Breastfeeding triplets is a task I accomplished and I’m extremely proud of myself and the babies for doing it.
Feeding my tiny, beautiful six week babies was precious. They were so tiny and fragile, yet they had an inbuilt mechanism to instinctively seek nourishment from me, their Mummy. The first baby to feed was Imogen. I was cuddling her on her third day of life. I had heard that premmies mostly take awhile to learn how to feed and their first experience is often just ‘nuzzling’ around the breast. While I was holding her, she just looked like she wanted to feed. I wasn’t sure whether I was ‘allowed’ to let her nuzzle, (sometimes you get like that in special care!), but the nurses were busy, so I thought I might let her anyway. Lo and behold, as soon as she went near the breast, she latched right on and started sucking effectively. Clever little girl! When the nurses came by they were amazed to see her sucking away.
|Feedling little Miss Imogen|
After that, I gave the boys a chance to feed the next time I held them. They were also champion little feeders, although Toby, the smallest of the crew, didn’t have a very strong suck for the first few days. He still did very well, better than a normal premmie of his age. Imogen was definitely the best feeder.
One of the babies biggest challenge was staying at the nipple. I’ve got quite a large nipple, so a supersized nipple was not really great for a premmie mouth. I had to really stroke the babies chin and get them to open their mouths really wide before they attached, otherwise they would just slip off. Because they were little, they would tire out very easily if they couldn’t attach in the first couple of turns. I was desperate to keep them awake long enough to breastfeed so that they didn’t have only a formula feed through the tube attached to their nose. Not only did I want them feeding well, I also needed the extra stimulation of their mouths to help me bring in more milk. I definitely produced more milk when they fed compared to when I was just pumping.
By day 5 I tried twin feeding for the first time. It was an amazing feeling having two babies drinking away at my breasts. Once they were all settled and attached that is. It was a bit awkward before then. I had used the hospital’s breastfeeding pillow. I hated it immediately, and I never did grow to like it, even though it was a necessary evil,especially at the start. The babies were so tiny, and they kept falling down and getting stuck in between a little gap in between my body and the pillow. I used to fold up nappies or blankets, stuff them in the holes, then I would cover the vinyl pillow with a bunny rug or towel so it was not so cold and uncomfortable for the babies before trying to get them to attach. It was quite a routine even before the babies were ready. The midwives were great at giving me helpful hints and tips on how to do things, and laughed with me about how silly the breastfeeding pillow looked. (Still didn’t help me feel any less like a goose when I had it on.) One of them joked that it looked like a hotdog stand. That’s pretty well how I felt, like it was Mama’s Milk Bar. There were two midwives there the first time helping. One was helping to show me the position to put them on, making sure they were attaching from that position and helping the babies to latch on. The other nurse was also giving hints, but was changing babies, and getting them ready to feed. At one stage I had a midwife either side of me trying to get the babies mouths to stay on the nipple and not slide off. There really is no dignity during that period after childbirth! Once they were attached in sucking well, the feeling was euphoric.
|Feeding Toby and Jayden for the first time.|
I ended up taking Motilium the entire time I breastfed. It is a drug that is often used to combat nausea, but it also helps increase the milk production in lactating mothers and is safe for the babies. I had enough milk for two babies, but I just needed a little bit of extra help to push the milk up a little bit more. There were times that I wished that I could just make the milk without assistance, but I figured it was better to receive that bit of extra help then to lose the chance for my babies to breastfeed.
In those early days, it felt totally demoralising at times trying to get the milk levels up. It started in the middle of the night the day that I had the cesarean. I midwife woke me up saying that we needed to start trying to get some milk for the babies. I had always wanted to try breastfeeding, but I hadn’t really considered how I would need to start the process while the babies were still in humidi-cribs. So, it was a complete surprise to me when the midwife literally started milking me! She hand expressed colostrum straight into a cup then took it down to the special care nursery. This happened again first thing in the morning and then after I had a shower (Ugh. The memory of all those yucky firsts…) I was taken in a wheelchair to see the babies. I think I started hand expressing in the special care nursery then. I’m so glad that in the hospital I stayed, it was just presumed that I would try to breastfeed. I’ve since discovered that this is the norm, and a lot of women are told they won’t be able to. I would have fought to at least try to breastfeed if I had been met with opposition, but I’m glad this is a battle I did not need to fight during a very full on time anyway. Plus, the midwives were able to give me a lot of hints and tips that I did not know. I had tried to research how to breastfeed triplets, but there was very limited resources available.
