Breastfeeding twins/triplets in the Neonatal Unit

Around 40 per cent of multiple births need some extra support after birth and end up having to go to the Neonatal Unit (NNU) of Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU). It the babies need more intensive care they may go to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). This can be a very worrying time for parents. We have put together some tips to help parents survive and also to help ensure they meet their breastfeeding goals, despite having to be separated from their babies.

If you have warning that the babies might come early, prepare yourself by researching breastfeeding, and go to see the NNU so you know what to expect. It can be quite a daunting place full of wires and beeps.

Try to go to a breastfeeding class before babies arrive. If there is a preparing to breastfeed session in the hospital once your babies are in NNU you could attend to learn about it then, even though your babies are already out!

If you have some notice of your impending birth you may want to try collecting some colostrum before they arrive. This might give you a head start. Talk through this with your doctor if you are less than 36 weeks pregnant.

Once babies arrive, make sure you are shown how to hand express, ideally within the first hour after birth. If you are too unwell then try to do it as soon as you are able. You can collect drops of colostrum in a syringe. Here is a really great video tutorial from Global Health Media

Once your milk begins to come in, usually around day 3, you can move on to the pump. Hospital grade pumps should be available for you when you are in hospital. Often hospitals have a pumping room. You may also be able to pump by the side of your baby’s incubator.

Make sure, once you are discharged, that you have access to a hospital grade double pump. Sometimes hospitals or children’s centres have pumps to borrow. If not, you can hire them from the manufacturer. Some NNUs will have a discount code for you to use.

Ask questions, nothing is too silly. Make sure you are consulted on everything and if you do not understand something, ask what it means. Write down questions as you think of them or you won’t remember when the doctors comes round.

Write notes about what they say. It’s hard to remember later. Especially if trying to relay things back to your partner or family members.

Try to be fully involved in their cares. It may feel like your babies aren’t yours as they are being looked after by the nurses and doctors. But there are plenty of things you can do. And they are you babies. It is very important to remember this.

Do not let anyone tell you breastfeeding preemies is not possible. Yes, it is a more difficult journey, but there are many, many families who have managed to breastfeeding their babies.

Find supportive staff. You won’t get on with everyone. But there will likely be one or two nurses who you really click with and you feel you can trust.

Ask to see the Infant Feeding Lead and talk through your plan to breastfeed your babies. They will be able to talk you through the different stages your babies will go through.

Ensure that the staff talk through the risks and benefits of giving formula or fortifier. Make sure you are fully informed before you make a decision to supplement.

Ask about donor milk. Hospitals often have certain criteria a baby will need to meet but it is always worth asking.

Pump as frequently as you can. The more often you express the more milk you will make, ideally 8 to 10 times a day for around 15-20 mins. Try to set alarms so you don’t forget.

Pumping sessions do not have to be evenly spaced.

It is however, very important to pump in the early hours of the morning, between 1-5am, as this is the time that your body has its highest levels of prolactin, the milk-making hormone.

Have something to remind you of the babies when you’re not there, photos, video, cloths that smell of them, some NNUs have fabric squares you can leave in the incubator with the babies and take home with you. Smell is a very evocative scent and this can help with bonding and milk supply!

If you can, pump by the incubators so you can continue to be with them and see them.

If you miss a pumping session, try to squeeze up the others so you still get to your total in 24 hours.

You may find power pumping once a day helps your supply. It mimics babies cluster feeding.

For more detailed info, read “Establishing Milk Supply With a Pump”

Expressing milk for your babies feels great as it is something you can actually do for them whilst they are in the NNU.

As soon as the babies are well enough, ask for skin to skin. And as soon as they have reached around 33 weeks gestation they should be able to begin trying to breastfeed.  

Ask for support with transitioning your babies to the breast. The nurses and infant feeding team should be able to talk you through the steps needed to get baby breastfeeding. For more info read our article “Transitioning Premature Babies onto The Breast”

See if your partner can stay overnight, some hospitals have facilities for this.

Try to have a support network around you to feed you and look after you whilst you look after the babies, especially if you also have older children to think of. Get them to fill the freezer with nutritious food, run the vacuum round, give you lifts to the hospital, do the school run….

Make sure you have plenty of snacks! Get food delivered to the hospital by friends or family so you don’t have to live on hospital food all the time. Have a bottle of water on you at all times. Hospitals are hot and dry.

Find other families in the same situation. Get chatting to others in the pumping room. Join support groups online and on social media. This will be a massive support to you whilst you are in hospital and once you are discharged.

Self care. Make sure you eat and sleep. Have a break. Do something for you whilst babies are being looked after by very capable hospital staff! Allow yourself to leave.

Take pictures of everything. Even the painful bits. You will want to be able to look back at this time one day.

Celebrate every tiny milestone. Celebrate every drop of breast milk. 

You do not have to introduce a bottles to get home. But you may find that babies will continue to need to be topped up for a little while once they are discharged. Many babies are discharged around 36 or 37 weeks gestation if they are well enough and there can still be some feeding issues at this age. Have a read of “Breastfeeding 36 or 37 week babies”  for more info on the issues you may come across.

Once discharged try to make contact with your local breastfeeding support so you have ongoing support throughout the rest of your breastfeeding journey. And of course Breastfeeding Twins and Triplets UK Facebook Group is a fantastic resource.

 

 

Kathryn Stagg IBCLC, Sept 2019

Establishing milk supply with a pump

There are several reasons milk supply may have to be established by expressing and not by directly breastfeeding. Mother and baby may have to be separated after birth due to prematurity or illness, or maybe baby just cannot latch on for some reason. Maybe baby is tongue tied, has a cleft palate or is too sleepy to feed effectively.

So how does a new mum start to establish a milk supply if she is not directly feeding her baby?

After birth you should be encouraged to hand express colostrum within an hour of birth if possible, or at least within the first 6 hours. Ask to be shown the technique by your midwife, or there are plenty of great video tutorials online. This one from Global Health Media is particularly good, click here. It is important to massage the whole breast and the nipple for a couple of minutes before starting. Hand expressing is recommended for the first two to three days until the milk begins to come in as colostrum is very thick and sticky and is in small quantities, so will get lost in a pump. However, if large quantities of colostrum are being expressed, you could move onto the pump earlier. Also there are settings on some hospital pumps designed for expressing colostrum and some mums respond better to this. The pump can also be used just for stimulation.

Babies only need a small quantity of colostrum, so every drop counts. These small drops can be sucked up with a syringe direct from the nipple or dripped into a small cup and then sucked into a syringe. This can then be given directly to the baby. You should be encouraged to hand express 8 to 10 times in 24 hours to mimic the baby’s feeding patterns. This will give enough colostrum to feed and to prime the lactation sites so that you will have the greatest chance to make a full supply or as near as possible. Some mums do struggle to express any colostrum in the first few days. It does not mean it’s not in the breast, we all start making colostrum in the second trimester of pregnancy, but it can be a bit challenging to get it out. If it is proving difficult then maybe ask about donor breast milk until your milk “comes in”. Most mums find they can express mature breast milk much more easily.

 

 

lilli put pumping

Moving on to the pump. Milk begins to “come in” around 3 to 5 days after birth, a process called “lactogenesis II”. It is triggered by the birth of the placenta and will happen whether a mum is breastfeeding, pumping or doing neither. Breast milk gradually changes from colostrum to mature milk over a number of days and volumes should begin to increase. Continuing to pump 8 to 10 times a day will help ensure you establish a full supply.

Top tips to establish a good supply!

Frequency – There really is no better way to get a full supply than to pump frequently; 8 to 10 times a day to begin with is essential. Some mums with large storage capacities may be able to drop a couple of sessions and continue to make enough milk, but for many frequency is the key. Expressing sessions do not need to be equally spaced. And if you miss one for some reason, try to shuffle up the others so you still get the same number over 24 hours.

Efficiency – Using a hospital grade pump is recommended. In hospital the staff should be able to provide one for you to use, normally in the pumping room, sometimes by baby’s cot or incubator. Once discharged, hospital grade pumps can be hired either direct from the manufacturer or from a local pump agent. If baby is in NICU there is often a discount code.

