Is the breast best for multiples?

Breastfeeding is said to nurture the mother-child bond.
Breastfeeding is said to nurture the mother-child bond.
Photo courtesy: JGI/Blended Images/Getty Images

If you think breastfeeding is out of the question just because you're having multiples, think again. While the learning curve is undeniably sharper than bottle-feeding at first, experts suggest that you might ultimately find breastfeeding easier — fewer bottles to clean, no pricey formula to prepare, hands-free feeding (once you get really good). You can even feed your babies while you lie down and rest in bed, a great way to offer the skin-to-skin contact babies need.

And then, of course, there are the health benefits to your babies. "Prematurity is the No. 1 issue with multiples," says Catherine Watson Genna, IBCLC, a New York City-based international board-certified lactation consultant. "In many NICUs, doctors tell moms they need their breast milk as medicine for their babies, even if moms didn't plan on breastfeeding. That's because the death rate from infection in very small babies is so high." And the antibodies in breast milk help to ward off potentially harmful illnesses.

Supply and Demand

Since moms of multiples need double, triple or more than the average milk supply, it's important to start working at building yours right away, if breastfeeding is the route you choose. "Research shows that breastfeeding should begin immediately after birth. In cases where preemies are not ready to suck, Mom should start pumping within the first six hours, eight to 10 times a day for the first week or two with the goal of making 32 to 48 ounces of milk daily by the second week," says Genna. Use a hospital-grade, electric rental pump (which will allow you to efficiently pump both sides at once), and expect to spend about 20 minutes per session. One fringe benefit of pumping: It gives Mom a good reason to sit and rest.

If for some reason you don't start breastfeeding or pumping in the first few hours, all is not lost. But you are going to have to work harder to build your supply. That's because the body calibrates its milk supply around day two, and then fine-tunes the production process over the next couple of weeks. Says Genna, "This is the easiest time to increase milk supply. I recommend that moms who are trying, continue to pump up to two minutes after the last drop."