Probably no woman is completely prepared to hear the words, “You are pregnant with twins” even if it isn’t a complete surprise. Once the reality sets in, there is a lot to do to get ready for these new little blessings. One of the many decisions a mother of multiples will need to make as she is preparing for their arrival is how to feed them.
Advantages of Breastfeeding
- High chance of premature delivery
The majority of mothers carrying multiples will deliver early. The March of Dimes Perinatal Data Center statistics show that in 2010, nearly 60% of mothers in the US carrying twins or HOMs delivered their babies prematurely and another 34% had late preterm deliveries (before 38 weeks). 1 Breast milk is completely unique and unlike any other mammalian milk, and breast milk has even added benefits for preemies. Though nursing a preterm baby presents its own set of challenges – such as separation while your babies are in the NICU and trying to build your milk supply – breast milk can mean the difference between life and death with a premature baby. Many mothers of premature babies will give their babies breast milk while they are premature and later decide if they will continue with breastfeeding. (Just a note of encouragement though…it is completely possible to transition your babies to the breast if they were born prematurely and you had to start off pumping and giving your milk by different methods; kangaroo mother care can also help make this transition happen more smoothly.)
- Immunological protection of breast milk
Breast milk as immunological antibodies that are made specifically for the germs and bacteria your baby confronts each day. Since multiples have a higher risk of prematurity – and therefore illness – giving breast milk can significantly boost their immune system and protect them from illness. But not only if they are premature; with multiples, if one baby gets sick the chance of having all of them catch the illness is high. Breastfeeding can save time and money from visiting the doctor both while they are young and over the course of their lifetimes.
- Promotes bonding
Twins and HOMs will keep a new mother extremely busy. Sometimes it is harder to bond when you have multiples because of time constraints – there is just more that must be done since there are more babies. However, breastfeeding allows a mother built-in time all throughout the day and night to stop and relax and just hold and feed her babies.
- Easier to feed two at the same time
Whether you have twins or more, you still only have two hands. It is much easier to use your hands to hold/support your babies at the breast than it is to sit them down and hold the bottles. Your babies will have more times of physical touch and cuddling which is beneficial to their mental, physical, and social development as well.
Disadvantages of Breastfeeding
There are also many disadvantages – or perceived disadvantages – to nursing twins.
- More Work for Mother
It is true that with breastfeeding, only the mother has the equipment to feed her babies. Many mothers of multiples have extra help and support from family and if they give bottles would be able to have others feed their babies as well. However, this must be weighed against several factors: the time of mixing formula and cleaning/sterilizing bottles as well as whether or not this extra help will be around for the entire first year or two. It may be easier in the beginning, but if this extra help is gone after a month or two, bottle-feeding may be more cumbersome than breastfeeding. Also, if a new mother does have extra help and support (and please try to have extra help and support – you will need it!) they can do many other things while a new mother is breastfeeding – cook, clean, change diapers, burp babies, rock babies, etc. It is common for new moms, especially mothers of multiples, to wonder when life will ever return to normal!
- Concerns of sleep deprivation
This is also related to the first reason. If a mother is not breastfeeding then when her babies wake to feed at night someone else could feed them. Again, this must to be weighed though: will the help be around for the first year or two? Will they be the ones to do night feeds? If not, breastfeeding would allow a mother to get more sleep than her formula-feeding counterparts. A breastfeeding mother does not have to arouse as fully to scoop up her babies and latch them to her breast as a mother who must mix formula, give the bottles, clean the bottles, and get her babies back to sleep. Even while feeding two, a breastfeeding mother can nurse lying down for added sleep/rest. And breastfeeding produces oxytocin which has a relaxing effect on a nursing mother, thus making it easier to fall back to sleep.
- Concern over pumping/transitioning to the breast
Many moms are concerned that they will spend the time pumping and building a strong milk supply only to find that later their babies do not transition to the breast. While this occurs (rarely) the vast majority of babies will transition to the breast once they are full-term. Even if your baby doesn’t transition to the breast, pumping and expressing is not only healthier for your babies’ bodies but much less of a financial burden than buying formula.
How can I prepare to breastfeed my babies?
There are many things a mother can do while she is pregnant to prepare for breastfeeding her babies!
- Find a qualified lactation consultant
You are going to be nursing twins or more and having qualified, hands-on support to make sure you get breastfeeding off to a great start is critical. Find an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant in your area and meet with her prenatally. Many lactation consultants have prenatal workshops and then will offer a discount for breastfeeding support once your babies arrive. This will be money well spent – and much, much less than the cost of bottles and formula if you didn’t breastfeed.
- Meet with a lactation consultant to discuss maximizing your milk production
While it is completely possible for your body to make enough milk to exclusively breastfeed twins, triplets, or more, having a plan in place that involves lactation practices to maximize your milk supply is critical. During the first few weeks after giving birth your body is laying down the prolactin receptors that will regulate the amount of milk you will make for the duration of breastfeeding. You want to make sure you maximize what your body will make and the importance of having a plan in place so you know the best way to initiate breastfeeding in the early days cannot be understated.
- Begin attending a mother-to-mother support group
Find a La Leche League or other breastfeeding support group in your area. There may even be a group specifically for nursing multiples! Knowing other mothers who have successfully nursed their twins or HOMs will be a great help and encouragement to you – trust me!