For many mothers-to-be, the challenge of breastfeeding ONE baby is daunting, but when you are expecting two or more you may be asking yourself, “Is this even possible?”. The answer, is absolutely yes! Not only is it possible, but it may be much more manageable than you’d think. Read on for five key tips in making your breastfeeding goals a reality.
Don’t listen to the naysayers!
I am sure many of us have heard a variation of this same type of comment:
Aunt Sally: “Are you really going to breastfeed TWO babies? How does that even work? I tried to breastfeed Johnny and I couldn’t even make enough milk for ONE baby. He was starving until I gave him formula.”
I heard so many negative comments about breastfeeding my twins, but the reality is that women do it all the time! Yes, it is more of a challenge than feeding one baby. The thought that maybe your body won’t make enough milk for two newborns is a very common concern, but research says that less than 5% of women actually have a insufficient supply to feed their babies. Don’t be afraid to share your goals with friends and family, even if they are vocal about their own less-than-successful breastfeeding experience. The more I stated my goal of breastfeeding for at least 6 months and hopefully one year, the more motivated I felt to reach that after the babies had arrived. If you do get any negative feedback, just offer something along the lines of “Every woman is different!” and be committed to trying your best.
Do your research BEFORE the babies arrive.
There are many ways you can prepare for breastfeeding your twins while you are still pregnant. One of the most important things to do is take a breastfeeding class. If you can only take one, take one specifically for multiples, like Twin Love Concierge’s Breastfeeding Twins Online class. If you can, also taking a general breastfeeding class at your local hospital is also a great idea. The more you hear about key breastfeeding concepts now, the easier the information will come to you once you are in the throes of new motherhood. One tip I give expecting parents is to find a local IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) in their community, preferably with multiples experience, who they can call on once the babies have arrived. Even when things were going really well nursing my second set, I still saw a lactation consultant to check their latches and make sure everything looked on point. Having a number on hand for an IBCLC and solid breastfeeding education tucked away in the back of your mind will really help if you find yourself encountering one of the common challenges of breastfeeding two newborns.
Have reasonable expectations.
I like to compare breastfeeding to learning how to walk. Walking is an instinct, something we are born to do, but not some thing we are born doing from day one. It takes time and practice, and a few falls along the way. It is the same with breastfeeding. So many women put pressure on themselves thinking that they should just immediately know how to breastfeed, but the truth is that is it is NOT an innate skill, it is learned. Going into it knowing that there will be a challenge while you (and babies!) get the hang of things, but that eventually you will all learn together, can be really helpful. One of the first concerns I hear from new moms is that they fear their newborn is not getting enough milk. “As soon as I finish feeding them, they are hungry again! I must not be producing enough”. In reality, frequent newborn feedings are completely normal – 10-12 feedings per day is average for a breastfed baby, and each session lasts around 20-45 minutes. Remember, breastmilk is quickly digested and a newborn’s stomach is so tiny, causing it to fill and empty very frequently. All of those feedings can feel overwhelming, but try to reassure yourself in thinking that this increased demand is helping you build a killer supply. Look at this phase as an investment in time, push through the hardest part and the reward of breastfeeding your twins will be monumental in the months to come. It really does get easier after the first 4-6 weeks!
Another expectation that is helpful to consider, it takes time for milk to come in after delivery – 2 to 3 days for a vaginal birth, and 4-5 days for a cesarean section. In the days leading up to that, you will be making colostrum, which is like a superfood for your newborn. With the stomach size of a large blueberry, those drops of protein- and antibody-rich colostrum is really all your baby needs for the first few days. The feedings will be frequent because of this, but again – think of that supply you are building. In the meantime, before your milk comes in fully, it is not the end of the world if you have to use a little formula. Any amount of breastmilk is amazing for babies, so don’t be hard on yourself if this is the best choice for your babies at the time. A lactation consultant is your best ally in this situation, to see what the options you have in ensuring your supply is protected while also making sure your babies are happy and healthy.
