Friday, February 15, 2008

On Breastfeeding Triplets

You're pregnant with triplets? Well, you're obviously not going to breastfeed them, you're going to spend a fortune on formula!

I heard that a lot when I was pregnant. Over and over, I heard unsolicited opinions from people telling me that there was no way I would ever be able to breastfeed triplets. It's not possible, they would say. I didn't even bother trying with my twins, I would hear. Why would you even think about it? You'll never do anything but feed them all day long if you try! the incredulous voices would cry. They'll be preemies. You can't breastfeed preemies, you know.

I never expected to be the militant type...certainly not about breastfeeding, and certainly not about breastfeeding triplets. But these constant, unsolicited words of discouragement absolutely convinced me that I was going to do everything I could to breastfeed my babies, at least for the first few weeks. My premature babies were going to NEED the benefit of my colostrum and my milk for as long as I could give it to them, and I knew it wouldn't be forever, and even during my pregnancy, I mourned the loss of the ability to just KNOW that I could breastfeed with reckless abandon, but I set a modest goal. I wanted to get 3-4 weeks of exclusive breast milk into them if I could. And if I could do that, well, we'd go for 6 weeks and after that, I would give myself permission to supplement with formula, because it would be a miracle if I made it that far.

The babies did get a little bit of formula in their first few days. My colostrum was mixed with a few cc's of preemie formula to make up for lack of volume, but they DID get my precious drops as well. In their first 3 days they received a couple ounces of formula between the three of them. TOTAL. And then I started producing enough to feed them exclusively my milk. It helped that Abby started out with 2.5 cc feeds and Ellie and Sam started out with 4cc feeds, so the demand wasn't huge from the start. They were still getting the bulk of their nutrition through a TPN at that point while they figured out the whole suck/swallow/breathe thing.

And on Day 4, my husband asked the nurse how long it would be before I could try actually breastfeeding my babies, and she checked with the doctor and got permission for me to breastfeed them. She helped me get set up with Sam and showed me how to hold him and support him, and I fretted about whether he'd be able to latch, but he did! He didn't latch on for very long, but he definitely knew what to do and figured it out pretty quickly. He tired very quickly, so we gave him a feeding through his gavage tube afterward, but it was miraculous. I had no idea how amazing an experience nursing my baby could be until that moment. It felt strange and awkward and perfect and amazing all at the same time. My tiny little three and a half pound baby knew what to do and he nursed like a little champ! How incredible. And then it was time for Ellie's feeding, but she was having a harder time, so we gave her a gavage feeding while she was nursing so that she could associate a full tummy with mommy's breast...a technique we employed a lot with her in the NICU, actually. I was shocked at how exhausted I was after nursing just two tiny babies. Abby was still too small to try to nurse, so when her turn came, I held her skin-to-skin while giving her a gavage feeding, and then I pumped afterward while gazing at my beautiful two and a half pound angel and had the best production I'd ever had before. It was amazing to see that it was all true... being around your babies really DOES improve milk supply. Who knew?

And that was my first day breastfeeding my babies. The next day, believe it or not, I was able to breastfeed all three of them, even Abby, and I breastfed them at least twice a day every day until they left the NICU and I pumped 8-12 times per day, every day. And then, on day 24, they came home. My once champion breastfeeders suddenly would not breastfeed anymore. None of them! I continued to pump 8-10 times per day, fed them expressed milk, attempted to breastfeed them at every feed, and never slept, because of the constant fight to get them to remember how to breastfeed. I thought all was lost. I developed my second clogged duct and was in misery until it resolved. And then... a few days later I woke up with painful, red, tender, swelling in my breast, a high fever, chills, flu-like symptoms... you guessed it, mastitis! The way to get through mastitis, I'm told, is to let your baby nurse as much as possible, but my babies wouldn't help me, so I gave up for a few days and just pumped, pumped, pumped, pumped and pumped some more. And gradually, it got better, and I was able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I thought there was no way my babies would ever return to nursing... but on the advice of a nurse, I got some nipple shields, even though lots of people told me that nipple shields would only lead to nipple confusion. Seriously...these babies were drinking from bottles, so how much more confused could they get? And lo and behold... suddenly, Ellie was nursing. Then Sam was nursing. Only Abby remained skeptical. She would latch occasionally, but would usually scream her head off at the mere mention of breastfeeding (er, that might be a SLIGHT exaggeration). And eventually I was able to rid myself of the nipple shields all together and I had two, perfectly normal nursing babies and one baby who would not nurse, but who still received only expressed breast milk.

