Breastfeeding Triplets

It’s World Breastfeeding Week. To acknowledge the importance of breastfeeding, I thought I would relate my story of breastfeeding triplets.

The breastfeeding journey started immediately in hospital, I’m thankful that all the midwives at my hospital assumed I would breastfeed and were very encouraging with getting the whole process underway. I know this is not always the case, so I was fortunate there. I had decided while I was pregnant that I would like to breastfeed, I wasn’t really sure how this would happen, so I read up as much as I could find on the internet about breastfeeding triplets, it wasn’t very much and I think even since I’ve had them, there is already a lot more on the internet now as well as Facebook groups for Mums (or Moms) breastfeeding triplets which can be very helpful. I had somewhat of a plan in my mind but when I was in hospital, the midwives actually suggested a much better routine, so being a flexible person I happily adjusted my plans.

I’ve already written in more detail about Beginning to breastfeed the triplets during the first week, so feel free to go and check that out. I’ve decided to give a broad overview in this post of our experience breastfeeding triplets for 14 months. This is just my experience. Everyone’s breastfeeding journey will be different, but if you are pregnant with triplets, be encouraged that it is very possible!

Initial Feeding Cycles
For the first four months, we managed to breastfeed exclusively. The first few days in hospital we needed to give them formula, but as I’ve explained in my first post, once they began breastfeeding, they took to it really quickly. By the time we left hospital, the babies were breastfeeding in four hour cycles. They only did that for a few days, and then they slipped back to three hourly feeding sessions. I was pretty well constantly breastfeeding. It would take around two hours to feed all three babies. In that one hour before they next feed I would rush around, going to the toilet, grabbing something to eat or if it was night time – sleeping! I was so tired. During the first few weeks I was averaging four or five hours sleep, and all of that was interrupted.

breastfeeding triplets
Jayden and Toby tandem feeding together for the first time. 

Reflux and Cholic
The babies also had bad reflux, so they often would find it difficult to get to sleep. They liked to be held in an upright position, and most nights Alex and I would be holding all three babies between us until 11pm at night. As the weeks progressed, they got better at sleeping for longer stretches, and got back into waiting 4 hours in between feeds after 11pm. When the first baby woke, I would get up, feed that baby and then wake the next two if they were not already awake and feed them. The ideal was for me to wake them to feed them, because when they woke up altogether hungry and waiting for a feed, Alex would also have to get up and hold a crying baby while it waited for the other two to be fed. I was so grateful for his help, but I would feel bad for him too though, because he needed to work the next day, and accounting requires you to be switched on all the time and he had to remain alert with also suffering severe sleep deprivation.

Breastfeeding triplets
Alex holding 1 month old reflux and colicky babies. Can’t you see how tired he was?

Single Feeding vs. Tandem Feeding
Some triplet Mums say they need a third boob. My kids and I only needed one boob really. Right from the early days in the hospital the triplets and I all agreed that we hated the breastfeeding pillow. I hated how big, bulky and awkward it was. I really felt like I was a walking hot dog stand/milk bar with it wrapped around me and protruding.  “Fresh milk, get it here. Roll up, roll up and nuzzle on in to milk on nipple.” I never got used to it.  As young as they were, the triplets began to display sibling rivalry when they were on the pillow. They would often pull off and look at the other baby, (not common behaviour for newborns!) they would wriggle and fuss and generally not settle. I decided that feeding them one by one would work better for us. It of course was more time consuming, but they were so much more content feeding individually, and I quite liked spending that one on one time with each baby. If two (or more) babies were really hungry at the same time I would drag out the breastfeeding pillow and we would all endure it because you have to put up with inconveniences when you are starving hungry. Over the months I worked out that if I held one baby as if I was feeding normally and then tucked the other baby under my arm in a football hold with a cushion propped under him or her, it was a tandem feeding compromise. Especially once we got older, it was even more rare to feed more than one at a time.

Feeding Routine and Record Keeping
Our method with feeding was to feed Baby A the right side, Baby B the left side, Baby C both sides and then pump afterwards to try and get a store of milk. Then we would rotate everyone so they all had a go at the different breasts and getting the hind milk and the fast flowing side. In the first couple of months, I began to get a nice little stockpile of expressed milk. This was useful particularly at night when two babies woke at the same time so Alex could feed one and go back to bed. The only thing was that we never knew when that would happen, so we still had to thaw it out before he started feeding. We had a little stockpile, but it was hard work getting it, so I didn’t want to use up EBM (Expressed Breast Milk) unless we really needed to.

