As told to Nabila Hanim, BMSG Staff
We have heard of mums breastfeeding twins, but rarely do we hear of breastfeeding triplets! We speak to Marie Lim*, who shares with us the highs and lows of breastfeeding her triplets, who turn 1 this year.
*Name has been changed at mother’s request.
Q: Tell us more about yourself! What do you do, how many children/babies do you have, and how long have you been breastfeeding?
A: I’m a first-time mum of triplets. They’re about twelve months old now. My working hours are flexible and allows me to prioritise breastfeeding.
Q: How did you feel about breastfeeding when you discovered you were pregnant with three? Did you have any breastfeeding goals in mind then?
A: During my pregnancy I read up on breastfeeding from books, articles, and a couple of breastfeeding support groups like BMSG. I’ve always wanted to try breastfeeding despite having heard lots of horror stories from friends. I never had a specific goal in mind — I just wanted to be as prepared as I could and give it my best shot. As triplet babies are usually delivered prematurely, I hoped that giving them breastmilk would help them get stronger faster. That being said, all I had hoped for throughout pregnancy was an uneventful gestation and safe delivery.
Q: Tell us how you manage! What was it like at the start?
A: My first experience with breastfeeding took place at the recovery bay where I was being monitored post c-sect. I didn’t expect to tandem latch them at that point, so it was a pretty nice surprise.
In the hospital, the nurses would come by every 2 to 3 hours to ask if I wanted to latch the babies. It was always hard to answer because latching newborns took really long, and the third baby would get really hungry waiting. I was in a lot of discomfort and needed to rest myself. In the end, I settled with skipping the 3-4am feed and allowed myself to take breaks. The nurses would feed the babies with formula when I couldn’t latch them on myself. In hindsight, I realise they weren’t fed much because I only started collecting colostrum on Day 3 or 4.
I went home on Day 5 together with the babies and continued to struggle. Everything hurt – my abdominal muscles had separated, the wound area was sensitive, my breasts and nipples were sore and screamed all the time, etc. As I couldn’t walk properly, my husband or nanny would pass me a baby to nurse while I sat in a recliner.
Initially I’d latch one or two babies at a time and pumped after that. It was challenging as I was still tired and in pain all the time. My husband and family members were highly supportive and helped me throughout. We rotated the third baby, who would get the bottle, prioritising expressed breast milk over formula.
After 2 months, I tandem latched at almost every feed while my husband bottle fed the last baby. For the middle-of-the-night feed, all three babies would take the bottle as this allowed us to take turns to get some rest. I would pump and then sleep for 3 to 4 hours, which caused the occasional engorgement. However, I was just too tired and didn’t hear the alarms ring.
As they say, pumping is a skill. It is a skill which I honestly am still far from acquiring. I recalled doing power pumping daily for a week, trying to see if I could get enough milk to sustain a full breastmilk supply. While my supply did go up, I felt completely crushed and drained. Four months postpartum, I stopped pumping. It was killing my back. I somehow found it much harder to pump and way easier to latch. Yes, the initial 15 seconds of every latch was excruciatingly painful but once it was over, I found the actual latching experience very sweet and endearing.
I actually LOVED breastfeeding (for the most part). The initial latching pain went away eventually and latching was a lovely experience even though it still gave me backaches. When I pumped, I found it hard to get into a position that worked for the suction, my back and wound. For someone who couldn’t walk normally till 5 months postpartum, and had to rely extensively on others for the smallest of needs, I decided to accept that my babies will have a mixture of feeds.
On another level, breastfeeding also helped me understand and experience the beauty of creation. This whole world, the circle of life; we are one. It’s like the blue whale; it’s so large and majestic. It’s also a mammal and it also nurses its young! I could never be as cool as a whale, but I find it interesting that we share something in common, like breastfeeding!
Q: Has starting solids made it easier to nurse your children now? How is your breastfeeding routine currently?
