“Can you breastfeed triplets?” I remember being asked that question more than once. When I found out I was pregnant triplets, I was determined to attempt breastfeeding them for a minimum of 12 weeks & I had some clear goals in mind:
Plan A: Twin feeding two babies while third has expressed breast milk (EBM). Bottle fed baby would rotate each feed to keep things fair.
Plan B: Twin feeding two babies while third has formula. Formula fed baby would rotate each feed.
Plan C: As close to Plan B as I can get!
I think that was a fairly realistic view – I had seen friends and family have differing levels of success with breastfeeding and I knew it happened more easily for some than for others. My intentions were met with a healthy dose of skepticism by some, but I remained positive. Prior to the birth, I read several articles on feeding multiples, arranged to hire an electric breast pump and even had an appointment with a lactation consultant at home, just to be as prepared as I could.
My triplets were born at 35 weeks 2 days by caesarean section. Unfortunately, I suffered a hemorrhage just after the babies were born, which resulted in significant blood loss and this, combined with the caesarean and the early arrival of the babies all played a part in my ability to get a good milk supply happening.
The first attempts at drawing colostrum (liquid gold, as the nurses called it) were quite comical. I frantically “milked” myself for 10-15 minutes to get a tiny droplet appear on my nipple and my partner had to quickly capture it with a syringe. I don’t think it actually made it past the neck of the syringe at this point! The amount was so small it seemed insignificant, but the nurses assured me it was valuable and when it was too tiny to be divided evenly, it was given to whichever baby needed the most assistance (at this time, my little boy).
I remember on about Day 3, my partner and I were beaming with pride as we hopped in to the elevator up to the nursery, proudly brandishing an almost full 1ml syringe (by far my best result yet), only to be quickly deflated upon seeing another new mum join us, holding her half full cup of expressed breast milk. (sigh…)
Our babies were too tiny to suck yet and being tube fed, so I graduated to the double electric breast pump, which was a highly undignified experience as I looked down and saw my nipples charging in and out of the plastic suction cups, resembling a dairy cow! Despite the unflattering experience, those machines worked well and by Day 5 I started seeing my milk come in more. I also got to start attempting proper attachment with my babies.
Over the next week, I started practicing attachment with the kids at every feed. I had a few attempts at twin feeding with some enthusiastic nurses, but then decided to focus on them one at a time for a while first as the attachment bit was a lot harder than I had anticipated. I was expressing after feeding to get whatever milk I could and also 1 hour after feeds to try and boost my supply…the amount I was producing was about 20 or 30 ml per session. We left hospital on Day 16.
Once home, we were on 4 hourly feeds and I would take one of the babies to the breast, while my partner (and sometimes a visiting family member) would bottle feed the other two. They would have EBM first then were topped up with formula. The breastfed baby would often become tired and need a formula top up as well. After this was finished, I sat on the pump again to express whatever I could for the next feed. The whole process took around two hours, so that didn’t leave long before the next fee started! I remember a few times, when one baby was harder to settle, we found one feed morphing in to the next and realised a full four hours had passed already! I sought advice to try and boost my milk supply and was taking Motilium (as prescribed by my Dr) plus a fenugreek supplement. All this assistance was of course, being hampered by the immense lack of sleep (45 minutes to 2 hours at most for the first 6 weeks) so unfortunately, at my best, I was still only producing 60 mls per feed (barely enough for one of our babies).
I made contact with another triplet mum (I call her Superwoman!). She had managed to exclusively breastfeed her babies for 6 months despite them being born at 31 weeks, spending the first week in ICU herself following HELLP syndrome (a severe type of preeclampsia) and overcoming 7 bouts of mastitis. I have the utmost admiration for this woman, but at the time I found myself comparing us and feeling very inadequate. Being the stubborn person I am, I had the initial minimum 12 week mark in my mind and although the fatigue was really starting to take its’ toll on me, I refused to give up. I shed many tears over failed attachments and my sad supply issues and then one morning at 2am, I just stopped. I had been breastfeeding for 8 weeks.
The relief was enormous and I felt I had so much more energy to give to my babies, but my personal disappointment lasted a while. It still stings when my friends with one baby laugh about how they are producing a litre of milk in a day and are filling their freezer up too much. I’ve had loads of people tell me what a great job I did for those 8 weeks, but my own feelings of failure still haunt me a little.
I did learn some valuable lessons from that whole experience. Sometimes, even when you try really, really hard at something…you just don’t succeed…and that’s ok. I am proud of how hard I tried. I’m glad I can empathise with women who have struggled with breastfeeding. I respect peoples’ choices to breast or bottle feed and I don’t believe there is any right or wrong answer. I ended up suffering from some late-onset post-natal depression, but I believe it would have struck me sooner had I continued pushing myself to the limits I was with breastfeeding so despite my disappointment (and perceived failure), I know now it was the right decision for me. At the end of the day, everyone and every situation is different, so try not to compare yourself to others, ever.
And as for Superwoman? She still rocks…