Double breasted: How to master the tandem breastfeed

It’s intimidating at first to try to breastfeed your twins at the same time, but once you master the tandem breastfeed, it’ll feel like you’ve won the lottery.

mother breastfeeding twins yoga

Illustration: Olivia Mew

There is a steep learning curve with breastfeeding. And with twins, it can feel like that curve never levels off. The reality is that you’re juggling two babies with different breastfeeding abilities. And if, like most twins, they’re born premature, they’ll need extra help learning how to latch.

When I first tried tandem breastfeeding my six-week-old twins, I’d latch Chloe on and then Claire would pop off. I’d get Claire back on and Chloe would unlatch. It was like patting my belly and rubbing my head at the same time. My twin breastfeeding pillow felt like a giant cafeteria tray. After several unsuccessful attempts to tandem feed, I decided to breastfeed Chloe while my husband would feed Claire a bottle of pumped breastmilk. At the next feed, we’d swap. When I was alone with them, I’d feed them a mixture of formula and expressed breastmilk from bottles. Back then, tandem feeding alone seemed impossible. When they were six months old, I tried tandem feeding again and it was a whole lot easier. Once you can latch and feed both babies at the same time, it’s like winning the lottery. It makes an already hectic day of twin life a bit simpler because you can take care of a big task in one sitting.

Chrisie Rosenthal, an international board-certified lactation consultant and twin mom in Calabasas, Calif., recommends that twin moms start with breastfeeding one baby at a time and then, after a few weeks, transition to tandem feeding. “Babies who are late-preterm—typically normal for twins—usually don’t come out as awesome breastfeeders, so they need assistance,” says Rosenthal.

Where to set up
Your bed is the best place to feed your twins, says Rosenthal, because there’s room to lay out everything you’ll need. Rest your back against the headboard in the middle of the bed. “The key is that Mom is positioned at a 45-degree angle or even reclined a little in a laid-back breastfeeding position,” she says. “We never want Mom leaning toward the babies because that can cause back and shoulder problems.”

Gear up
A twin breastfeeding pillow should be wide, flat and big enough to accommodate two babies at the same time, says Rosenthal. “You want it to fit snugly against your torso and stay there, so look for one with clips that allow you to cinch it in place,” she adds. In addition to your pillow, you’ll want some receiving blankets rolled into bolsters. The bolsters can be used to position your breasts or support your twins’ heads and bodies. I used my bolsters to raise my breasts up to make it easier for my daughters to feed.

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If you’re using formula or pumped breastmilk to supplement, have those bottles ready to go. And if you’re using nipple shields to help the babies’ latch, make sure to have them handy. I also kept a bottle of water and a snack nearby—I found that I got very hungry and thirsty during feedings.

Assume the position
“Ninety-nine percent of the time, Mom is going to do what we call a ‘double clutch’ or ‘double football,’” says Rosenthal. Both babies will be tucked on either side of you, with their heads in front of your breasts, their bodies parallel to your chest and their legs pointing behind you.

Ready, set, feed
Once you’ve set up everything you need, lay your twins on the bed on either side of you, using bolsters or a feeding pillow to keep them in place. Centre yourself in the middle of the bed with your back against the headboard and put on your breastfeeding pillow. Latch the baby who is better at breastfeeding first and then latch on the second. Scoop up the first baby and use a blanket bolster to tuck behind his back to keep him in place. Then pick up the second baby and prop him up with a second bolster. “What happens most times is that as soon as you let go of one, the other one loses the latch,” says Rosenthal. “It’s totally normal for you to go back and forth a few times to get them both latched on. They’re still learning.” If you’re having trouble, ask for assistance from a partner, nanny or lactation consultant to hold the first baby in place while you latch on the second baby.

Milk it
Since you’re supplying milk for two babies, Rosenthal recommends working with a lactation consultant early on to track how much breastmilk each baby is taking in. “Although your body will respond to the demand for double the milk, most moms usually need a little help building their supply,” she says. Work with a certified lactation consultant to figure out if your milk supply needs a boost.

Balancing babies
If one baby gets fussy mid-feeding, try to relatch the baby, give him a burp, adjust his position or massage your breast to trigger your next letdown, says Rosenthal. You may just need to let him take a break and rest on your pillow while the other baby finishes eating.

Fast-forwarding to the present day, my 17-month-old girls latch happily with no problems. Tandem breastfeeding seemed so daunting at first, but I’m happy we all stuck with it.

Read more:
How to combine breastfeeding and bottle-feeding
10 tips for breastfeeding multiples

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