Hand expressing during those first days could be completely demoralising. Because the babies were not at my breast, the milk was not flowing as readily as it had with my first two babies. I never had the feeling of the milk coming in with the triplets. It was always a struggle. This was a surprise because I had no problems whatsoever feeding my two eldest children. I found the midwives could often get more milk than I could, so I would often let them hand express after I had tried. I can remember seeing the little medicine cup with three mls in it. It was less then the milk the two other mothers had expressed, and they only had single babies who born on the same day as the triplets. I can remember thinking that I may as well slit my wrists if I didn’t get more milk next feed. (I wasn’t literally planning on carrying the thought out, but it was my lowest moment where I just felt completely depressed.) And then my tiny minuscule amounts of milk would need to be shared times three. The midwives assured me that even such a tiny amount was good for the babies and still giving them extra strength and antibiotics that could help them grow and give them protection. Luckily the milk production did pick up.
|My precious view.|
Once the milk started to increase, I started expressing by using the hospitals pump. It was still small amounts. After we tipped the little bit of milk (maybe 20 mls) into the needles to be used with the feeding tubes, a nurse would get a needle and would suck every last drop from the side of the bottle, and then she would get every last drop that was stuck in the express pump too. No drop was wasted. “Liquid gold” is what I was told repeatedly by several different nurses. Especially when it was shared three ways. Every drop mattered.
While I was in the hospital, the babies were feeding three hourly. It normally took me two hours feed them, and then I had an hour ‘off’ until the next feed. I had asked for a room change because my room was right outside the nurses station so it was very busy and I needed the sleep. My room change was the closest room to the special care nursery, so that was very convenient to not have very far to walk. I tried to sleep in between feeds as much as possible. I didn’t have very many visitors in hospital. I love getting visitors in hospital, so it felt a little odd, but it was also a little weird because this time I had no babies to show off. Only close family were allowed two at a time into the nursery. I was able to sneak a few friends in if they came at the right time when the nursery wasn’t busy. The reality was that I was in the special care nursery so much, that if I had more visitors, I probably would have missed them, plus I was so tired, so it was a relief to have a rest in between feeds.
One of my biggest regrets was not being able to stay in hospital a day or two longer. I was very emotional one day and told the nurses that I wanted to stay longer, because I knew that as tiring as it was getting up throughout the night, it was helping increase my milk production. The nurses listened, and then rang my insurance company to get more time. They did approve an extra two nights, but the nurses advised that I should use one of those nights at the end of the babies stay in special care for a rooming in. This is when Alex and I would have stayed overnight in hospital with the babies, but would have the luxury of pressing the buzzer if we needed assistance during the night. It would be like a practise run. At the time I didn’t see the usefulness of this, and I said as much, but the nurses were very insistent that it was crucial and very necessary. So I stayed the extra one night and then went home. I never did use the second night. Later I was talking to the special care nurses and discovered that it wasn’t crucial and that many experienced mothers didn’t use that night. I should have talked to the special care nurses that I had built a relationship with and knew more about premmie babies then the ward nurses. We received so much help and advice during our time in the special care nursery, and not being a first time mother, we were more than ready to take the babies straight home rather than staying an extra night.
I’m still mad that the nurses would consult the insurance company rather than doctors. If I had my normal doctor, I would have felt free to talk to him. However, if you remember my birth story, my obstetrician was away and then his replacement went fishing the day the babies were due to be born so there was a third doctor who delivered the babies. The second doctor was lovely, but I was feeling to shy to directly ask to stay in hospital for longer. I did hint at it every time I saw him, and I really wish that I had been more direct. Finally on the last day he approved me to stay the extra night, after the nurses had talked to him and told him what the insurance company had said.
