"We did it!" Breastfeeding Multiples

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.

Tandem nursing our twins with 18 month old big brother supervising

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.

Kangaroo Care in the NICU with feeding tubes

 

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

19 thoughts on “"We did it!" Breastfeeding Multiples

  1. Jamie, you’re an inspiration. I was fortunate to meet a successfully nursing mom of twins shortly before I gave birth, and she gave me the confidence to keep up nursing even when it got hard. Still, we only made it 5 and 7 months. (I pumped for the other for the final 2 months.)

  2. Nursing certainly be a challenge. I nursed our boys (now 2 1/2) until they were 18 months old. We actually experienced the opposite problem. I was encouraged to pump too much initially and dealt with over production (clogged ducts/mastitis/excessive letdown). I met with out lactation consultant twice and two more phone conversations. She was so helpful all around, not just with nursing. Kind of like an experienced aunt! With that said I’m now nursing a single baby (3 months) and I honestly haven’t found the challenges of nursing to be that different then with two. The bigger obstacle for us with twins was handling normal baby challenges on way less sleep!

  3. I nursed my boys until they were 15 months (3 months after I got pregnant with my daughter). The first 2 months was a lot of pumping and bottles for one or the other. Then we dropped bottles to help them get more efficient. They never took a bottle after that. I encourage getting help from. We have a friend who is a lactation consultant and she was extremely helpful–even with just the logistics of tandem feeding. Once you and babies get the hang of it, it’s easy, but it takes time and work.

  4. Becky, we dealt with oversupply issues too. I think I got a little over zealous pumping before they started nursing. But I found it difficult to get someone to tell me exactly how much they would need. Around 2 months I finally got things under control… I try not to pump at all though because it really throws off my milk production (too much milk). One day I am planning on writing a little about oversupply issues.

  5. Perhaps because I already had 3 children, I could never figure out how to tandem nurse. I nursed the boys individually (they’re still nursing at 15 months) and on demand. For me, this was much easier and familiar. It also allowed me to jump off the couch and save toddlers from danger while nursing :)
    It is great to hear so many success stories!

  6. Great post! This is all wonderful information for new twin moms! I would add to utilize your time in the NICU to your advantage. We had access to a lactation nurse and even though my girls weren’t good at latching yet, I practiced getting the ginormous twin bf pillow in place (I would highly recommend having one) and picked her brain everyday.

  7. I am so impressed that you figured out how to BF 32 weekers–and with a toddler at home!

    I will chime in and say that there are plenty of twin moms who are lucky enough to escape NICU time–we did, and I know a number of others who did. For us, I think it is easier—and yet can still be a challenge. Even at 36 weeks, my two were sleepy eaters and reluctant to latch–that was its own challenge. I too experienced issues with oversupply and got mastitis three times.

    For me, I didn’t like tandem nursing so I nursed them one at a time. I met a mom of twins who successfully BF when they were 2 weeks old—her babies seemed so big to me, and now the four kids are all in preschool together! She was a real inspiration and introduced me to a drop-in BFing group, which was a real support. For me, what also helped was having someone tell me that it would get easier—and that by 4 months it would be just easy.

    Now, 6 months into exclusively BFing my new little guy, a singleton, I can say that BFing twins, like anything else, was a lot harder than doing it with just one. And BFing a 39 weeker is a piece of cake compared to sleepy 36 weekers. Six months in, I’ve escaped the engorgement & mastitis I had the first time around—of course, I’m also missing the really quick return to pre-pregnancy weight that I experienced when nursing twins.

  8. I LOVED nursing my twins…. eventually. The first several months with twins is crazy, and as a new mom very overwhelming, and nursing round the clock, or so it felt in the beginning, was hard and I wanted to quit! But, with a little help from WIC, developing a pattern, and figuring out what worked for us made all the difference. I nursed my twins almost exclusively (I would pump and give them some during the day, or mix it with their cereal) for 13 months! I did not like doing tandem nursing though. I liked the one-on-one time with each child… even if it meant listening to the other one cry for 10 minutes. I am so glad I did it. Thanks for sharing your advice! I wish I would’ve known about this site when I was expecting! lol

  9. Good for you(us, actually)! It’s so nice to see someone say yes, it’s time consuming but yes it can be done.

    I wholeheartedly agree with nursing one on one to bond and spend individual time with each baby. I tandem nursed when they were both starving but really enjoyed nursing one at a time.

    I never did have oversupply issues, and supplemented with formula in varying degrees pretty much the whole time. But they had breastmilk as part of their diet until they were nearly 1.

    Advice- TEST that pump in the hospital while the nurses are there. Don’t wait until you are home, 5 days post-birth, and your milk comes in, and your babies who can’t quite nurse yet aren’t draining you and when you get desperate at 3am because of the pain of engorgement you THEN realize that you are missing one, tiny little connector. (Thankfully it also came with a little hand-pump!)

  10. Totally agree with all of your tips! We went 12 months, and I still look back and think that it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. We were also in the NICU, for 3 weeks. I pumped and pumped and pumped, and seriously, my milk didn’t fully come in until day 7. So don’t despair! Also, Reglan is an amazing drug, check it out if you’re having issues getting your milk going at first.

    My only other tip is to reach out often. I hired a lactation consultant, and she just made me feel more confident at the times I needed it most. I also spent A LOT of time on the La Leche League website. Its forum is filled with inspiring moms, and there is a special section for those nursing multiples. One of the pieces of advice I got there was, when things are really not working out, spend a day (or part of a day) in bed with one baby at a time, while someone else feeds the other from a bottle. Relaxing with one baby and working on some one-on-one time really helped our latch issues, and relaxed me a great deal. It will help your milk supply too, I promise. Tandem nursing was generally the norm for us, but that’s because my girls would loligag at the boob for a looong time, and it was the only way I could keep feeding them both. I just sat on the couch for hours, literally, letting them eat and nap on my “boob barge” (twin nursing pillow) and had help to change their diapers and bring me water/food. I was lucky; we moved in with my parents. If that’s in the cards, I totally recommend it!

