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Breastfeeding Twins: How to Do It & Make It Work

by Emma Goddard Published on 8 May 2015
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Breastfeeding twins can be an overwhelming concept for many twin mums-to-be, but it is totally possible. Ignore all the naysayers who are convinced you won't be able to, with the right guidance and techniques you can successfully learn how to breastfeed twins - no problem. Ladies, here's how to make it work...

Speaking with Clare Byam-Cook, breastfeeding expert at The Baby Show and author of "What to Expect When You’re Breastfeeding... And What If You Can’t?" we learned all there is to this seemingly difficult task. While it's not exactly "easy" by any means, these tips and tricks should help all those mothers out there learning how to go about nursing twins.

Latching Techniques with Twins

When you see women breastfeeding, it looks so natural and effortless. While it's certainly natural, both new and experienced mums know that it doesn't come without a few bumps in the road. That is, you can't just expect your baby to know what to do when they feed for the first time. Rather, you have to learn all about latching techniques, learn how to position your child properly and help them latch onto your nipple to ensure they're receiving your breast milk.

So if that doesn't already sound overwhelming for those new to motherhood, imagine what it's like having to teach not one but TWO babies how to latch. Although it's a bit trickier it's not impossible, and breastfeeding twins simply takes a little more time and dedication.

"If your baby is latched on correctly he should have his mouth wide open, his lips curled back and he should do deep rhythmic sucks rather than short, shallow ‘dummy’ type sucking," Byam-Cook says. "Feeding should be pain-free and you should not feel or see any pulling of the breast as he sucks."

How To Start Breast Feeding Twins

"I always recommend that a mother starts off by feeding her babies individually so she can establish whether each baby is able to latch on easily and feed effectively," Byam-Cook says. "And also to learn roughly how long each baby takes to get a full feed. If both babies feed well she can then graduate to the more complicated process of feeding them simultaneously."

However, Byam-Cook notes that while some women are able to get to this process of simultaneous feeding soon after their babies are born, there are others who take longer to do so, and some who never do at all. Although feeding both children at the same time makes things considerably easier, don't despair if it's not possible for you. Every mother's situation is different, and what's important is that your twins are able to feed well.

"The main factor is whether the mother has plenty of milk that flows quickly and whether both babies feed effectively," Byam-Cook says. "And this is more down to luck than time and effort by the mother."

Working On Their Schedule

Being flexible is an important part of parenting, but it's especially important when it comes to breastfeeding twins. Like any human who operates on their own schedule, a baby doesn't usually work with the needs of its sibling. When they want food, they're not going to wait for their brother or sister to feel hungry too.

"They are individuals with different feeding and sleeping patterns and will want to feed as soon as they are hungry, regardless of whether their sibling is still asleep or not hungry," Byam-Cook says.

On the other hand, Byam-Cook reveals that if necessary, it's still possible to feed twins at the same time by waking one child a bit earlier to work with its sibling's daily feeding routine.

"This can be done without causing any stress to the baby as most babies thrive on having a fairly regular feeding and sleeping routine," Byam-Cook says.

In fact it's a good idea to feed one baby then wake the other to feed them so that they can start to sync. Ultimately it will save time for you.

How to Breastfeed Both Babies At the Same Time

If your babies are able to feed at the same time, Byam-Cook recommends using a special feeding pillow available for breastfeeding twins. She says using normal pillows from home are fine as well as long as they support each breast and provide a comfortable, safe place to lay the babies. Although some moms are able to feed their twins without pillows (if only every woman could obtain those skills), Byam-Cook says many women breastfeed with their twins in the clutch position, better known as the football hold.

The football hold involves placing each baby at one side, with your elbows bent so that their bodies are positioned around your body to the sides. Your baby's backs should rest on your forearms or you can use pillows on your lap and a chair with low arms.

