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Breastfeeding Triplets: A Battle of Love

There are times when mathematics simply don’t make sense. For instance, I remember crying and crying over short division in school. It didn’t make sense. And I had similar experiences over the past two years with three babies and two breasts. Breastfeeding triplets didn’t compute.

You see, I was told on April 26, 2011 that I was carrying triplets.

Breastfeeding Triplets- A Battle of Love Immediately I began seeing my dreams of a drug-free, home birth evaporating. I saw many, many dollar signs floating before my eyes. I saw a plan unfolding for my life that I wanted no part of.

Well, as the news of spontaneous triplets sunk in, and my love for my three munchies grew to epic proportions, I began to research if some of those dreams might actually still be possible. There was very, very little research out there for higher-order multiples (HOMs). With the advent of fertility assistance, the numbers of triplets and HOMs has risen dramatically, but the research is still very minimal. Most books for multiples are written geared towards twins.

But…I had three babies and only two boobs! Even my very logical brain couldn’t develop a plan for this!

Preparing for Breastfeeding Triplets

The research I did find led me to believe it wasn’t likely I’d be able to nurse all three, but switching two out every feeding would be more realistic. So I grabbed onto that: I can do that. Ha. Little did I know what awaited me.

I called around and got connected with a wonderful La Leche League lactation consultant and she met with me and my husband, David, to help us prepare as best we could for what lay ahead. I learned to ask immediately for a pump so I could begin pumping during recovery…my body had a lot of milk to make!

Fast-forward to September 30: my water broke and I ended up in the hospital at 32 weeks and 3 days. Labor wasn’t stoppable, so on October 1, at 3:03pm, 3:04pm and 3:06pm, our babies were born! They weighed about 3 pounds, 12 ounces each.

The babies (Makenna, Noah, and Emma) were doing wonderfully. But they were born about a week and a half earlier than babies develop the ability to “suck, swallow, breathe.” So they were unable to breastfeed in the beginning. Which meant my body immediately was confused. It had grown three babies, but only one baby (aka, “The Pump”) was removing milk.

Battle #1: How to make more milk.

Kangarooing Triplets - Breastfeeding Triplets: A Battle of Love From the beginning, they had to be supplemented with formula during their 30 day NICU-stay. I pumped around the clock. I lugged my pump and faithfully left my babies’ beds in the NICU to go pump, many times crying over how frustrating it was to see drops…just drops.

I met with lactation consultants. I kangarooed each baby (sometimes all at once!). I read more books and websites. I took herbs and drank enough water to satisfy a camel. I pumped longer. I pumped shorter. I pumped and pumped and pumped. Not enough. Always not enough.

I remember proudly carrying my lunch box of cold expressed milk into the NICU, sure that I had finally caught up with their demand…only to be informed by an excited nurse that they had begun taking another ounce at each feeding. And I was so torn. I was thrilled by their growth and how healthy they were, but felt like such a failure. Why wasn’t my body working?!

My fight to bring up my supply continued for months. We brought the babies home when they were a month old. And then the fun really began. Now we were suddenly responsible for three five-pounders…and all their feedings, all their diaper changes, all their care. And somehow I still had to pump, make bottles, mix formula, sleep, eat, and recover from massive surgery. As a first-time mom.

Breastfeeding was confusing. (If you’re a mom pregnant with multiples, here’s a hug. It’s going to be tough, but more rewarding than you can begin to imagine. So, hang on…stay with me.) I tried putting them on but couldn’t figure out how to latch and feed one and then feed the other and then pump and care for them. Before I knew it, it was time for another feeding! So I didn’t. I waited till they were 41 weeks gestational age before attempting to breastfeed for real. At this point, though, they had been bottle fed for two months.

Battle #2: Nipple confusion.

The nurses in the NICU had weighed the babies after an attempt at breastfeeding, so I thought that was really important. So we got a scale. And I became obsessed with milliliters removed from me and how many still needed to be supplemented by the bottle. I hated it. Absolutely hated it. I resented those bottles.

The babies seemed to enjoy nursing, but after 40 minutes, they were still hungry. The feelings of failure just never seemed to go away. I couldn’t get to all three of them, so I decided to just focus on my son in the beginning—my best nurser. Eventually, I added one of the girls. I began tandem-feeding both and then pumped. I still needed around the clock assistance, though, because while I pumped, the third needed to be fed and the other two still needed care. I was exhausted.

It took a grueling six weeks to get all three of them breastfeeding. During that time, one of the girls continued to resist and refuse, fighting all my gentle and desperate attempts to latch her on. I will never forget the moment I brought her into bed with me and she latched and nursed…and then I got up and nursed the other two. What?! All three babies?! Suddenly my whole world flipped upside down. Could it be possible?

So I tried it. I fed two and then put the third on both sides. Feedings took an hour and a half, I pumped afterwards and then we started all over again about an hour later. But it seemed to be working!

