Breastfeeding

5 tips for early success when breastfeeding twins (or more)

My two babies, and me; the photo is by Angela Aird Photography.
My two babies, and me; the photo is by Angela Aird Photography.

The first few days and weeks can make or break your breastfeeding relationship. It feels particularly precarious when balancing the needs of not just one, but two or more babies. Here are some things that may help improve your chances of success in the early days of breastfeeding twins, gleaned from my own experiences and those of the other moms of multiples I have met over the last couple of years.

1. Keep your babies cooking for as long as possible.

While many people—doctors included—may insist that your twins may need to be born by a certain time, automatically designating twin pregnancies as high-risk and assigning a due date may not always be the best option. Some people say that twins are “full term” at 36, 37, or 38 weeks, but twins do not magically reach full-term sooner than single babies (there is some evidence that their lungs may mature sooner than singletons, but this, if true, is just one piece of the puzzle). March of Dimes states:

More and more births are being scheduled a little early for non-medical reasons. Experts are learning that this can cause problems for both mom and baby. If possible, it’s best to stay pregnant for at least 39 weeks. If your pregnancy is healthy, wait for labor to begin on its own.

Prematurity-related problems that might impact breastfeeding include an underdeveloped suck reflex; increased sleepiness; low birth weight/small size; a higher risk of jaundice, hypoglycemia, and difficulty maintaining body temperature; and anything else that requires separation of babies from their mother or supplementation. You may need to fight to be allowed to reach the point where you go into labor on your own, because the climate of hospitals is to treat twin pregnancies as high risk regardless of individual situation. However, avoiding separation and other problems associated with prematurity and late-term prematurity can make advocating for yourself and your babies extremely worthwhile.

You don’t need to take my word for it, though—here’s the science to back it up.

There are, of course, actual medical reasons you may need an induction or C-section, whether it’s the mother’s or babies’ health at risk. In those circumstances, this next item is all the more important:

2. Know where to find help before you need it.

If you end up separated from your babies or one or both babies is unable to breastfeed effectively, you will need to pump with a rental/hospital-grade pump. A rental pump will do the best job of stimulating milk production and removing milk from your breasts. These pumps can also be a significant expense and, while insurance will likely cover it, it makes sense to do the legwork on how and where to rent one beforehand. Conversely, if your babies are able to latch and are able to breastfeed effectively from the breast without supplementation, adding pumping to the mix (as some care providers will insist upon) is unnecessary at best and harmful at worst. Talk to a lactation professional you trust if you’re in this situation.

In that vein, familiarize yourself with the people who can help make your breastfeeding journey a success, such as an IBCLC, CLC, a La Leche League group, or Breastfeeding USA counselor. Hospital lactation help can be hit-or-miss, so finding your own resources to help at the hospital and at home may prove invaluable.

As far as resources you can access on your own, the book Mothering Multiples by Karen Kerkhoff Gromada is one that should be on your reading list. She provides in-depth information on how to deal with common roadblocks to breastfeeding success (in addition to a whole lot more about mothering more than one baby at a time). The Facebook group Naturally Parenting Twins is an amazing resource for moms who are breastfeeding multiples. Karen Gromada is a member, and so am I, along with a lot of others who have breastfed their multiples.

3. Get a twin-sized breastfeeding support pillow.

Some moms of twins find it difficult to tandem feed (that is, breastfeed both babies at the same time), but if you can manage this, whether it takes lots of practice or you get the hang of it immediately, it is a huge time saver. Not to mention, it saves you from having to listen to one baby cry while the other is being fed.

4. Take all the help you can get. 

People will say, “Let me know what I can do to help.” Maybe they are just being polite, but take full advantage of it. (After all, they won’t look very good if they offer help and then refuse when given the opportunity!) If you have a hard time telling people what you need, keep a list on the fridge, or a whiteboard in a visible spot, with whatever you need done. Maybe that list will be household tasks like “put a load of dishes in the dishwasher” or “fold laundry and put it away.” Or maybe you want someone to sit and talk with you because you crave adult interaction, bring you snacks, or clean off the front window because you keep seeing the smudges your two-year-old left behind and it’s driving you nuts. Hiring a postpartum doula is an option, too; they help you ease into your new life as a parent to more-than-one-baby-at-a-time (if the cost seems prohibitive, ask for their services as a gift).

