Let’s be honest, breastfeeding multiples isn’t always easy and this is especially true when they’re born very early. It can be quite a journey and breastfeeding doesn’t work out for every mum.
Many mums-to-be imagine themselves tandem breastfeeding their newborns right after birth in those first hazy moments of bonding. Although it seems like it should be the most natural thing, it’s much trickier than just shoving your wee baby onto your boob. Breastfeeding premature twins can be even more of a challenge.
Premature babies generally don’t have the strength to feed themselves. “The youngest we ever had breastfeeding was at 30 weeks gestation” NICU lactation consultant Maggie Morgan says. But most babies aren’t able to suckle consistently until they reach around 34 or 35 weeks.
Many twins need respiratory support for their first weeks and can only start to practise breastfeeding when they’re breathing independently. They are fed through a nasogastric tube until they’ve learned to coordinate their breathing and swallowing, and have gained enough strength.
But that doesn’t mean they don’t need breastmilk!
“Breastmilk is important for immunity. It’s easier to digest and prepares the gut for solid food later in life” Maggie says. “There are a lot of long term beneficial effects.”
Even mums who don’t plan on breastfeeding when they take their babies home are urged to give expressing a go. Human bodies are amazingly clever. When babies are born early, Mum produces milk that is especially rich in calories, vitamins and protein. The milk also helps the babies fight off infections.
“It’s the one thing Mum can do for their premature baby” Maggie says. Many mothers feel so helpless when their babies fight for themselves in their incubators, but their milk can make a big difference!
From when they first start to latch on it can take premature babies weeks or months to become strong enough to get a full feed from Mummy. Some babies get enough milk just from breastfeeding from 37 or 38 weeks. Others continue to need bottle top-ups of expressed breast milk or formula for a couple of months (or much longer) while some never learn to properly breastfeed.
To get the milk flowing, new mums have to pump every three or four hours around the clock and a quality double breast pump is essential to get a good supply going. Most hospitals provide one for a week or so to give you time to sort things out until you can look to purchase or hire one.
There are a few double breast pumps on the market but some of them can be very expensive. A favourite amongst twin mums is the Unimom Forte Breast Pump as it is designed for frequent and long term use that is often required by twin mums. It is also considerably cheaper than some of the larger models that you may use in hospital.
Maggie says that the majority of twin (or more) mums do have enough milk to feed their babies. They should be aware that they have an increased need for calories, but sadly that doesn’t mean we can gorge ourselves on chocolate and chips.
Breastfeeding mums have to make sure they eat a healthy, balanced diet, which is easier said than done if you spend most of your waking hours at the hospital. Read more about your dietary requirements as a twin breastfeeding mummy.
Maggie advises not to despair if the supply dips. “It is absolutely normal for the supply to go up and down, depending on how mum is feeling” she says. Stress can impact on milk supply in some mothers, so stressing about it may make it worse.
Having something like a breastfeeding tea or some Fenugreek & Blessed Thistle capsules to help boost supply during these times can help some women.
Each woman produces different amounts of milk. Some are like wells and have so much that they can freeze some for later, while others struggle to pump anything at all. We’re not all created equal and there’s no time to feel bad about it!
Every ounce of breastmilk you can provide in the early days is valuable, but if breastfeeding doesn’t work out for whatever reason, babies also thrive with formula. In the end, fed is best!
Before you head home with your babies, Maggie suggests planning where and how you will feed them. Will you have an armchair, will you use the couch, or will you feed them in bed? Also, think about what kind of twin feeding pillow you will use as having these extra support items can really help in the early days of learning to breastfeed.
“Most twin mums give tandem feeding a go, but be aware that twins can be at different developmental stages. One might already be latching on without any problems while the other still needs help. In that case it might be best to feed one after the other to meet both babies’ needs,” she explains.
For more information on Breastfeeding Twins read some of our other articles.