Battle #3: Breastfeeding all three.

And then we had a well-visit appointment. The babies had lost weight, and I was devastated. Back to the drawing board, I went. I upped the Domperidone I’d been taking for a few months. I let the third nurser go longer, I pumped longer, I weighed them. I stressed. I worried.

I forgot to let my body do what it was created by God to do.

At this point they were five months old and I’d been working with a friend who was also a LLL lactation consultant for the past two months. I cannot stress enough how much of a God-send a supportive LC will be for you if you plan to breastfeed multiples. Gloria spent countless hours trouble-shooting with me and talking me down off the ledge. I knew I wanted to press on and so that is how she encouraged me.

I was breastfeeding all three babies at every daytime feeding and giving bottles at the sixth feeding (mama was touched out by then!). The battle waging was for them to continue gaining weight. I was still using their weight (numbers) as a measure for my success. And they were gaining. My pediatrician was happy, my lactation consultant was happy, my babies were happy, my husband was happy. So I began to relax.

Every month it got easier. Before I knew it, they were toddlers…and still breastfeeding. At this moment, they are 18 ½ months old, breastfeeding and…well, that’s actually a story for another day!

Lessons Learned

Navigating the Booby Trap: Breastfeeding & Beyond - Breastfeeding series @ Intoxicatedonlife.com (25 authors, 40+ posts) I tell people all the time that breastfeeding is blood, sweat, and tears. I have never in my life worked harder for something and have never been prouder of an accomplishment. I set out to breastfeed two babies at a time to a year…and here we are at 18 months still breastfeeding all three! I certainly made decisions along the way that I regret (but what mother doesn’t?). It made things far more difficult to wait so long to attempt to breastfeed. I hate that I gave them some formula for months, rather than goat’s milk formula or more donated breastmilk. But I did the very best that I could do at the time, and it is enough for me.

I’ll say it again, because I need to read it again:

It is enough for me.

What about all the hours and hours spent sobbing and worrying and weighing? Well, I actually don’t regret the lessons learned from these. On this side of things, as is true in many cases, I see God’s hand at work. I certainly could have trusted Him so much better. But it has served to reinforce in me that He does have a plan, He does care for them and He can do beyond what we can speak or imagine! There was so much grace carrying us (all five of us!) through something we could never have done otherwise. I am so grateful to have seen Him at work and to know that He is trustworthy—in this and in all things.

. . . .

Don’t miss all of the other posts in our Navigating the Booby Trap: Breastfeeding & Beyond series!


Jennifer Fountain: Featured Author in Navigating the Booby Trap Jennifer Fountain is the founder of Growing Up Triplets and is a contributor to other blogs, as well. She writes about raising their 18-month-olds, taking the family back to living simply, and endeavoring to honor God in the midst of it all. She has been married to her hubby, David, for three years and is madly in love with him! Jennifer is one of the featured authors in our series Navigating the Booby Trap. You can follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and their blog.

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Comments

  1. Way to go Jennifer!! Your love, dedication and commitment is so beautiful! Thanks so much for sharing this with the Tuesday Baby Link Up Community!

  2. Found you on Growing Slower, Tuesday Baby Link Up. Thanks for sharing your breast feeding story! I could not imagine having triplets and give you a lot of credit for breast feeding all 3. I too have an 18 month old, just one :) and she just stopped breast feeding about a week or so ago :( I wrote about my breast feeding experience and the end of our journey on my blog, THE DAY I STOPPED BREAST FEEDING MY DAUGHTER Now following you on FB

    ~Jackie

    • Hi Jackie!

      WOW! What a beautiful story! Such an awesome experience – I loved your goal-setting. I did that, too. :o) But I have never thought I might not realize the “last day” was here. Thank you for sharing this!!

      God bless!

      Jennifer

  3. Awesome post. What a wonderful gift you have given to your children. I’ve never had multiples, and its enough trying to keep up with one, so I’m absolutely amazed at you nursing 3 at the same time.

  4. My 31 year old triplet daughter forwarded your post to me. She and her sisters were born at 35 weeks and I breastfed them for a year. There were no lactation consultants and even less information back then, but I knew a woman who had had breastfed her triplets so I decided I could do it too. I also breastfed two at a feeding, bottle fed one, and rotated their feedings at the breast. I loved reading your story; it brought back many memories and I am so grateful for the wonderful life I’ve had with my family. I’m an OB nurse and my experience led me to become an IBCLC and I’m still practicing as an LC today.