  11. My boys are 16 months now, and I am still nursing them. Just the thought of having to sterilize a bottle or organize a breast pump kept me on the sofa with the little guys attached to me. My husband likes to call them the little suckers. Although time consuming, exhausting, and to be honest sometimes nauseating, but the worst part of breastfeeding these babies has actually been dealing with my older boy (27 months when twins were born) who was desperate to go back to nursing (he went off by choice when I got pregnant with the babies) and went into all sorts of fits, climbing and attention seeking behavior that only recently went away. He still asks to nurse occasionally.

    What has made it easier? We had a nursing cushion custom made out of high density foam, shaped like a horse shoe. When the babies were small they lay on it the way most babies do, but when they got bigger we turned it around with my back leaning against the closed end of the U and then my arms got support from the weight of my growing boys who I held in the cradle position, laps on my thighs. Now they nurse in tandem at bedtime, and individually the other two times (each) they nurse during the day.

    I am so very glad I have continued with the breastfeeding. I know that with the busy-ness of this household I wouldn’t be forced into taking that one- on-one quiet time if it weren’t for our time spent nursing, and before I know it we’d be sending these kids off to kindergarten!

  12. I nursed my twins until they were 14 months old, and my son was 2 as well. I wasn’t working, so obviously that helped, but the firm breastfeeding pillow was a MUST. I made sure I learned how to tandem feed while in the hospital and then I called their help line many times over the first few months. Often, I just needed to relatch and reposition the twins to get it to work. I think all twin moms should consider the various positions for tandem nursing, some work better than others! One that worked for us for a while was laying them both the same direction, with one’s body lying on top of the other.

  13. There was a lot of pumping, some over-supply issues too, but it was beautiful to actually feed them on the breast. Our twins were in the NICU for 3 and 6 weeks so I got to start the breastfeeding trials there. I didn’t have much confidence in what I was doing, but the help from one nurse and a La Leche League consultant after they came home helped immensely. They encouraged breastfeeding right from the start. I tried to tandem feed a few times, and loved it. Also spent hours on the couch going like that. Tiring, but I always felt good about it. Eventually it was mostly one on one, and then mainly pumped milk in a bottle.
    I had quite a few people around me discouraging the process, both of tandem feeding and then breastfeeding at all after 6 months (I went on until they were 8 months old). All in all, it was the right choice for us, to breastfeed.

  14. I assumed that because I had a nearly 3 year old who I nursed successfully that I would remember how to do it when my twins were born. I did not and I was so incredibly thankful for my post-partum doula. It took a couple of days for my milk to come in but she really helped me figure out how to do two at once. My twins were full-term and I was able to nurse 19 months without needing to use any formula.

    While I think it is important to synchronize twin babies’ schedules, it did not work well for night feedings. I found that co-sleeping with our babies and nursing them individually while lying on my side allowed me to get the most possible sleep. I would just roll over periodically and swap babies. I could not sleep and tandem nurse. My advice is not to rule anything out. I never thought I would co-sleep but it was the only thing that got us through the first six months.

  15. I have 7 mo twin girls that I have nursed in tandem until just recently. I was just curious to see what others have experienced when they get to their wiggle stage – do you continue to nurse them at the same time? I find that their unlatching/re-latching really stresses me out when they are both doing it – along with their other wiggly antics (kicking feet, flailing arms, etc). Just looking to hear what you’ve done, or for advice. Thanks!

  16. I thought that this information may help new twin moms that are bottle or breastfeeding. This pillow is very unique in that it offers four solutions for twin moms. It offers breastfeeding, bottle feeding, tummy time and support. When I came up with this pillow, I was trying to find something that could help me feed me twins more comfortably and cost efficiently. I had tried another pillow on the market but it just was not working for my neck and back. I really wanted a full back support. I also wanted a pillow that could be used for a long time. Little did I know that my twins at three would still be using it to eat snack and watch movies! I also wanted a pillow that was safe since they were spending so much time eating and playing in it. The Twin Z Pillow was wonderful in helping me through the first years of my girls lives. I really could not have lived without it. It is also made in the USA! It can be found at http://www.twinzpillow.com
    I hope this helps new twin mommies!!!
    Michelle

  17. My b/g twins are six weeks today. Born at 37 weeks and 4 days. I have been tandum nursing from the beginning supplementing with formula once a day for each baby. Going back to work in a salon in three weeks. Any advise on best methods for building a supply of breast milk. No idea which times are better than others and when i do pump I seem to have nothing left for my babies to breastfeed with, which is defeating the point. I need advise please

    • There are lots of tricks to increasing your supply, but I had a similar issue. One thing that helped was to pump on one side while breastfeeding one baby on the other. I got much more milk than with the pump alone. I also recommend pumping at least every 3 hours when you’re away from the babies, and definitely pump during that meal where they take a bottle! Fenugreek supplements are said to work well, and I did see a very slight uptick in my supply when pumping.

      6 weeks old is a hard time for all nursing moms, I think, since our babies go through a major growth spurt around that time. Don’t get discouraged if you’re having a hard time keeping up. You may need to feed/pump more often (every two hours, maybe) until this spurt is over to help your supply increase and your babies may simply want to eat more often.

      I’ve also posted your question on our Facebook page, so I hope you’ll get some advice there too.

      I’ll see what we can do about getting you some more advice.

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