5. Cut yourself slack. A lot of it.

Parenting twins—whether you’re breastfeeding or not—is going to be hard work. And it sounds trite, but the dishes can wait and the laundry can pile up. Maybe you’ve prided yourself on cooking from scratch and need to give yourself permission to feed your family frozen chicken nuggets and french fries. Your priorities are for the people under your roof to be fed, reasonably clean, and alive. (And there are days you might not meet the “reasonably clean” threshold.) You automatically achieve supermom status by having two babies at the same time; anything else is like a big, fat, gold star on top of it all.

Tags:

9 comments

  1. Fantastic post. Only thing I would add is "You will spend all your time nursing for the first few weeks. It WILL get better."

  2. I sit here reading this while tandem nursing my twins. I feel like a super mom when they smile.

  3. I agree with Kelly, only I would extend that statement to a few months. I found it got much easier after 5 months when I began weaning (yes I know the WHO recommends weaning at 6 months these days but my health visitor said it was fine). It IS hard in the first few months and you'll feel as though you are stuck to the sofa, but it IS worth it. Make sure you settle down on the sofa with phone, remote and water all placed nearby when you begin your marathon feed for the day. Don't expect to move much! 🙂

  4. Excellent and helpful advice- one caveat: not all of the links given are peer reviewed- some are (and it is not to say that those not are unreliable – some are excellent, just not necessarily peer reviewed.)

  5. I agree with Kelly. My couch will never be the same.

    I'm reading this while tandem nursing too.

    I'd also like to add that you need to give yourself some time. Breastfeeding multiples is a rare art. Very few people will ever do it. Fewer will succeed. While mothers of singletons might feel that they've 'got it' in six weeks, by six weeks, you'll feel as if you're barely scratching the surface. But that's alright because if you're determined enough you'll get there.

  6. I loved exclusively breastfeeding my Twinny's until 18 months. I was sad when they self weaned due to becoming pregnant with my 4 baby. If I could I'd do it all over again. Nursing them is how I landed my position as a breastfeeding peer counselor for the WIC program.

  7. Excellent post – thank you! A question about this statement: “if your babies are able to latch and are able to breastfeed effectively, adding pumping to the mix (as some care providers will insist upon) is unnecessary at best and harmful at worst. Talk to a lactation professional you trust if you’re in this situation.”

    Is this true if you had preemies (mine were 31 weeks) and they are in the very early stages of breastfeeding, still before their due date? I fear losing supply if I stop pumping since they are still getting the hang of breastfeeding which we try 1-2 times/day. They can latch, suck, swallow and breathe, but they get tired easily and don’t empty the breast. Do I keep pumping until they build their stamina and then switch to BF only? I’d love to give up pumping but since I’ve been doing it around the clock for 7 weeks it’s hard to think about going cold turkey.

    1. That’s a great point to bring up for clarification, Jo! If your babies are not breastfeeding as their sole source of nutrition, and transferring milk well (which means they get enough to eat without supplementation and your supply is maintained), that would not be effective breastfeeding in my book. I should have been clearer on that point and I’ll edit the post to reflect this; it’s important that the babies have the ability to feed from the breast AND that it’s happening 8+ times per day per baby.

      You’ll need to keep pumping until they are breastfeeding adequately without supplementation. You are at the point where this is just around the corner, though, and have been through the very hardest part in regard to building milk supply! Have you checked in with an IBCLC lately? It may be time to mix up the feeding plan a bit if it’s feeling unsustainable, and maybe add some techniques to beef up feeding from the breast to help move that along.

      Congratulations on your new babies! 🙂

      1. Thank you so much for your quick response and clarification! I do feel like we are rounding the corner of increasing BFing. I hope to check in with a IBCLC next week (once I figure out what exactly insurance will cover, in-home vs. outpatient) to get some new ideas on how to make the transition.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *