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

Surviving fussy periods with beastfeeding twins

Babies are fussy sometimes. They have developmental leaps. They have fussy evenings. Sometimes they just have a day when they are not happy for some reason. But when there’s two, it can be quite difficult to cope with. But as long as nappy output is appropriate for their age (generally 2-3 poos in and 5-8 wet nappies in 24 hours, although after 6 weeks babies can go a few das without poo and that’s fine) and weight gain is consistent, it is a completely normal, if difficult stage.

Twins sometimes have their fussy periods at the same time. This can be pretty intense! Sometimes they decide to tag team. Less intense but then it goes on longer. I am not sure which is easier. But unfortunately, as parents we do not have much say in the matter.

So here are some tips to help cope:

Let them cluster feed

Babies like to stock up with milk. Mostly once breastfeeding is established, babies will generally be happy after just one, or possibly two goes on the breast. But during fussy periods they often want to go back onto the breast time after time. This is called cluster feeding. You give them a feed, they begin to snooze, come off, you put them down, they wake up and start routing, you feed them, they snooze and come off, you put them down, they wake and start routing….. repeat for a few hours. The good news is you will get a let-down of milk each time. Your breasts are unlikely to feel full during these periods, but breasts never actually run out. They are constantly making milk, and an empty breast makes milk much more quickly than a full breast. So milk production actually increases. So get set up with everything you need, snacks, drinks, phone, remote control and something good on the TV, and let the babies feed, feed, feed. This is where tandem feeding really helps as you can plug them both in and quieten them down. If you are struggling with tandem feeding then having someone else to entertain the second baby is a massive help and you can keep rotating the babies.

Other settling techniques

But you may find you get to the stage when the babies do not want to feed any more but are still not happy. Often this will mean they try to latch on for comfort but as soon as they get some milk, they come off again as they are not actually hungry. It does not mean you have run out of milk. Babies often like to suck for comfort, so sometimes substituting the nipple for a clean finger can work. But babies also like movement and closeness. So you could try skin to skin (especially with the non-breastfeeding parent as the smell of milk can just mean they want to latch on), rocking, patting, swaying, tiger in the tree position (see pic below), walking or bouncing with them in the sling, baby massage, maybe a bath or sharing a bath with a parent, or even taking them out in the car (many a parent has found themselves driving around late at night willing the baby to sleep!). Often after a bit of a break, the babies will latch on again and have a good feed an eventually settle down to sleep. And often you will find that they sleep for quite a good period of time after a fussy period like this, so this is time for mum to sleep too!

 Some mums prefer to express earlier in the day and offer a bottle during these fussy times. But remember breastfeeding is not just about the milk, it’s about comfort and connection as well. And remember it is important to express if you are missing a feed otherwise it will affect your supply.

Babies often grow out of these fussy, cluster feeding type periods at around 3 or 4 months of age. So although very difficult when we are in the middle of it all, it is reassuring to know it will not last long. 

 June 2019, Kathryn Stagg IBCLC

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

 

Tandem feeding twins

You have two babies, you have two breasts. Many twin mums like to feed their babies together to save time and to try to maximise sleep!

But should you try straight away or should you single feed first whilst you are all practising?  The answer is it really depends on your babies and you. Some babies struggle to latch in the early days so trying to juggle two babies and latching both on with one hand each can be quite stressful. And they often take a few goes each to latch. So some mums prefer to wait until they have practised a bit feeding singly. Other babies, especially if they are full term, a good size and nice and alert, can tandem feed straight away. So you will really have to wait and see. Some mums try tandem feeding and just don’t enjoy it. And that’s fine too. But I think its always a good idea to be able to tandem feed if you need to, even if you don’t do it all the time.

So how do you go about tandem feeding? The most popular position is the “double rugby hold”, or “double football hold” if you are American. The babies lie one down each side of you. Start nose to nipple, so the babies need to be quite far back with their legs curled round your waist; you may need an extra cushion or two behind you to make room for their legs, especially as they grow longer! Support the baby with your hand behind their shoulders with thumb and fingers round the neck behind the ears. Tickle top lip with your nipple to stimulate baby to open her mouth wide, and bring on to the breast chin first with nipple going up into the roof of the mouth. Many mums find a twin feeding pillow really helps to support the babies in a good position. You can read my blog about different twin feeding pillows here. If you have your feeding pillow set up well you should be able to let go of the babies and feed hands free (meaning you can eat ice-cream!).

Many mums are worried about how they will be able to tandem feed without help when their partner goes back to work. The most important thing is to keep everything nearby within reach. Then get you feeding pillow ready. Pick up one baby and put on sofa or bed next to you. Ensure baby cannot roll or push themselves off. It is surprising how early babies can move themselves! Then pick up the second and place next to the first. Get settled and make sure the feeding pillow is in position. Lift one baby onto the pillow, ensure they can’t roll off, you can either use your arm to support it or some prefer to roll up a muslin and just prop them up. Lift second baby onto the cushion. I usually advise mums to start with the fussier feeder as you can concentrate more on the latch and use both hands. Then once the first baby has settled into a deep feeding rhythm and the milk is flowing, latch on the second baby. Sometimes this knocks the first baby off the nipple and you have to start again! But with practice, you will get there.

But you don’t have to be constrained by the double rugby hold and needing to use a pillow to tandem feed. There are several other positions you could try. And especially as the babies get older, more able to control their heads, and faster at feeding, you really can be quite creative.

Commonly called “The Stack” you can feed one baby in cradle hold and one in rugby hold. This is quite a good position for feeding out and about as you can do it either without a feeding pillow or with just a couple of cushions to support your arms. Or you can sit cross-legged on the floor and have your legs support the babies.

The “double clutch” can be another good way of tandem feeding without a pillow. It is especially useful when babies are a bit older and can feed in a more sitting up position.