A: We started them on solids at 7 months (actual) when they had good neck control. I was and still am worried about not having enough milk for them because they end up latching less, which makes me wonder if my supply will drop. It’s not easier per se because the logistics of solids for three is another challenge of its own. To accomplish solids prep+feed+clean, rest, diapering, latching, all within one waking period/cycle of about 2.5 hours means that everything needs to move like clockwork. If you factor in the occasional milk blister or clogged pores which requires frequent epsom salt soaks, hand expression, hot compress, etc, it can be overwhelming.
One thing to note is that our babies have been on a rough sleeping/eating schedule since they were newborns. I know that most breastfeeding mothers would suggest to fully go with the child’s cues, but for the sake of everything else, and to be able to do what we do daily, we would wake the other 1 or 2 babies at the same time for feeds.
Right now at around 12 months old, I latch in the morning around 8am, then about every 3 to 4 hours after. They go to bed at 630pm and we have a night feed at around 10pm.Q: What are your observations about the benefits of breastfeeding on yourself and the children?
A: I found it most helpful when they were ill and managed to latch despite feeling poorly. I knew that the breastmilk would help them get better and it motivated me greatly. Personally, I also enjoyed the bonding with the babies. My children are blessed with a father who does everything for them as a caregiver. As a mother, the only thing I could do for them that their father could not is to breastfeed them. On another level, breastfeeding also helped me understand and experience the beauty of creation. This whole world, the circle of life; we are one. It’s like the blue whale; it’s so large and majestic. It’s also a mammal and it also nurses its young! I could never be as cool as a whale, but I find it interesting that we share something in common, like breastfeeding!
I found it most helpful when they were ill and managed to latch despite feeling poorly. I knew that the breastmilk would help them get better and it motivated me greatly. Personally, I also enjoyed the bonding with the babies.
Q: What advice would you give to mothers who are expecting twins or more, and worried about having enough to breastfeed their babies?
A: Please let others take over your responsibilities in other aspects of your life. In terms of caregiving, there’s only so much we can do. On the surface, it seems as if I’ve managed to do a lot. However, there are lots of other factors that have allowed me to breastfeed till now. I believe it truly takes a kampong (Malay for “village) to raise a child, especially for multiples. In my case, I had 2 confinement nannies in the first month after delivery. After which, we had the help of a couple of family members for another 1 to 2 months till I was able to physically handle a baby.
My husband and I are lucky enough to both have flexible working hours and have chosen to be the babies’ sole caregivers for now. We have no domestic helper and we share the majority of what needs to be done between us. Groceries are delivered by Fairprice, Amazon, or our loving parents. The floor gets a general cleaning session by the robot cleaner every other day. To keep things easy to clean and manage, we opt for a minimal interior living space and consciously declutter as we go along.
I mention the above because I feel we cannot just look at breastfeeding as the only aspect of caregiving a parent is involved in. Our habits and expectations need to be adjusted across the board. I noticed that when I started taking on work again at 5 months postpartum, the stress and further lack of sleep made my supply dip. It would be unrealistic to hope that I could still achieve the same productivity as before, with my new role as a mother considered. In the same vein, I knew that if I wanted to breastfeed, I had to prioritise my nutrition and value my rest.
Go with the flow, try your best, and stay flexible.
In terms of breastfeeding, I highly recommend reading up and talking to mummy friends during pregnancy. Even when armed with lots of book knowledge, the real experience still knocked the wind out of me. Thankfully, I had the support of fellow mummy friends who patiently answered my every query, listened to my virtual sobs, replied to my 2am WhatsApp spam messages while pumping. Also, I hope for every other mummy to have a partner who is equally invested in caregiving the way my husband is. It is the only way I could have survived for this long. Please try to communicate well with your family on your breastfeeding goals, ideally way in advance, such that they can have time to learn more and support you, too.
This journey is wonderful both for our babies and for us to learn so much more about our amazing bodies, not just in a physical way. It really takes a lot to sit at the dinner table with visitors, melting from a stiff c-sect binder, aching everywhere, having sharp sensations in your breasts, and trying to eat before rushing for the next feed again. I often think back to the trying initial days and smile at the bittersweet memories.
To my fellow mummies of multiples, big hugs and all the best!