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Breastfeeding Multiples:
Breastfeeding Triplets

Rebecca Grunberg
New York, NY USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 9 No. 5, September-October 1992, pp. 135-6, 148

We provide articles from our publications from previous years for reference for our Leaders and members. Readers are cautioned to remember that research and medical information change over time.

I always knew when the time would come that I would nurse my baby. But when we got the fantastic news that we were expecting a whole family at one time, I knew I had to do a lot of research to learn all I could about breastfeeding triplets. Is it possible to exclusively breastfeed three babies? What if they are premature? How can a mother cope with the logistics of nursing three babies with two breasts? I had so many questions about breastfeeding in addition to the questions about the pregnancy itself! As I began to search for answers, I realized how little information there was on triplet pregnancy, let alone breastfeeding three babies! I want to do all I can to enlighten expectant mothers of multiples by sharing some of my experiences and knowledge.

The Triplet Connection, an informational support group founded in 1983 by Janet Bleyl, was the most helpful resource for me. The lifesaving information in their Expectant Mothers Packet contains crucial information to help expectant mothers of multiples achieve a healthy long-term pregnancy as well as information on breastfeeding premature babies.

La Leche League was able to put me in touch with mothers who had actually nursed triplets. The Leaders in my area were very helpful to me during my search for information on breastfeeding multiples. THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING was a great reference for the overall basics. Amazingly, I meet women all the time who never heard of La Leche League and I can't stress enough how important it is to know that there is an organization that can solve most problems associated with breastfeeding and is 100% committed to it.

In addition to the help available from La Leche League, many neonatal intensive care units have a resident lactation consultant (LC) who should be excited about helping you fulfill your desire to nurse your babies. Meet with her prior to your delivery so she knows you plan to nurse your triplets and keep in touch with her to make sure she will be on hand after the birth of the babies. Having the LC present at my babies' first feeding proved to be invaluable for me. She was able to give the guidance and moral support I needed right after birth. An LC's services are usually free of charge while you're in the hospital, but they charge an hourly rate if you should need their services at home.

Prior to delivery, I made sure to have each of the residents know of my wishes to nurse my babies; unfortunately I was met with negative, almost adversarial reactions from the nurses after delivery.

We were blessed with three beautiful, perfectly healthy babies, Tatiana (4 lbs. 9 oz.), Allegra (4 lbs. 4 oz.), and Zachary (4 lbs.), at 37 plus weeks. Although they had no problems, the chief resident wanted to keep them in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for a few days because of their weights, which was expected. When I was brought down to see the babies, I was met by the lactation consultant who helped me with the proper positioning for nursing one and then two babies at a time using pillows for comfort. I was so excited to finally hold my tiny babies to my breasts. To my amazement they all rooted and latched on instinctively. This may not always be the case, as every infant and every situation is different.

I had a screen partially around me and I could look up at the faces of the nurses on the floor. I sensed a strange tension in the air instead of smiles or nods of approval. It was explained to me that the nurses did not understand my insistence on nursing my three tiny babies, because they are used to dealing with critical babies and having total caloric and medical control. On my next few trips down to the NICU without the LC, many of the nurses came up to me one by one while I was nursing the babies and voiced their very negative opinions. I lost hope for a moment, then I immediately realized I had babies at my breast where they belonged and had to get back to the big job I had ahead of me. I also realized I had to get my babies home as soon as possible since the environment was just not conducive to recuperating or nurturing my newborns.

After a week of warning nurses not to give my babies pacifiers and bottles without my knowledge, my son's and one of my daughters' "latching on" became very weak because of "nipple confusion." Nipple confusion is a very real problem for many newborns and it takes a lot of time and patience to get the infant to relearn what was initially instinctive. Due to the negative surroundings and the knowledge and faith I had in my husband and myself to care for our infants, we brought our babies home earlier than the chief pediatrician had proposed. At home my babies immediately started to thrive and gain weight, but I had to work very hard at getting two babies sucking as well as they had been doing the first few days of their lives, before so many interferences.