I called the pump my FOURTH baby, because I spent as much time with her (I named her Maggie) as I did with my three babies, in order to make sure I always had enough milk for Abby. And pump, I did. I was able to reduce to 6-8 times per day without changing the amount I was producing, since I was nursing so much, and I still got lots of snuggle time with my beautiful Abby. Even today I still try to give her the opportunity to nurse occasionally, but she still hates it. She's got a tongue-tie, and has a really hard time latching, so it's not shocking that she won't nurse, but it's a little disappointing.

My babies will be five months old next week and today, for the first time, I'm faced with the need to supplement them with formula. I've finished my stash of milk in the freezer. And I'm pumping like mad. But I'm producing 40-45 ounces of milk per day in addition to whatever they get via nursing directly, and the three babies together are eating 52 ounces of milk per day, so I'm falling a little bit short on the supply. I've tried everything... domperidone, fenugreek, blessed thistle, some weird herbal concoction, reglan, oatmeal, breast compression before and during pumping... but I just can't produce more than I'm producing now, without adding additional pumping sessions in each day. I'm pumping about 6-7 times per day right now, and if I pump any more than that, I'll probably lose my job.

A piece of me feels like a big, giant failure, even though I'm obviously not going to STOP breastfeeding and pumping at this point. I'm not sure when my 6 week breastfeeding goal turned into a 3 month goal, or when that 3 month goal turned into a 6 month goal, or when that 6 month goal turned into a 6-month-adjusted goal, but I know now that I'll breastfeed as long as I can, as much as I can until they're a year old, and then I'll work on weaning them before moving on to my next round of fertility treatments. I'm not getting any younger, but I do want at least one more chance at this pregnancy thing. And I want my children to have lots of siblings. I had only one and he loathes me, so I've been determined my whole life to make sure that my children are surrounded with a big brood. They don't all have to like each other (though that would be nice), but at least the odds are good that they'll each find SOMEONE to love in the family.

But I digress. I do feel like I'm failing my children, though I don't feel that way toward any other woman who feeds their babies formula. I've told countless mothers of multiples that they should not ever beat themselves up over their breastfeeding decisions because it's HARD, and sometimes darned near impossible. And I know I should celebrate my five months of accomplishment, rather than focusing on my failure to continue the same pace, but I just can't get past it. I know very few women who made it through five months of feeding triplets only breast milk... so I should be thrilled, right?

But then this morning, the first morning that I was guaranteed that the babies weren't going to have enough of my own milk for the day, the guilt poured on. I thought it would be wise to try giving Abby a bottle of formula while there was still breastmilk in the fridge, just in case she didn't like it. After all... what would we do if she refused it and there were no other options? So when the nanny arrived this morning, I handed her a bottle of formula (no way was I going to be the one to give her the yucky stuff). Sure enough, Abby screamed her little head off. My poor persnickety Abby wanted NOTHING to do with the formula. NOTHING. I thought maybe she just wasn't hungry, but we gave her a bottle of breastmilk and, sure enough, she gobbled it right up. Sigh. Sam, fortunately, had no problem drinking the formula, little piggy that he is. Next week, I'll try making 50/50 bottles and see what happens with Abby, but oh gosh, my heart was breaking knowing how much she hated the taste of the formula! I was completely failing my child! Thank heavens I tried it out while there were still options!

In a couple months, we'll be starting them with some solids, and eventually their consumption of milk each day will go down slightly, so I may actually be able to return to being able to feed them 100% breast milk. But for now, each of them will probably get 2-4 ounces of formula each day. And I know that's still pretty amazing on my part. And I know there's nothing to be done, and no way for me to get around it.

And once again, I feel like a failure. Once again, I feel like my body is betraying me. It's infertility all over again, even though I know that logically, this is the polar opposite of infertility. Somehow, I simply MUST make myself okay with supplementing, because there's really nothing wrong with it. It won't hurt my babies. They'll still grow and they'll still be healthy. I'll still be able to fortify for the extra calories that Ellie needs. I'll still be able to breast feed any time I'm home and feed them breast milk most of the time. 2-4 ounces per day just isn't the end of the world, so why do I feel like the world's worst mommy?

Also, a quick update on Ellie... at her appointment yesterday she hadn't gained any weight, but on Wednesday we were able to convince her to start taking 120 ml bottles, so we're hoping another week of that will be enough to boost her back toward gaining. Bigger babies need more calories to grow, of course, so hopefully that's all that's going on. For the moment, she is a bit of an enigma, but she's definitely improving. She's more alert, and smiling and cooing almost as much as Abby now. She looks good, but is still far more sleepy than the other two. We'll go back in a week to see how she's improved.