Insurance companies should not run hospitals. I only say all this in case another soon to be Australian triplet Mum is reading this. If I were you, I would speak to your doctor, hospital and the insurance company prior to admittance about the length of stay. I was very grateful for the time I had at home while the babies were in the special care nursery, I didn’t want to stay in hospital the whole time. I just wanted to stay a little longer and work on getting the supply up before I was unable to breastfeed the babies overnight.
Anyway, I’m sorry. I’ll end that rant.
Once I had more milk and the babies had started feeding, my routine was to feed each of the babies one breast each. We rotated the order that the babies were fed. That way they each got a chance to get the most milk during the first feed. If one baby was always fed third, he/she would have been normally only getting the leftover dregs. I always have one breast that flows better than the other also. That was the golden breast that all the babies preferred, so every third breastfeed they got a chance to have the full flowing liquid gold! After I fed all three, I would express. This helped increase my production. It also meant that the hospital had a stockpile that they could use if I wasn’t there for a feed. I always tried to miss one feed overnight and let them use the stockpile of EBM (expressed breastmilk). Having those extra few hours to sleep, I was assured by the nurses, helped increase the milk production, they really did know best, as it worked! I also found this valuable when I went home while they babies were still in hospital. This was really a chance where I got extra rest, even though I was still getting up to pump throughout the night and brought little containers of EBM into the special care nursery the next day. Whatever EBM the nurses didn’t use got frozen. When I was discharged, another mother of a single baby born the same day as the triplets was also going home. She went home with a great big box full of EBM. I had a miserly four containers!
When I was no longer an in patient, I would go to hospital in the morning, Alex would drop me off on his way to work. Then he would come into the special care nursery after work. He would say hello to all the babies, and help with any feeding if the babies needed any top ups with formula. It was only just before I got home (after I had started taking motilium) that I had moved onto exclusive breastfeeding the three babies. Then we would go and pick up the older two boys from Grandma and head home. We were so grateful during those busy days that helpful women from the church had been making us meals. It would have been far too exhausting to make a healthy family meal after arriving home, sometimes after 7pm.
|Daddy feeding Jayden|
While I was at the hospital, the babies were still feeding three hourly, until the day before they were discharged when they moved to four hourly. Most times it took 2 hours to feed, change, express. During the hour between feeds I would eat, read a book (a luxury for me) and sleep. The midwives were j
ust obsessed with getting my milk production us as I was, and my favourite midwife was very insistent that I sleep. I can remember her marching me into the family room one time when I had an hour and a half break before the next feed, handing me a blanket, pointing to the couch, pulling the curtains and telling me that she would wake me when the babies were ready to feed. I was very grateful for her, I slept so easily (Normally I am a person who never sleeps in the daytime unless I’m sick), and Dee woke me up at the very last moment when the babies were all changed and ready to go. Hey presto, the fountain flowed freely after the sleep, so it inspired me to really concentrate on getting more rest to allow my body to have maximum energy to do it’s superpower and make milk! I also drank litres of water to help boost milk production.
So, that’s how I did it in those early days. It was a good start and I was able to continue breastfeeding until they were almost 14 months old. It’s such a good thing to be able to breastfeed your babies, and I’m glad that there is a lot of encouragement in Australia to do so. This is my story. There’s a little bit more information on how I breastfed once I got home here. The more I come in touch with women who breastfeed, the more I know that every mother has a different story. There are certain rules to follow such as attaching the child to the nipple. However, there are many different styles, so it is a case of a mother finding what works for her. Even within the triplet community, different mothers tackle how to order the breastfeeding different ways. Some feed all at once on their own twin feeding then single feeding. I preferred to have someone on hand to change and pass me babies and fed them one at a time. Nobody is right, nobody is wrong, you do what suits your own capacity.
Being so little when they started life, I’m sure that the health benefits for the triplets having breastmilk really did assist them to a great start in life.
What is your breastfeeding story?
Today I’m linking up with Essentially Jess