When I think back on my hospital experience, what angers me is that most women, vulnerable at such an emotional and exhausting time, would have surely given up any hope of breastfeeding their babies with the negative environment I endured. I thought it was important to recount the experience I had in the hospital, so you can realize how uninformed many professionals can be, even in big city hospitals. Unlike my experience, my sister gave birth about the same time in a Miami hospital and the staff was totally supportive of her breastfeeding, encouraging her not to feed her son formula, water, or use bottles. They helped her nurse her baby around the clock, although she too was recovering from a cesarean. What a difference this makes in how a new anxious mother feels as she is handed not one, but three of the most precious beings in her life.

The most important initial advice I can give is to be mentally prepared: "I will be breastfeeding my twins, triplets, or more," and don't let anyone tell you that you can't do it or react negatively about your desire. You should be confident in all the information you have obtained and the preparation you have done prior to their birth and proceed to take on the challenge one day at a time, although on many days the challenge may be one minute at a time. Once you have given birth, you must continue your high calorie, high nutrition pregnancy diet that included an abundance of liquids. If you eat well, you should not gain weight, since you will be using up calories feeding your babies. I returned to my pre-pregnancy weight before I knew it. Tell yourself that your body will be on loan to your children for at least six months and after that six months you will want to continue breastfeeding anyway! It is such a minuscule amount of time to give your whole family compared to their lifetime and yours. The first two months are the hardest, but they go by so quickly. Remind yourself that you are giving your babies the best and most complete food possible loaded with antibodies that help build their immune systems. And stay confident with the fact that the more your babies nurse, the more milk you will produce. As long as the babies are suckling every two to three hours, your milk is a never-ending fountain. It is convenient not to have to deal with sterilizing bottles and formula, it's economical, and breastfeeding has so many other wonderful bonuses, including sweet-smelling diapers!

What did I do when all three babies were crying for food? You will quickly find out that your babies have different personalities from each other. One may be very demanding, another colicky or hypersensitive, and if you're as lucky as I was, one will be happy and content to wait. It only takes one, since you will be getting very good at nursing two at once. This was my exact scenario: I had two very demanding babies, and one patient baby. I often nursed one at a time, thereby bonding with each alone, and also nursed two at once which saved a lot of time. I think the most helpful thing I learned to do at the beginning was to sleep with a baby at my breast. I would lie down on my side, arranging pillows under my head until I was comfortable, then I would position my baby facing toward me directly in front of my breast. I would cradle her in my arms with her head using the top of my arm as a pillow, or you can experiment with pillows for support. I was even able to rest at those four AM feedings when my husband would get up and bring a baby to me. Your husband or your helper should assist you around the clock, especially during the first month while you are recuperating. It was my husband Michael's loving support and our hearty sense of humor that got us by so smoothly the first few months and continues to do so.

Having a sense of humor is probably one of the most important characteristics parents of multiples could have to help deal with the stress and joy of raising triplets. It is also very important to get help. Have someone do the cooking and cleaning for as long as you can, whether it be friends, relatives, live-in housekeeper, people from your church or synagogue. The first month at home with the babies all you will be doing is sleeping, resting, eating, and drinking with a baby or two at your breast. Then I recommend you head out with your triplet stroller and enjoy a pleasant walk no matter what time of year it is. I used to feed all three and head out for two hours and make it back in time for the next round of feedings almost daily. When the weather got warmer I did not have to head home since I was able to nurse discreetly in public and most often do so unnoticed.

As I reflect over the past twenty-two months, I am amazed and gratified at the wonderful experiences I had breastfeeding my babies. It was a week before they turned twenty months old that two of my babies were weaned, the third having weaned earlier. The memory is still fresh, so sweet, so precious, something I will savor for the rest of my life.

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