Rachel said...

I'm so impressed with your perseverance with the breastfeeding. You definitely should not feel guilty about supplementing, especially at this point.

My Reality said...

You are doing a fantastic job, try not to beat yourself up too much.

Michelle said...

Your perseverance is so impressive! I hope you can relieve yourself of the guilt soon.

With my oldest daughter, she HATED formula - but she'd take soy formula. Apparently it's a little sweeter (and it doesn't have quite the same formula stink). I almost wish Ruby were on soy, too, but I think it's too late to switch her.

Cindy & Brian said...

You are so funny! My pump is like a 4th baby to me too. Although I call my extra sack of skin on my belly the 4th baby. Maybe the pump is my 5th? LOL
Anyhow, I think you are amazing! I am in no way keeping up with my babies' demand now - I only pump about 32 oz per day now (used to be about 64 oz) and they consume about 72 oz each day. My supply has really gone down as I can't find the time to pump as often as before. I am not sure how much longer I will go. Its such a pain now because with their terrible reflux I end up adding rice cereal to my milk anyway to thicken it so they don't even get my straight milk. Anyway, I totally identify with your feelings. I always feel like it would just be so nice if my body could just produce enough. But the fact is there are THREE BABIES!! I have to keep telling myself that. The fact that they've gotten so much of your milk for SO LONG is incredible and you should be proud of yourself. I think breastfeeding for any amount of time with THREE babies is a huge accomplishment and you have done a great job! NO GUILT sister!

Hayley said...

I am in awe of your achievement, frankly. Against all the odds, you have done an incredible job of being solely responsible for the nutritional needs of your babies. That's pretty impressive. I know that saying you're great won't change the way you feel about yourself, but it might make you smile, which is not such a bad thing. So here's a big round of applause for your achievement!

Angelle said...

I am a long time reader but a rare commenter. I just felt compelled to congratulate you. I am weaning my 6 month old singleton because I am not producing enough and was feeling guilty too. Although my situation is nothing like yours, I was feeling sentimental while reading your entry. You are Superwoman! All of your babies are grateful for every ounce you have made for them. I also am in awe.

Anonymous said...

I've never posted before but have kept up with your story... I'm not even sure how I found your blog. I'm a mother of 4 (not all at once) age range from 25 - 15. I can totally relate with your feelings. I was never successful at breastfeeding because I just wouldn't produce the milk. But, I was determined I would make it work with my 4th & last. I nursed her for 6 months always following it with formula. When the demand started going so low that she wouldn't even latch on because there was nothing there, I hurt. I didn't want to give it up - the bond you have with your baby during that time is like nothing you can get from anywhere else. Don't beat yourself up - you are not a failure. You have done an incredible job. Hang in there. You are a great mom!

Erin said...

I can't tell you anything you're not telling yourself (that you shouldn't beat yourself up, that you've been amazing at breastfeeding, and that you are CONTINUING to be amazing at breastfeeding). But I can tell you that all of that is true and that your babies are healthy and thriving in no small part due to all the wonderful care and nursing that you have done. And you'll be continuing to do that and continuing to nurse, and they'll continue to be healthy and thriving...even Ellie, who will probably go on to be a 6-foot tall model (or maybe something a little more modest).

Emma B. said...

Oh, yes, such a failure, to fall a few ounces shy of exclusively nursing TRIPLETS. Lady, you're teh awesome, and don't let anyone (yourself included) tell you differently.

illahee said...

i understand the knowing and the feeling. it's so hard. my daughter weaned at 10 months because of supply problems. i feel so guilty, but there you go.

i think you've done an amazing job and i hope that when they start solids you can cut out formula again. but even if you don't, i think your babies are so lucky, so loved and you are so wonderful!!

Cherie said...

Dearest Karen,
I'm sitting here crying because you have put into words precisely how it feels to have that mommy guilt over breastfeeding multiples.
I only made it 6 weeks ( of breastfeeding triplets) and I still mourn that loss.
Hang in there girl.

The Dunn Family said...

Please don't be so hard on yourself. I think that we are IFers, tend to beat ourselves up a little bit more. Maybe some left over anger at our bodies! I didn't even consider breastfeeding my twins because I thought it would be too hard. I'm don't regret my decision, but I think you have proven that its possible. More than possible. I think you should be BEYOND proud of yourself and how much you have done for your children! Making enough milk to feed 3 babies is tough work. And I am in awe of how amazing you have been thus far.

