Learn about breastfeeding:
It is really important to learn about breastfeeding before the babies arrive. You would not learn to drive just as you were driving down the slip road onto the motorway, so it’s the same with breastfeeding. Don’t leave it until the babies are actually here before you learn how it works. Yes, breastfeeding is natural, but it is also a learned skill and it is also important that parents understand whether the babies are feeding well and getting enough milk.
There may be an antenatal breastfeeding session at your local hospital or in the community. You may decide to do an online version so you can learn in the comfort of your own home. There are several different organisations that provide these. The Twins Trust have a breastfeeding webinar designed for breastfeeding twins. And join Breastfeeding Twins and Triplets UK Facebook group who have an extensive files section with loads of articles and blogs and a Preparing to Breastfeed Multiples video.
And read all the articles and watch the videos on this website! This will give you great evidence based information and ideas.
There are also lots of great video tutorials online. Global Health Media in particular are excellent.
Learn about normal new-born behaviour:
Just because your babies are twins or triplets, does not mean they will behave much differently to singleton babies. The challenge is how to deal with this as a parent when you have two or three of these new-borns to deal with.
Babies to like to feed frequently. The majority of breastfed babies like to feed every 2-3 hours. So expect to spend a lot of time feeding in the early days. As they get older sometimes they stretch out a little, but more often they just become more efficient and so the feed is shorter. Tandem feeding can help to get more of a gap between feeds, but not everyone enjoys it so it is not something you have to do.
Cluster feeding is normal new-born behaviour. Cluster feeding means babies need to go back on the breast several times in a row before they will settle. Each time you latch baby on you get another let down of milk. So even though it feels like there is none left, there really is! Babies often cluster feed at night in the very early days and then it moves to the evening period from around 3 weeks up until 3 months or so. So eating dinner can be challenging! Learning how to tandem feed helps massively during this time as you can just have two babies on the breast together.
Your babies may get into a pattern where they have one or two longer stretches of sleep. Often this is after the evening cluster feed so it is a good plan to go to bed yourself as well and make the most of it. And they often sleep well during the first nap in the morning. So this can be a good time to stay in bed and get an extra hour, or to get up and have a shower and get ready for the day.
Babies also do not like to be put down very much in the early days. This period is commonly known as the 4th Trimester. As humans we birth our babies quite early in their gestation and new-born human babies consequently, are very immature. In order to keep safe and warm, our babies prefer to settle and sleep on a human, preferably the mother, but sometimes partner or grandparents will do. They need to feel comfort, security, warmth, and be close to their source of food. You cannot spoil a baby by cuddling them and responding to their needs as best you can. This will promote a secure attachment between baby and primary care giver. In fact research shows that a baby that is securely attached for the first 1001 days will go onto be a well-balanced and successful older child and adult. So enjoy the cuddles!
Find your support system:
Your partner and close family will be a big support. Ask them to do some research into breastfeeding and normal new-born behaviour so they are more able to help. Maybe they could accompany you to a face to face antenatal session or watch an online training session. The Association of Breastfeeding Mothers has a nice free course called “Team Baby” which is all about how to support breastfeeding.
Your midwife and then health visitor will be your first port of call for support in the early days. But you may find you need some more specialist breastfeeding support. So before the babies arrive find out what is available locally. See if you can find your local breastfeeding support group, your local breastfeeding counsellor and your local International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). You may want to pop into your local breastfeeding group before the babies arrive just to see how it works. And maybe make contact with you breastfeeding counsellor and IBCLC so you know how they work and how to get hold of them if you need them.
The Twins Trust have trained breastfeeding peer supporters who can be contacted by email and they will support you by email or phone. The National Breastfeeding Helpline is open 9:30am to 9:30pm 7 days a week to talk through any difficulties and answer questions. And Breastfeeding Twins and Triplets UK Facebook Group has an IBCLC and trained peer supporters in its admin team and lots of other parents who are breastfeeding or have breastfed their babies. It’s an amazing group.
Antenatal hand expressing colostrum:
Twins are often born a bit small, a bit sleepy and a bit more difficult to feed. And so they often need a little bit of extra colostrum in the early days just to get them going with breastfeeding.
Antenatal hand expressing has been proven to be safe from 36 weeks of pregnancy. However as many twins are born at 36 weeks, if this is the case for you discuss with your health care professionals whether it would be ok to start in the week leading up to planned induction/caesarean section.
Hand express 2 to 3 times a day. Hand expressing is gentler, and colostrum is so thick and sticky and in such small quantities that it would just get lost in the breast pump. It is totally normal to only get very small amounts. But it is super concentrated, packed full of immunity, and all that baby needs in the first few days so every drop counts. Collect in syringes, either straight from the nipple, or into a sterilised cup first and then transferred to a syringe. Label clearly with name, date and hospital number, freeze in lidded container. When it is time to have the babies, take syringes to the hospital in a cool bag and make sure the staff know they have it. If you have lots of colostrum, don’t take it all, your partner can always pick up more from home if needed.
Kathryn Stagg IBCLC, 2020