Think of tandem feeding as the “next level”
When someone sets out to breastfeed twins, the natural assumption is that there will be two babies attached to you at all times. Although this may sometimes feel like the case, in the beginning I encourage moms to take tandem feeding slowly. Many newborns struggle with getting a good, deep latch – which is essential for mom to have a comfortable experience. They also tend to “pop off” the breast or come unlatched pretty frequently. Both of these tendencies can equal a lot of frustration when multiplied by two simultaneously. I still vividly recall one overnight tandem attempt with my first set. I was bone-tired, trying to coordinate and triage what felt like a olympic gymnastic routine in getting them both fed at the same time. I would get one baby latched well, then try to latch the other, by the time I had him latch his brother had already come off. Back to baby one, but by then the second baby was crying because my letdown had been too much for him. Before you knew it we were all crying! Although I saw the huge time-saving value of tandem nursing, it was then I realized I needed to reframe how I was thinking about tandem feeds and work more slowly up to using them. I dropped down to all individual nursing sessions, except for two tandem sessions a day when I knew I’d have a second set of hands to help. This really allowed me to concentrate on getting a solid foundation with each baby, and being more present to the unique way each of them nursed. When I felt comfortable with the two sessions a day and was managing them without help, I swapped another individual feed for a tandem one, and then another several days later. By one month home from the NICU, we were doing all tandem feeds during the day, and individual at night. I never loved tandem-ing during overnight feeds, so I just did what worked for us! I always encourage moms to try tandem feeding a few times in the hospital when you have the expertise of the lactation consultants available. After that, work up to it slowly to avoid early frustrations.
You have to take milk to make it!
If there is one key concept you will hear over and over again in your classes and reading on breastfeeding, it will be about supply and demand. This is even more important when building a supply for two (or more) babies. In order to bring in a solid supply for multiples, a newly postpartum mother should be aiming to empty her breasts about 10 times per day. This means that even if your babies are getting some supplementation while you build your supply, that you need to pump at the same time they are getting that feed. I have come across moms that end up “skipping” that feeding (by not pumping while babies get formula) in order to get a break, but if done regularly this can cause a decrease in supply. You have to keep sending that message to your body that you need to be making more milk, and that will be what helps you drop supplementation if used. As a lactation professional, I am frequently asked what one can take (herbs, foods, drinks) in order to up their supply. Research shows that galactagogues, or a food or drug that increases milk supply, are not necessary for the average nursing mother – but that increased nursing or pumping does a much better job in increasing supply. No amount of fenugreek, brewer’s yeast, water, cookies, or the infamous blue gatorade (don’t even get me started on that one!) can help increase your supply if your are not effectively and frequently emptying your breasts. Power pumping, hand expression while nursing/pumping, and using a Haakaa hand pump on the opposite breast when individually nursing are all great ways you can help your supply when needed.
Arguably, nursing multiples will be one of the most challenging – but also most rewarding – experiences you will have in your lifetime. When you struggle, try to get through just that next feeding. Keep going back to the “investment in time” concept and remind yourself that in just a few short months, babies will be much more efficient resulting in shorter, less frequent feedings. The health benefits for babies and a nursing mother are vast, and the cost savings and convenience are incredible as well. Hang in there, Momma! I promise you will be glad you did.
About the author
Lindsay Castiglione, LC is TLC’s Connecticut Associate and the mother of two sets of twins, an identical 8 year old boy set, and a 6 year old boy/girl set. She was born and raised in Cape Cod, MA, and married a Submariner in the U.S. Navy for 10 years, so now home is where the Navy takes them. She has her B.S. in Social Work, and focused on helping support parents of young children before starting her own family. Breastfeeding was very different for each set, but equally as important, and her varied experiences motivated her to become a Certified Lactation Counselor in 2015. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on our Connecticut services or online Breastfeeding Twins Class details.