You’d always planned to breastfeed, but then you got the news: you’re having twins. Or maybe triplets or higher-order multiples. Is breastfeeding still possible? Yes! And even if you also need to supplement, Lactation consultant Karen Gromada (author of Mothering Multiples and herself the mother of twins; her site www.karengromada.com is packed with info) says: “Exclusive breastfeeding is obviously best and is often possible, but SOME breastfeeding is always better than no breastfeeding, and MORE breastfeeding is better than less.”
Read more: A guide to expecting twins >
With that in mind, here are some tips to make the most of breastfeeding when you have more than one baby:
1. Remember, each baby is a unique little person (even if your multiples are identical) who just happens to come as part of a set. That means each will have different needs and face different challenges when it comes to breastfeeding. Be sure to ask your breastfeeding helpers to watch both babies at the breast, not just one.
2. Learn who your breastfeeding “cheerleaders” are and who are the nay-sayers, advises Gromada. “Surround yourself with people who will support you,” she says. “Caring for two or three or more newborns is going to take more time and more physical and emotional energy. How could it not? You need people who will help you and support you so that you can get breastfeeding going.”
Read more: Mommy mentor: Why every mom needs one >
3. Lactation consultant (and mother of two sets of twins!) Jo-Anne Elder says: “Don’t rush to get your twins into a schedule or routine. We know feeding on cue is important to establish a good milk supply. It can be even more critical for multiples, because they are often premature or small and less able to latch well and transfer milk effectively.” She adds that often mothers of twins find that the babies settle into a natural rhythm by around six weeks and life gets a bit easier.
4. Having a “nursing station” helps a lot when your arms are full of babies! “In fact,” says Elder, “it’s a good idea to have several places where you can sit or lie comfortably with your little ones when you need to nurse.” She suggests stocking these spots with drinks, snacks, pillows if you need them, maybe a book or your iPod, and some diapers and extra baby clothes.
5. If you are not producing enough milk to breastfeed exclusively, but want to continue partially breastfeeding your babies, Gromada says it’s essential to breastfeed (or pump) effectively at least eight times in 24 hours. Fewer feedings, or feedings that don’t remove much milk, will lead to a gradual decrease in milk production. And while it’s tempting to sleep rather than pump at night, prolactin levels are higher during night-time pumping (or feeding) sessions and can be important in keeping your milk supply up.
6. What do you do with babies number two and three while you’re nursing baby number one? Elder’s tip: “Stay low to the ground! Put a blanket on the floor, put the baby or babies you’re not feeding on the blanket, and sit with your back against the couch to nurse. Then the other baby can roll around and you’re not worried he’s going to fall.” You can also change diapers on the floor if you need to.
7. Breastfeeding two babies at once should wait until you are sure at least one of the babies is latching on really well and maintaining the latch without much help from you. Then you can latch that baby on and let her go to it while you position and help the other one. Until they have that level of skill, it’s probably better to nurse one at a time. “There’s no rush,” says Gromada. “Simultaneous breastfeeding can be a time-saver, but it can also backfire if you try to do it too soon and the babies aren’t nursing effectively.” Elder adds that if you are breastfeeding on cue, you’ll probably find that you are sometimes nursing just one, and sometimes nursing two at a time. Using a nursing pillow or even an ordinary bed-pillow may be useful to keep both babies in position at the breast.
Read more: Breastfeeding positions >
8. If you do run into a breastfeeding challenge (such as sore nipples or thrush), get help as quickly as possible. With two or more babies constantly at the breast, the problem can get worse in a hurry.
9. You may benefit from joining both a breastfeeding support group (such as La Leche League) as well as a mother-of-multiples group. “You might be the only mother of twins in your LLL group,” says Elder, “but you’ll find the other mothers are experiencing many of the same joys and challenges and you’ll get knowledgeable help with breastfeeding questions.” No local options? Gromada recommends the online group.
10. Be good to yourself! It’s normal to feel overwhelmed when you have more than one newborn, and mothers of multiples are at higher risk for postpartum depression. Getting enough sleep is especially urgent. Accept any offers of help, and don’t be afraid to ask for more when you need it. Be patient with yourself (and your babies) and give yourself time to figure out how to make breastfeeding work for you and your newly expanded family.