We all know someone pushing around a double stroller these days. (Fertility drugs and the rise in the number of older new mommies have increased the potential for conceiving twins and triplets.) Yet many new mothers of twins believe that they can’t breastfeed their babies. Nothing could be further from the truth—nearly every mother can breastfeed, even moms nursing more than one. The trick is educating yourself on the subject and practice, practice, practice! Here we’ll highlight three common myths surrounding the art of breastfeeding twins.
Myth #1: You Won’t Be Able to Make Enough Milk for your Twins
Your breasts produce milk on a supply and demand basis. It’s that simple. When the babies suck properly at the breast, the milk ducts are stimulated to produce. Proper sucking can involve some practice though (and some frustration for some in the very beginning), but it is crucial to your body to supply the amount that is necessary for junior et al. to become satisfied and grow properly. So nurse your twins often until you build up a strong milk supply. (Between nursing your twins you can also use a pump to stimulate production. I used Avent Isis Breast Pump. Although a manual pump, I found it easy and very effective even with twins.)
Getting your baby to open her mouth wide and take in the nipple and areola fully into her mouth is key. How do you know if you’ve hit the mark? Check to see that your baby lips are visible. If not, roll her lips out using the side of your index finger. Also, check to see that the baby’s tongue is noticeable on the underside of the breast. If not, gently remove her from your breast and start the lack-on process all over again.
How the babies suck is also important. Positioning your twins properly on each breast is crucial to good sucking. It may take time to figure out the right way with each child since each twin may have a different style and strength when it comes to suckling. My twin boys had completely different nursing styles. One baby got very frustrated waiting for let-down that he would pull off my breast screaming in frustration. After trying everything to keep my infant twin on my breast, it was my mother-in-law who suggested that the other twin start the process for his brother. I’d let my patient nurser begin to suck and once my milk began to flow, I’d switch him to the other breast and place my impatient sucker on the flowing breast. The trick worked and it didn’t take long before the impatient nurser learned to be a champion at the breast too.
OK, you say, but how do I really know that both my babies are getting enough milk?
“Count what comes out the other end,” says Lynda Haddon, director of Multiple Births Canada. Haddon says that in the initial first few months, six to eight wet diapers per baby per day indicate that each is getting enough to eat.
Maintaining an adequate supply of milk is important. Mom must be in good health to help her milk supply become well established and that means mom must be well hydrated. When babies drink, so should you. Plan to drink eight ounces of fluid (preferably water) each time you nurse. Good nourishment is important, too. This is where all of those frozen meals you prepared ahead of time and those doting family members and friends can come in handy. Eat a good variety of healthy foods whenever hunger hits (of course a piece of that celebration chocolate sent from Aunt May can’t hurt either)! And don’t forget to maintain a calm environment, too. Haddon notes that high stress levels can affect not only your milk production but make the nursing seem like a chore. “Breastfeeding then seems like an annoyance rather than the fulfilling experience it can be for everyone,” she says.
Myth #2: You Won’t Have Any Time For Yourself
Yes, in the beginning, Haddon admits, you give up what little free time you have to learn how to care for these new little beings. And much of that time will be devoted to breastfeeding, figuring out routines and learning the ins and outs of nourishing your multiples. But, Haddon points out, time moves on quickly as you get more experienced. But when a nursing routine is established, breastfeeding actually will save time. Think about it: No bottles to sterilize, no formula to mix, and when you tandem nurse, you’ll be able to feed both babies at the same time.
Again here we need to rely on the supports you have hopefully put into place prior to the births of your twins. Hook up with a network of other moms who are breastfeeding, especially moms breastfeeding twins. La Leche League International, for example, is a great organization that offers a wonderful support network for nursing mothers. La Leche groups throughout the world hold monthly meetings to discuss breastfeeding and parenting issues as well. Depending on your area you may be able to hook up to a meeting on any given week, as well as have access to phone support and a library of breastfeeding materials.
Multiple Births Canada supplies information and support to anyone (regardless of where you live) who contributes a membership fee. This non-profit run by Haddon, a volunteer, wants to get the help out there to those who need it. Haddon’s organization has regular meetings in different areas in Canada. However, those in other countries can request their mailing information or phone support.
Stay in touch with others via the computer. Check out Twiniversity’s forum to get parent-to-parent support on any number of issues regarding nursing multiples or other aspects of parenting twins. The key is to stay informed and stay in touch, especially with others who are sympathetic to your cause!
Susan Gunn-Nodiff, a 38-year-old mother of seven successfully breastfed her fraternal twin boys for more than a year. An experienced mother, Gunn-Nodiff prepared for the likelihood of a cesarean section for her twins and anticipated the help she would need in the first few weeks while her body healed. With the assistance of her husband and a network of friends, she was able to nurse and parent her twins without having to compromise the rest her body needed for healing.
“When everybody else is saying you can do it, you can prove that yes you can!” she says.
Myth #3: Your Spouse Will Be Left Out of Parenting Your Twins
So babies are here and hubby wants to help. (If it were only this easy to get him to take out the trash!) He’s afraid he’ll be excluded from the parenting process if he can’t feed the babies. Well truth is, he doesn’t have breasts and will be left out of that aspect of the process but there is so much more involved in caring for twins!
Dad can hold and soothe one baby (an act of bravery in itself!), while mom is nursing the co-twin. Dad can also have the job of taking care of mom, making sure she has ample supplies of water all day long, massaging mother’s neck while she is nursing, changing the babies clothing and diapers, and giving the babies their baths. Certainly babies spend much of their early weeks eating and sleeping but this period is just a fraction of their lives.
Initially spouses can be of great support to the breastfeeding mommy. Nursing is something that both mom and baby have to learn, so there is a trial and error period, which can be trying and frustrating. Dad’s active role can offer support, helping position the babies, checking books for guidance, calling lactation specialists if necessary, and just being a generally sensitive cheerleader for mom. Of course once your twins or triplets reach six weeks, the bottle can be introduced and dad can easily take charge of the necessary bottle feedings with mom’s previously pumped breast milk. One of the most helpful dads is the one who supports his spouse in her decision to breastfeed. Now you all have one less hurdle to overcome. But you must believe (and assist dad in understanding) that fathers have incredible parenting potential in the early weeks of the babies’ lives.
Haddon points out another important way spouses can be a part of the plan. “Your mate can become the spokesperson, advocating with family members and others who may have concerns or problems with your twins being breastfed,” she says. Her group offers scripts with phrases that can assist the spouses in dealing with resistant or outspoken family members (those who will badger you about nursing, and some who are actually downright creative in their attack on the process of breastfeeding). Spouses are in a good position to take control by keeping the predators away from the nursing mom (remember low stress levels are helpful).
Ending the Myths
While there may be circumstances that present themselves and hinder the nursing of the twins or triplets, parents can still be prepared before the birth to help things go as smoothly as possible. Be a pioneer and help put an end to the thoughts that breastfeeding is not an option for multiple babies. Enlist the support you need and give it a try.
Gunn-Nodiff encourages new moms contemplating breastfeeding their twins to hang in there despite what everybody says. “Knowing that I am giving them the best start and watching them hold hands when they nurse makes it all worth it,” she says.