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