Give yourself a break, please? And a pat on the back.

Lea Bee said...

i know you know this...but breastfeeding is not the measure of a mother. making sure the baby is fed and nurtured and can grow and develop IS. i know what it is to *know* something and *feel* another but give yourself the break you give other moms, if you can. you are a MOM to triplets and (and an older son) and are doing amazing. fantastic. you are more to your children than the sum of your boobs. i promise.

lots of love.

Amy said...

You're amazing and such an inspiration.

Leonie said...

hey there,

DO NOT BEAT YOURSELF UP, you have done an amazing job and sometimes mummies just need to be told that. breastfeeding is a wonderful privelege to those of us that can, along with having babies. some don't understand or 'get it', but 3 babies, omg, you have sustained it for as long as possible. i had to wean my eldest son at 7 months when i discovered that i was pregnant (3 months - you aren't are yo?, the quality of my milk dropped not the quantity, he failed to thrive and i was exhausted!) i had to wean him over a period of a week, using others to give him the bottle (apparently i smelt too good!!) it was hard and in reality looking back it only took one day, it was hard and very sad, but i believe he still did ok. Take care

VHMPrincess said...

You cannot beat yourself up like this! You are breastfeeding THREE babies. You said you breastfeed 2 and then pump an EXTRA 40 ounces? That is amazing. You are doing a fantastic job, probably the best job ever if I had to guess! Please don't feel guilty - you are doing all that you can do and doing an amazing job at it. I don't know any other women that would persevere like you have!

Karen said...

and I thought I was busy when I was nursing ONE baby! They would not take formula unless it was offered before they were ready for a bottle. Actually the second child never liked it. Or a bottle. My third baby got very little milk from me, broke my heart but being in ICU and in kidney failure did something to make my milk never really come in:(. I nursed her till 13 months anyhow, however little she got, she was willing. You are doing an awesome job! I am ever so impressed!

Shelby said...

I'm honestly impressed by how well you've done breastfeeding the triplets! I can't imagine what a huge commitment it is, and you should be applauded for every ounce they've gotten! You've really inspired me to really give nursing a good try this time. I'm even going to buy a pump, which is something I never thought I'd do. I'm curious to see how it's going to go this time.

Keep up the fantastic job! Your babies are doing amazingly!!

stjado said...

Every ounce you give is a special present to your babies. I think everyone will agree if a mother even gives a week of breast milk and can give no more they have done the best they can to be an amazing and loving mom.

Nobody can sum up how you feel nor can they change it but I hope through all of the support you have through things like this blog you can realize you are an amazing mom.

pam said...

no are doing amazingly well! don't feel guilty, there's no need for that. hug hug hug!

Stacie said...

You are incredible.

I had to supplement until we started my twins on solids but am still nursing now at 19 months.

No guilt.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing all of this.

While driving to and from work can you steal some additional pumping sessions using something like a Whisper Wear pump?

While a baby nurses from one side can you hand pump the other?

Cara said...

"But I'm producing 40-45 ounces of milk per day in addition to whatever they get via nursing directly"

As a mom of just ONE baby, this figure blows me away. On my best days, I could only pump 15 ounces. I bow down to you and the gift you are giving your babies. 40-45 extra ounces. That's HUGE.

When I got pregnant again and had to start supplementing my daughter with formula, I found a lot of comfort in what a lactation consultant told me so I'll pass it along to you: If you are able to get even a few ounces of breast milk into your baby a day, they are benefiting from it.

You're doing a GREAT job.

Jody said...

At one level, I can't help you, because I had to supplement A LOT and it tore me up. I still cry about it under certain circumstances.

But at another level, I hope you know that 2-4 ounces a day per baby is NOTHING. Pumping 6-7 times a day with an older child and a full-time job? AMAZING.

You're doing GREAT. And I bet you're right, and it gets easier to provide all the breastmilk again once you add solids to the babies' diets, because I found that breastfeeding got better and better from 9 months onward.

Marie-Baguette said...

Karen, You are such an inspiration. Thanks to you and your example I have been able to stick to pumping. My supply has highs and lows and maybe you are just going through a low? Anyway, just like the other commenters said, you are AMAZING. I also want you to know that me sticking to pumping has inspired a friend of mine to continue breastfeeding... all because of you!