Important hormones for breastfeeding
Common issues with breastfeeding twins
- Prematurity and small birth weight are more common with twin and multiple births. This means that twins are often a lighter birth weight than single babies and they are more likely to be sleepy and not as able to suck effectively. Often, mothers need to express their breast milk which is then offered to their twins via a feeding tube or bottle.
- If a mother has had a Cesarean delivery it can be more awkward for her to position herself comfortably when breastfeeding.
- It can take a while for a mother to learn how to attach one baby to each breast at feeding times.
- Deciding what works, because every mother and her twins are unique. For some, synchronizing the twins breastfeeds works best, and for others, feeding them separately is a more realistic option.
- There may be brief periods of time when a mother’s supply is low, and she needs to increase it to meet her babies’ nutritional demands.
- Twin breastfeeding can take up many hours of time. It is common for breastfeeding mothers of twins to say they don’t feel as if they are doing any else other than breastfeed, especially in the first few months.
- Twins may not have the same sucking and feeding behaviors. They can display marked differences in their breastfeeding behaviors, and this can make the practical aspects of breastfeeding a challenge.
Tips for successfully breastfeeding twins
- During your pregnancy, read as much information as you can on breastfeeding. Books, leaflets, DVDs and classes will help you to build a more comprehensive understanding of what breastfeeding twins involves.
- Try to breastfeed your twins as soon as possible after birth. Colostrum is a powerhouse of antibodies, fat and nutrients which is perfectly designed for newborns.
- If you cannot breastfeed straight away, then try to cuddle your twins and have the opportunity for some one-on-one and skin-to-skin contact.
- Alternate each twin with each breast. This will help to equalize your milk production. It is also good for your twins’ development as they won’t be lying in the same position every time they feed.
- Make yourself a snack and have a drink of water ready each time you sit down to breastfeed. If you’re endlessly busy, this may be the only chance you have to take a breather and have a meal.
- If you cannot breastfeed your twins, then consider expressing and offer your babies expressed colostrum or breast milk.
- Try to stay calm and relaxed. This will make a difference to your breast milk supply and help you to enjoy the process of breastfeeding your twins, rather than viewing it as an ordeal to get through.
- Accept all reasonable offers of help and support. Most people are genuinely eager to offer practical and emotional support for mothers of twins, at least until the novelty has worn off. Get used to people asking you if they can help and be gracious about saying yes. Even if it means having other people in your home, it can and will make an enormous difference to how you manage, especially in the early days.
- If you don’t have a supportive family or network of friends around you, consider employing some home help if you can afford it. Just getting a person to clean for a few hours a week and outsourcing household jobs will free you up to concentrate on more important tasks.
- Be organized. This is such an important factor in the overall management of twins, not just for successful breastfeeding. Mothers who can sequentially work through tasks, who stay reasonably focused and are good time managers, get more done and their lives tend to run more smoothly.
- Get as much rest as you can, where and when you can. Don’t be a martyr and keep battling on if you’re clearly exhausted. Rest, sleep, and breaks will make a difference to your milk supply, especially for the evening feeds.
- Try to have some time every couple of days just for yourself. A walk around the block, a trip to the shops alone to buy some groceries, or a hair appointment can all be slotted in with a little planning and babysitting arrangements. You’ll feel better and your body will thank you.
- Become familiar with the changes in your breasts. It can take 3 to 5 days for milk to “come in” after birth and for the breasts to be producing milk. The more you breastfeed your twins in these early days, the more quickly your breasts will produce milk.
- It may help you to breastfeed one twin at a time until you get used to breastfeeding. Although this may be more time-consuming, it will give you an opportunity to build your latching skills. It will also help with emotional bonding, as you will be able to get to know each individual baby and their own feeding style.
- Make sure your babies are attaching correctly to your nipples and areolas so they do not become tender and traumatized. Ask your midwife, child health nurse and or lactation consultant to check your breastfeeding attachment. Some early, specific, and targeted advice in the early days can really make a difference.
- Investigate your options of buying a good quality breast pump which has a dual action for expressing both breasts at the same time. Hand expressing can be very laborious and, over time, can lead to repetitive strain of the hands and wrists.
- Let your healthcare professionals know that you are committed to breastfeeding.
- Be confident, calm, and sure that any amount of breast milk will help your twins to grow. Even if you cannot express the full amount of their feeds, combination feeding with expressed breast milk (EBM) as well as formula is another option.
- Go to a prenatal breastfeeding class and talk with other mothers who have breastfed their twins.
- Have a supportive partner and family who are eager to help you.
- Feel confident in making up your own mind about how you want to feed your twins. Some mothers choose not to breastfeed or are unable to.
Why breastfeeding twins is more challenging
Although breastfeeding is one of the most natural acts in the world, it can also take a while to master. A learned set of skills is necessary for breastfeeding to become the relatively easy process it appears to be. What’s most important is that you are comfortable and so are your babies.
You may find that you need to change your twin’s feeding positions as they get bigger. Remember to bring your babies to your breasts and not lean over onto them. This will lead to straining your back and is not sustainable in the long term. A variety of pillows with differing thicknesses and densities will make a real difference.
Be open to the option of lying down to breastfeed as well. This can be a more comfortable position especially for new mothers who have a Cesarean section wound or episiotomy which has not yet healed.
One baby may feed very differently from the other, so you could need to learn alternative ways and strategies to attach each of your twins. One may be hungrier, sleepy or smaller and need more coaxing than the other twin to suck effectively and to stay awake during feeds.
You may also have the experience of one of your twins breastfeeding without any issues and the other twin not doing quite as well. You might need to express milk for one twin and breastfeed the other. Try alternating breast and bottle feeds or only offering one breastfeed a day and the remainder of the day’s feeds via a bottle. There are all sorts of options when it comes to twin feeding management.
What if I need to express my breast milk?
Transporting expressed breast milk safely and hygienically can take a bit of organization but you will soon get into a routine of doing this.
If you choose to freeze your milk or transport it cold you will need to invest in a good quality cooler and some ice packs. Make sure you label your EBM very clearly and include the date and time that you expressed your milk. The hospital may give you some labels with an identification number, your name and date of birth. Before your twins are fed your EBM, this label is checked against their own, just to make sure that they are receiving your milk.
If you are not able to breastfeed or express sufficient milk yourself for your babies, your twins may still be able to have breast milk which has been donated. Many large maternity hospitals have milk banks of donated breast milk which has been pasteurized and cleared for any contagion risk.
How will I hold both babies to breastfeed them together?
Alternately, you may like to position one baby in this football hold and the other across your front in the classic “Madonna” hold. This tends to work more effectively when the babies are still small.
Another option is to position your twins so they are both lying across your front and their legs are overlapping. Again, this is ideal for when they are smaller.
Most people are reasonable, and their intentions are based on genuine goodwill. But it may be necessary to place some flexible boundaries around what sort of help you want and when. So be clear and communicate what will work best for you and your own little family.
For more help
- Check with your maternity care provider, lactation consultant or pediatric nurse.
- Check the Breastfeeding USA website
The information of this article has been reviewed by nursing experts of the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric, & Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN). The content should not substitute medical advice from your personal healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for recommendations/diagnosis or treatment. For more advice from AWHONN nurses, visit Healthy Mom&Baby at health4mom.org.