You can even tandem feed in the car. Just make sure you are not actually driving at the time!

And you can feed walking around if you can master the “tandem twin sling feed”. The ultimate food on the move.

And most importantly, there are ways you can tandem feed lying down, so you can lie back and relax whilst you feed. These positions can be used from birth when babies like to feed very frequently, or later on during the long, cluster feeding sessions during growth spurts.

 

And when the babies become toddlers, they can feed any old how.

 

Kathryn Stagg, IBCLC, Jan 2018

 

Specialist Twin Breastfeeding Pillows. Are they necessary and which one do I buy?

 

So you have had the news that you are expecting twins. Once you’ve got over the shock it’s time to think about the practicalities, and what you need to buy. Many mums wish to tandem feed their babies in order to save time and deal with two hungry babies! But are the twin breastfeeding pillows necessary? And if they are, which one is the best one to buy? They are not cheap so it is important to get it right. When you have the correct one they can make tandem feeding so much easier, especially in double rugby hold (one baby under each arm) but they can be used for other feeding positions too. If the babies are held at the correct height on the cushion you can actually feed hands free, meaning you can actually and drink your tea warm! But which one you buy is a very personal choice and often you need to think about your body shape before deciding. Your lap to nipple measurement (I bet you didn’t think you’d ever be measuring that!) makes a lot of difference. And this depends very much on the length of your upper body, and how your breasts fall. If you are tall with perky, small boobs, you may find you need a lot of extra cushions to make some of the lower brands work. We did a survey on the Breastfeeding Twins and Triplets Facebook group to see if we could glean any useful information.

There are five main brands available. The first four are the traditional U shape, (listed from thinnest to highest) and the last one is M shaped.

Harmony Duo. (£79.95)

This feeding pillow has been a mainstay of the twin feeding world for a long time now. It has a breastfeeding side and a bottle feeding side. On the breastfeeding side there is quite a big slope from outside to inside which helps prevent the babies from rolling off. However this pillow is the lowest of all sloping from 15cm down to 11 cm on the inside. Many mums find they need to add extra cushions to raise it up high enough. It is also the smallest on the inside diameter of the U, so not so good if you’re on the larger side. This pillow suits shorter mums, or those with droopier boobs. A lap to nipple measurement of 15-17cm seems to work best. Some find it’s difficult to use as the babies get older as it is quite narrow. It comes with detachable back cushion and a wipeable surface, although this can be a bit sweaty in hot weather. You may find you need extra cushions behind as babies get longer.

My Brest Friend Twin Cushion. (Currently US import only)

This pillow is a little higher. It has a nice soft feel and is comfy for the babies. It is a little wider which makes it feel more secure and less likely for the babies to roll off. It also has quite a large inner diameter so is good for larger ladies. This pillow slopes from around 15cm on the outside to 12 cm on the inside and suits a medium height, or medium boobs. A lap to nipple measurement 17-21cm and a larger frame would probably suit this cushion. It has washable covers and comes with attached back cushion but you may find you need extra support behind as it’s quite narrow.

San Diego Bebe Twin Cushion. (Currently US import only)

This is another sort of medium height feeding pillow. Lovely brushed finish and comfy for the babies. It is a slightly wider pillow so lots of room for bigger babies. You can use it with an “apron” attached for modesty, although sometimes the babies are not so keen to be covered up. It has washable covers and a back cushion that is removable. The pillow slopes from around 15cm outside to 12cm inside. Again this pillow would suit a medium height or medium boobs. A lap to nipple measurement of 17-21cm would suit this cushion.

Peanut and Piglet. (£85.00)

This is a firm high feeding pillow. It is still around 15cm high above the knees but is higher at the back and so keeps the babies more horizontal. Because of its firmness the babies are held at a slightly higher height, so this pillow suits taller ladies or small perky boobs. A lap to nipple measurement of around 22-26cm would suit this pillow. Taller ladies may still need to lift it a little.

**newsflash** Peanut and Piglet now have a petite version of their feeding pillow. This will be much more suited to the shorter-bodied or danglier-boobed mum!

Twin Z. (US import only)

It took me quite a while to work out how this M shaped pillow from the USA worked. So the official way of using it is to start with the cushion standing vertically in the W position, then fold down the two outer prongs, the middle “prong” of the M becomes a back support. Then the two outside prongs are where the babies lie. There is a strap to pull the two prongs together to prevent there being a big gap for babies to fall into. It is a fairly low pillow, 20cm at the back but only 12cm at the front. Unless you are short or have droopy boobs you will probably find you need extra cushions to raise it up. There are bootlegs available in the UK but they do not have the front strap to hold it together.

It is important to remember that all mums and babies are different and some cushions will not suit some situations. Some mums prefer to just use a V shaped pillow, or a beanbag style pillow or a combination of normal pillows from the bed. Others find they can still use a single feeding pillow. Other mums prefer to find other tandem feeding positions for which you don’t need a pillow at all, like a double laid back position for example. Other mums just don’t like tandem feeding or their babies don’t like tandem feeding! So the point is am trying to make is that you don’t really know what will suit you until the babies actually make an appearance.

There is also a very healthy twin breastfeeding pillow second hand market. So if you do buy the wrong one you will find you can sell it on very easily. Or if you would prefer not to risk so many pounds, then buy second hand in the first place and save money. Many pillows are barely used and are in great condition. There are often For Sale posts on Breastfeeding Twins and Triplets UK Facebook group, also on the TAMBA for sale forum for members, local twins clubs and of course auction and second hand websites. And if you don’t get on with the pillows or don’t get on with tandem feeding, they make a great support for babies learning how to sit up.

Kathryn Stagg, ABM Breastfeeding Counsellor, Nov 2017