The Pros & Cons of Simultaneous Breastfeeding

Although breastfeeding your twins at the same time might seem like the most beneficial way to go about it, there are advantages and disadvantages to both simultaneous and individual breastfeeding.

PROS
According to Byam-Cook, breastfeeding the twins together can help the mother sleep, eat and relax between feeds when she doesn't have to worry about feeding double the number of times throughout the day. The mother will have more time to herself, whether she wants to catch up on "Scandal" or get things done around the house. The world is her oyster.

CONS
​It might not be ideal for a mother to breastfeed her children individually, but if she doesn't, she might be hurting the feeding process of one of the twins.

"Many mothers find that in the early weeks the babies may not feed very efficiently," Byam-Cook says. "She may not have enough milk and/or it might be hard to persuade both babies to feed at the same time, especially if one is bigger than the other and doesn't want to feed as frequently as his smaller sibling. Any of these factors can mean that it might be better for everyone to feed them separately, so each baby has her full attention for the duration of the feed."

Additionally, Byam-Cook says that if a mother's milk supply is low, it might be best to feed one twin from both breasts and to feed the other entirely from a bottle. The mother can alternate the babies every time she breastfeeds.

How Long Moms Should Expect to Breastfeed & What to Do When The Supply Is Low

When breastfeeding your twins, it's crucial that each baby gets a full feed. Since this can vary across the board, depending on how much milk a mother has, the flow of her breast milk and how well the baby sucks, patience is a necessity.

"Some mothers have such a fast flow that their baby can feed as quickly from her breast as he does from a bottle, which is roughly 10 to 20 minutes," Byam-Cook says. At the other end of the scale, others have a very slow flow which means that their baby may need to suck for as long as an hour in order to get a full feed."

Although mothers with a slow flow will have to take more time to breastfeed their twins, especially if they have to breastfeed them individually, all babies, no matter how long it takes them to feed, typically require milk every three to four hours.

"Each mother has to learn how long it takes her baby to get a full meal that lasts him roughly three to four hours, rather than a snack that only lasts him an hour or so," Byam-Cook says. "She does this by timing the length of each feed and then seeing how well her baby settles and how long it is before he gets hungry again. Gradually a pattern should emerge and the mother will learn how long each baby needs to spend at the breast to get a full feed."

Considering the number of times a baby should be fed, this usually equates to about six to nine feeds per day, and double that if your twins feed separately.

"In theory, breasts work on a supply and demand basis, which means the more a baby demands, the more milk they will produce," Byam-Cook says." But in reality some mothers find that they don't have enough milk for one baby, let alone two, even when they are feeding correctly and eating a healthy diet. I therefore take the view that a mother should not feel guilty if she needs to top up some or all of her feeds with formula milk if she has been unable to establish an adequate milk supply for the needs of her babies."

Breastfeeding Premature Twins

Although Byam-Cook says that having twins born prematurely should not effect her milk supply, it's important to note that premature twins will not feed the same way as twins born on time.

"Babies born very early will often feed less effectively than an older full-term baby, which means that feeds may take longer," Byam-Cook says. "The mother may also need to give top-up bottles after some or all of the feeds until they are strong enough to manage exclusive breastfeeding."

Having Sore Breasts Isn't Normal

For any mother, with twins or not, sore nipples should be taken up with a doctor immediately. Although many women have experienced this while breastfeeding, especially when they're first learning, it's not something that should persist.

Byam-Cook recommends seeking out an expert to confirm that the babies are latching correctly. Many painful nipple issues are related to poor latching technique where the baby is not taking in enough nipple when they feed. Other issues could be mastitis or thrush — a yeast infection that can affect both the baby's mouth and your breasts — which might be the source of the pain.

What tricks have you learned when breastfeeding your twins? Tweet us @sofeminineUK!

This article was written by Emma Goddard. Follow her on Twitter @egoddardhokie.

You can purchase Clare Byam-Cook's book, "What to Expect When You're Breastfeeding... And What If You Can't?" here.

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