I had a great little book that I bought from the US and a friend sent it over for me. That way we could keep a track of which baby needed which side, it gets confusing after awhile, especially when you are heavily sleep deprived. (You can buy the book I used here at Just Multiples)

Breastfeeding triplets
12 week old triplets. Life was just starting to get more of a rhythm.

Supplement Feeding
When we went to the paediatrician for the triplet’s four month old check up, Toby wasn’t gaining enough weight so she said we should start
supplementing his feeds and give him the breast still, but top him up with some extra formula at the end of each feed. I didn’t really want to, but I decided that I didn’t want my baby to be hungry just because of my pride. I was already taking motilium to increase milk supply, and I didn’t think I could do much more to increase what I was already producing.

Toby seemed very happy to accept the extra milk. He always had the weakest suck, and he seemed quite happy to accept the bottle. (They were already familiar with bottles because of having EBM in it.) A week or two later I noticed that even after the other two had drunk their fill from the breast, they still seemed hungry, so I tried giving them extra milk, and they guzzled it down and started putting on extra weight. By now, I didn’t have any extra milk to express after feeds and didn’t have all that much milk when the final baby fed both sides. We started feeding the third baby both sides and then breastmilk and rotating them so every third feed a baby would get the majority of their milk from formula.

Toby very abruptly stopped breastfeeding at 11 months. He just didn’t want anything to do with the boob anymore and wanted his bottle instead. It was a bit of a shock. By this stage they were in a good routine with breastfeeding. Once they were older, every third time a baby would have formula and they would still rotate having left and right breasts. By that stage we were down to two breastfeeds in a day, morning and evening. Because it had all worked out smoothly, I didn’t think I would finish breastfeeding until at least the 12 month mark. But Toby had other ideas. Since he has always been the smallest, he is probably the last one I would have chosen to finish first. However, right from the start, he was always the child that found breastfeeding most difficult, particularly latching on in those first few months. I don’t know whether he always got less milk then the others?

The other two finished feeding at 14 months. Once they were over 12 months, I thought I would just continue while it felt OK. Especially they were a little smaller than other children their own age, even though there was nothing to be concerned about. When they were 14 months, I went away overnight with some girlfriends. I took my pump with me and expressed and Alex had some EBM to feed each of them while I was away. (Even though Toby finished feeding at the breast, he still received EBM regularly.) When I got home we were at a child’s birthday party and after that we raced over to a park for the local Carols by Candlelight. I breastfed Jayden and Imogen during the carols, but they didn’t have a good feed because they were distracted. It turns out this was their last feed!

Breastfeeding triplets
Waiting for the Carols by Candlelight to start the before Jayden and Imogen’s final breastfeed!

The next day we were very busy and at the end of the day the children were tired and grumpy and not wanting to be held so I put them into bed with their bottles, thinking they were fine while I was away anyway. The next day after that, they were asking for bottles at bedtime, and I realised there really wasn’t any need to feed them. Because they were used to bottles, weaning was a non-event for them. (Weaning them off bottles was another story.) I had been growing tired of breastfeeding and it just seemed like the right time. A part of me wanted to have one final feed when I knew it was a final feed, but when I offered, the two of them weren’t really interested, so I decided it was far less of a drama to run with what had naturally happened! The oddest thing was that I had no problems whatsoever with weaning, unlike the older two boys where my breasts were very painful after finishing. It was ironic, because I didn’t ever breastpump, or even own a pump before the triplets. Now that I did have one, and still had children using a bottle, there really was no need to use it. I expressed a few times with the pump, just to leave some milk in the freezer, but I was getting very little milk even then. Maybe that’s why the triplets were happy to stop, they may not have been getting too much in the end anyway.

I’m so glad I had the opportunity to breastfeed triplets. It was relatively easy for me, (apart from the physical tiredness) and I’m grateful for that. Others have not found it easy, but have persisted and have successfully breastfed for extended periods of times, so it’s definitely worth giving it a hot shot. Read my friend Jennifer’s breastfeeding story at Growing Up Triplets if you want to hear how one woman’s persistence paid off when breastfeeding higher order multiples. Jennifer has also just launched an e-book, so that is going to be a great resource for HOMs. Some HOM’s would like to breastfeed also, and like so many women, it really doesn’t work out. Those women need our love and support also.

I find it such a comfort that my babies were able to receive those extra nutrients and antibiotics from breastmilk. Do you have a breastfeeding story?

Linking with Essentially Jess

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