning to work, you may want to consider buying a double electric pump if you can afford it.
Just a side note, you cannot stock up breast milk before your babies are born (well, at least your own). I have heard several anxious mothers express a desire to do this, but your milk will not come in until after the babies have been born. It may take a few days for it to arrive, but keep pumping. I went from having a drop of milk a day after my twins were born to coming home two weeks later with five gallon size Zip-lock bags filled with frozen breast milk containers.
Plan to Eat: Breastfeeding is a workout girls and you’ve got to be properly fueled for the burn. The nursing mother burns an average of 500 calories per baby breastfeeding. Non lactating women need a minimum of 1200 calories a day so lactating women need to be eating at least 1700 calories a day. If you find that you are having trouble with your milk supply or you are not losing weight, track your food on a free program like myfitnesspal.com and make sure you are getting enough to eat.
Prepare for challenges: Nursing twins has a whole slew of unique challenges that you will have to work through. I highly recommend synchronizing your babies schedules at first and nursing at the same time once they are able to nurse from the breast. If one baby is not ready to nurse from the breast, you could give him a bottle while the other is nursing. Mothering Multiples: Breastfeeding and Caring for Twins or More! (La Leche League International Book) is a great breast feeding resource from La Leche specifically for mothers of multiples.
Just because you have twins does not mean that you get a free pass from some of the other breast feeding obstacles. Our boys both had really bad tongue tie that we had to work through before they could nurse. A resources like kellymom.com or even finding a local La Leche group or lactation consultant is a great idea. You may even want to consider getting connected with local lactation specialist prior to the arrival of your multiples. They may be able to help you develop a game plan for breast feeding your babies, and you may feel comfortable contacting them when you need help if you have already met them.
We just made it through our first six months of exclusively breastfeeding and now we are beginning our journey by introducing solid foods. Although it is nice to be able to feed them from a spoon, I still look forward to each one of my ten mini nursing sessions each day (five for each baby).
If you are planning to breastfeed, I hope this article will help. If there are any moms who want to comment with tips for breastfeeding twins after going back to work, please do so in the comments below. I know there are several moms who would love to hear from you.
What helped you when breastfeeding two or more?
Jamie is the mini van rocking mama to three lively boys, big brother age 2 and identical twins age 6 months. Check out Jamie’s blog and podcast, The Playdate Crashers.