    • Wow! How exciting to meet a mom of grown-up triplets! :) And what a blessing to have known someone who had breastfed her own!! I did so much research and could not come up with anyone who had breastfed for more than a few weeks! I’m sure your experience is coming in handy – someday I hope to become an LC, as well! :)

  5. What an incredible story. Most people would never go to such lengths, but you did. You should be proud of this accomplishment.
    My story can’t compare, but I’ll share it anyway: When I had my first son, I had lost one breast to cancer two years before (at age 28). I’d educated myself on the immense benefits of breastfeeding for the first year of life, and I was determined to breastfeed him with my remaining breast. To say we had a hard time in the beginning is such an understatement, it makes me laugh now (9 years later). It. was. brutal. I had an excellent supply, actually. WAY more than enough milk, but we had thrush for the first few months, and the pain was like nothing I’d ever known (and I’d had an unmedicated labor). He was a barracuda nurser and wanted to nurse all the time, yet I had to do it with a blister-covered nipple. I had no support other than my husband, and he talked me off the ledge on more than a few occasions. My entire life revolved around his every-two-hour feedings, for the first few months.
    Sometime around the time he turned 6 months, it suddenly got easy. And we nursed happily until he was 17 months old, when *he* self-weaned (I was devastated, but continued pumping milk to put in a cup for him till he was 22 months old).
    It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, as well, but also one of my greatest accomplishments.
    I went on to breastfeed his little brother a few years later, who had his own nursing issues (he wouldn’t nurse vigorously enough, and though I had an abundant supply, he actually lost weight starting at 5-6 months old. I had to do a lot of pumping just to keep up my supply because he wouldn’t drink enough himself. I was able to avoid formula supplementation because, at his age, he was able to eat solids, and we simply began supplementing him with avocado. This was enough, along with continued frequent nursing sessions, to get him gaining again…though even once he started drinking from a cup, he never liked “drinking”. He was more interested in eating, and still is!). But I remember all the endless pumping on top of nursing, and how I hated that pump…I was so glad to break up with it when he turned a year old. I ended up having to wean him at 19 months, because I got very sick and wasn’t able to continue; otherwise we’d have gone on who knows how long.
    Your story makes me smile, cringe, and just brings back so many memories, though we had two very different experiences. But my experiences give me HUGE respect for what you did for your babies. You never gave up, and you’ll never regret it! What a gift you’ve given them. xoxo

    • Cam, WOW! I am astonished! I cannot comprehend this and am so amazed at all you were able to accomplish! What an incredible gift you gave to your babies!!!! Thank you for sharing!

  6. Such a beautiful breastfeeding story! Thank you for sharing. :) I had enough breastfeeding problems with my first, I can’t imagine trying to go through it with 3 the same age. That is a truly amazing accomplishment!

  7. What a great story! Breastfeeding one is hard enough. You are one rocking mama!

  8. omg..im in tears..how beautiful. i love nursing..i nursed my older gurls from 04 to 09..though being preggo w my now 7 year old..;] they both weaned together at 5 and 3..but i had more babies..so they are 9 months and 2..and still nursing..and i nursed my two year old thought another preggo..;] im ust a mom, but im pride of you..to often you hear from ppl who are having twins you cant make enough..bull juice! your are proof!

  9. bridgett zaidi says:

    Great story! I have 1 yr old twins and nursed until 6 months. They were eating around the clock and losing weight around 5 months so we decided to start formula. I’m amazing when I hear triplets being nursed! Its amazing and even when the numbers dont add up (2 boobs= 3 babies). Great job momma :) I wish I would of nursed or pumped longer but with 2 older kids to care for as well, playing and tending to everyone took over having time to pump.

  10. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate this post. Your words spoke directly to my heart. My twins are just two weeks younger than your trio. The first 7 months of breastfeeding felt like an unending string of failure and disappointment. They are 19 months now and still bfing!! Your strength, dedication and tenacity is nothing short of amazing. Thank you so VERY much for sharing your journey.

    • So cool! I hear ya on the “unending string of failure and disappointments!” It was super tough but the reward has been so worth it! I’m so glad our story touched you! :)

  11. As a triplet mama myself (BBG born 12/22/11) I congratulate you on your success!

    For me breastfeeding was not a success…I had had a breast reduction, for health reasons, at 16, which results in my having less than stellar output {nearly nothing}. I had breastfed with our first child for a few months, before she quickly outgrew what I had to give.

    Having a 2 year old and newborn triplet premies…I pumped as much as I could while they were in the NICU (2.5 weeks) and once they were home, but between caring for an active 2 year old, little outside help, a husband who worked 80 hours a week {and was helping as much as he could}, my supply dwindled to nothing after a month or so…no amount of anything was bringing it back up. For me, it was just not something that could be.

    • Hey Jess, our babes are super close in age! So fun! Those are massive challenges to be up against! I cannot imagine having my hubby gone 80 hours a week!! Plus a toddler…whew! I am glad you survived the first year! :) {hugs}

  12. Esther N says:

    wow I am amazed! I breastfeed my twins until 17 months as well and tho we had a few bumps in starting off it was nothing like this!

  13. I love this essay! Great job! I am currently BF twins and I am so glad I stuck with it after a rocky, rocky start.

  14. Wow, praise God!! So inspiring!! What a fight, a labor of love, but such a reward in the end!

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