Breast shell size – It is really important to get the pump’s breast shell size correct. This will mean pumping should be comfortable and not cause any damage to the nipples, and it will also help maximise milk production. Just a note to say sometimes a pair of breasts need two different sized shells! And sometimes you need to change size as you go through your pumping journey as breast size changes. Nipple diameter is the key. Check your manufacturer’s information on this and experiment a bit.

Power pumping – This mimics a baby’s natural cluster feeding pattern and can help stimulate milk production. The pattern is as follows using a double pump: pump for 20 minutes, have a 10 minute rest, pump for 10 minutes, rest for 10 minutes and then pump for a further 10 minutes. This can be done once a day to help boost supply. If you are using a single pump then you can power pump by pumping 10 minutes on the left and then 10 minutes on the right, rest 5 minutes, pump 10 minutes on the left and 10 minutes on the right, rest for 5 minutes and then pump ten minutes on the left and 10 minutes on the right again.

 

power pumping

Hands on pumping technique – This is a technique which incorporates massage, hand expressing and pumping all at the same time. Many have found that this can greatly increase output. For a more detailed explanation watch this video

Hand expressing – after the flow has slowed you could try finishing off by doing some hand expressing. Often a little more can be squeezed out by hand

A hands free pumping bra – This can make the above massage much easier, as you use the bra to hold the pump onto the breasts and so hands are free. It also means you can pump and do other things at the same time. This can be essential, especially if you have older children. You can buy them or make your own by cutting vertical slots in an old bra or sports bra where your nipples are, and you can insert the cones through the slits.

Warmth – Applying a warm compress just before you express can help the let-down reflex.

Skin to skin with baby – Skin to skin, or kangaroo care as it is often referred to, helps boost oxytocin and encourages the milk to flow. Oxytocin is one of the key hormones involved in the production of breast milk and, amongst other things, stimulates the let-down reflex, meaning milk flows more easily when pumping.

Look at baby – Photos, videos, pictures, pumping next to the cot, listening to your baby. All these remind the breasts what they are supposed to be doing! They also stimulate oxytocin and help with supply.

Latch baby – If baby is beginning to latch on to the breast, pumping straight afterwards can make it much easier for the milk to flow as the baby will have stimulated the let-down reflex.

Distraction – “A watched pot never boils”. It’s the same with pumping. If you watch what you get, you will likely not get so much. Distracting with listening to music, relaxation recordings, mindfulness, watching comedy, chatting to other mums or friends and family all have been shown to increase milk production. Stress can inhibit the let down reflex so these techniques can help keep you relaxed.

Eat and drink – Good for health and energy of the mother, not necessarily for milk production.

Rest – It is really essential for mums to rest. Yes we also want them to wake once or twice a night to pump, but getting a good amount of sleep is so important to cope with the stresses and strains that you feel when a baby who is latching. Get help with all the usual household chores, looking after older children and cooking. Mother the mother so the mother is able to mother the baby.

Galactagogues – There are many foods or medications out there which either have some scientific evidence behind them or have anecdotal evidence that they can increases milk production. However, none of these work unless the milk is being removed frequently from the breast. They are not a magic wand. For more info on galactagogues have a look at this link
pump Sophie De Sousa expressed stash

It is important to look at 24 hour output, not necessarily what is expressed in each session. This is because there is often a wide variation in amounts from different times of day, and also each breast often gives a different amount. Over the first few weeks, we hope to see a gradual increase in volume in each 24 hour period.

Once babies are strong enough or well enough they should be able to move gradually on to breastfeeding directly. Make sure you seek some support from a trained breastfeeding specialist to help you achieve this.

Kathryn Stagg IBCLC 2018

 

Breastfeeding Triplets

Twins, I can understand twins, you have two babies, two arms and two breasts. The maths just works. But THREE babies! Where do you start with breastfeeding triplets? Joanne said: “My first thought when I found out I was expecting triplets was: “oh no I won’t be able to breastfeed them.” But after lots of research she found others have breastfed their triplets.

