Breastfeeding more than one baby
There are situations when women will breastfeed more than one baby at the same time, the most obvious being after the birth of twins or triplets or more. We spoke to one woman about the experience and practicalities of breastfeeding twins (for more information see Resources). For this woman, getting information and making contact with as many other women as possible who were feeding twins was extremely important because it enabled her to consider the variety of ways of undertaking the task. The second most important thing for her was to let go of trying to be self-sufficient and to accept help in the home, especially since she had a toddler whose needs had to be met as well. It was also helpful to have another pair of hands to hold and wind a baby once he had finished feeding.
Talking to other people who had twins and getting help in the home was extremely important to her.
And did you find that helpful?
I did find it helpful, certainly in terms of, you know the positions, the technique is still the same, the same latching on, the same, you know, holding the baby in the same way as much as you can, but just having to be slightly more innovative about your positioning and the use of cushions is absolutely essential with twins.
Did you have a support system set up by the time you came home?
Yep, yeah. Once I had the twins I had help lined up and we've had pretty much non-stop help.
What sort of help? What are the important things for somebody to think about?
For me with an older child I think it was really important to make sure that he was (a) looked after, had his meals, had his sleeps, was changed at the right times and entertained, the other thing was just to keep the house moving, to, to make sure we had food in the house, that there were meals on the table, that the washing was done, all those things are quite hard to manage when you've got a small baby and particularly when you've got three small children in the house [laughs], and to make sure that I could have some quiet time, both to rest and to feed the babies, in the early days I used to bring the babies upstairs out of the room so that I could feed them quietly on my own in the bedroom, sometimes having another pair of hands with me so that they could hold a baby once one had fed, but I quite quickly learned to be able to get them up onto my cushions and down again by myself, I figured I had to be able to do that on my own [laughs] although I know some people with twins who've really relied on other people to, to put them on the cushions and to wind them after the feed, because it's quite a manoeuvring exercise [laughs].
So you've made your priority the children?
And let other people take care of everything else?
Do you direct operations?
Totally [laughs]. I've become a master of instructions, and, sometimes it's nice, it's great to know that somebody else can, cook the dinner or do the washing for me, it's lovely, it's a real luxury, but at the same time it can be quite wearing having to constantly say, 'Would you mind doing such and such for me? Would you mind taking a baby? Would you mind reading a story' and although I have fantastic help and I wouldn't turn it down ever, I do find it quite exhausting always having somebody else in the house.
And loss of privacy?
Okay. What would you say to a woman who finds she's pregnant with twins, what advice would you give?
I would say try and speak to as many people with twins as you can, that might be friends, friends of friends, family, it might be going on
Mothers of twins need special advice on matters such as whether to feed both babies at the same time or separately, and how to position them if they decide to feed both at the same time. Talking to other mothers of twins is a useful way to share practical tips. Because she had a toddler, the woman we spoke to decided early on that she would feed both babies simultaneously so that she was not constantly feeding. However, she said that it was important to be able to successfully latch-on each of the babies individually before trying to feed them both at once. Positioning was paramount and she needed lots of pillows and an invaluable u-shaped cushion to prop the babies up at breast level. She did a lot of hand expressing in the early days to relieve the engorgement until her supply aligned itself with her babies' needs. Because she was producing a lot of milk she needed to ensure that she ate and drank appropriately and got as much rest as possible (see 'Breastfeeding during the night' and 'Dealing with difficult times').
She mostly fed both babies at once which meant that she needed to be very organised. Lots of...
No in the delivery suite I fed them one after the other, and I'd been told, I actually had been to the breastfeeding clinic myself when I was pregnant just to ask their advice about feeding twins and they said the key thing is to make sure you latch them on individually and can latch them well individually before you try and feed them together. So I did want to do that, but at the same time I wanted to learn to feed them together and I didn't want to avoid picking up a habit of feeding them together so, really from straightaway in hospital I tried to feed them together, somebody had lent me a quite a small u-shaped cushion, not a v-shaped cushion 'cause I don't think they work quite as well but a u-shaped one and I managed to feed them both in a hospital bed using that cushion but also about six pillows all around me propping me up, propping them up, I fed them underarm, one on each side at the same time.
The football hold?
Yeah. The football hold, some people call it 'rugby hold' I think.
Don't worry, but I did have quite a lot of help from the midwives in hospital because I found it quite tricky, just, manipulating them when they're that small. And also in the early days just trying to wake them up for their feed was quite hard work, and I used to call on the midwives or the maternity care assistants to come and prod them into life before I fed them, but I think there was only one feed where I had to hand express some milk and give it to [son] in a syringe because he was a little bit reluctant, just tired, I think that first twenty-four hours often a baby is too sleepy to feed well.
A friend lent me a special feeding cushion for twins which is a blow-up cushion, and it wraps right around your body, it straps on at the back and it, it has another cushion at the back to support your back, and it's designed so that you can feed two babies, one under each arm.
And it's quite large?
It's very large and it is hot.
It has you sitting upright?
Yeah I have to be sitting on a good chair and, I usually sit either on the sofa or next to the bed so that I can leave the babies at the side of me before and after feeding, and sit in my chair and I get my cushions all in place, I strap myself in and I put a towel across to catch any drips and then I put the babies up onto the cushion and latch them on one after the other, so it's quite an exercise in logistics, you have to remember what you need and make sure it's all in place before you start feeding, get the babies lined up and then lift them each into place before you, you even start, so sometimes I have to sit down and take a big breath before I try and latch them on [laughs] and having two babies one on each side sometimes feels like a pair of piranhas pecking at you when they're desperate for a feed, they're both diving at you and it does sometimes feel like you're being attacked on all sides. But it's been fine and the cushion is, has really made a difference to my arms, my seating position, to an extent I was getting very tight in the shoulders as well and it's helped that a bit although I'd quite like to be able to lean back, unfortunately when you've got two babies with their legs out behind you leaning back isn't very easy [laughs].
Can you just talk to me a little bit about having two babies feed
Other less common times when women may be breastfeeding more than one baby include tandem feeding, which is breastfeeding siblings of different ages (see 'Breastfeeding an older baby'); surrogate or cross-nursing, which is when a woman breastfeeds another woman's baby; or in an adoption situation where a woman may wish to breastfeed. In earlier times cross-nursing was quite common and called wet nursing. Nowadays, it is more likely to be on an irregular basis and consist of breastfeeding in a baby-sitting type situation when the baby's birth mother is not available. We did not talk to any women in this situation but we are aware of the practice.
Last reviewed November 2018.
Last updated November 2011