But why one earth would you even contemplate it? Well firstly there is obviously all the health benefits for mum and babies. And triplets are much more likely to be premature so these health benefits are even more important. But once breastfeeding is established, it is so easy. Don’t get me wrong, having triplets is hard, but it’s hard whatever way you feed them! Breastfeeding means feeds are always ready to go, no preparation, you won’t forget your boobs when you go somewhere, you don’t have to get out of bed to do the night feeds, and once they are older it is a really nice way to get some one on one time with crawling babies, and later there is no better way to subdue a tantrum! And it’s free! Although you may have an increased food bill due to how hungry it makes you! The reasons to breastfeed three babies are just the same as the reasons to breastfeed one or two.

I asked some of the triplet families on Facebook what would be their top tips.

Firstly, believe it is possible. Sue said “my body grew three babies, it can feed three babies”. And as with all breastfeeding, believing it is possible and trusting your body to produce what is needed is so important. As is having health care professionals who are on your side. Natasha said “I’d also recommend making connections with the hospital lactation consultant before your babies are due. Mine came and saw me 2 or 3 times a week when the boys were on SCBU and when we returned to our booking hospital 3wks after the boys were born she was there ready and waiting for me. We struck up a real friendship and she had my back the whole time. She was knowledgeable and empowered me to stand up to others who thought it wasn’t possible. She also helped educate me around bottles/dummies/kangaroo care etc which was great and helped me make informed decisions.”

The majority of triplets will be born early and end up in the Neonatal Unit. So mum should be prepared to start your breastfeeding journey with a breast pump, expressing every two to three hours round the clock to establish a copious milk supply. Once mum is discharged home she will need to hire a hospital grade double pump and continue this expressing pattern. We will shortly have a more in depth blog on pumping so watch this space! Once babies begin to feed at the breast, pumping can begin to reduce. Our other blog Transitioning a Premature Baby Onto The Breast is a good read of how to move from expressing for your babies to breastfeeding them when they’re discharged home.

Being educated in how breast milk production works is really important as mum will need to maximize her milk-making potential. For triplets the breasts receive three times the stimulation as from a single baby. This means the breasts are drained three times as often. This in turn promotes them to make three times as much milk. The more you feed the more you make. The hardest thing is finding the time to do this and some time to eat and sleep too! And you will be incredibly hungry. Breastfeeding one baby takes around 500 calories, so we can assume that three babies take 1500 extra calories! Having healthy snacks and lots of fluids will make you feel like you have enough energy to do this, although it probably won’t directly impact your milk supply.

Get support with positioning and attachment i.e. getting a good latch. For small babies it is so important to ensure they are latched on well so they can feed as efficiently as possible. They get tired very easily. Breast compressions can help get a bit of extra milk into them during feeding. Also vital for mum too as this will help prevent sore nipple and blocked ducts. When you are trying to feed three, you need to minimize the chance problems.

Some mums prefer to tandem feed two babies and then feed the third, rotating who gets the individual feed. Others prefer to tandem feed two and give a bottle of expressed to the third, rotating who gets the bottle each time. Or some prefer to breastfeed all three separately to get some individual time with each baby. Or maybe do more expressed feeds and less direct feeding. There is no right or wrong way to do this. It’s whatever suits you and your family best. And you can change what you do for different times of day or for different stages of breastfeeding. So keep an open mind and be flexible.

Many expectant triplet mums wonder how they will get the time to do everything. Will I ever sleep? The truth is you can’t do everything. So prioritize and delegate! If a mum is breastfeeding then she needs to prioritize that over everything else. Get help with all the things that anyone can do! Another pair of hands can be useful for general baby care; nappy changing, baths, feeding top ups, settling when they are cranky! Also help with the housework is a must in the early days. If family and friends can’t help out then it might be worth spending some of the money you are saving on formula on buying in some help. And the rule for visitors is that the must bring food and do one household chore before they are allowed a cuddle of the babies!

And of course if it all gets too much mix feeding is always an option. For example some triplet mums prefer to breastfeed two babies and formula feed the third, and then rotate. Or breastfeed one and formula feed two and rotate. Or use expressed breast milk and formula in bottles. Any amount of breast milk is incredibly valuable and should be celebrated.

To sum up Caroline commented: “All I would say is it takes patience and perseverance. You need a smile for those who say you can’t, and a finger for those who say you shouldn’t!” So if you have just found out you are expecting triplets, why not give it a go and see how you get on?

 

Kathryn Stagg, ABM BFC, 2017