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Newsletter #44: Mother’s Sharing – Breastfeeding Triplets

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.


Breastfeeding multiple babies is not impossible but requires lots of support. [Photo for Illustration]

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.

The key to breastfeeding triplets, just like breastfeeding 1 baby, is to get all of them latched on right from birth. [Photo for Illustration]

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.

Being flexible and sharing responsibilities can help mums and dads adapt to breastfeeding multiple babies. [Photo for Illustration]

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.

According to Marie, mums need to adjust their roles with their responsibilities across the board. [Photo for Illustration]

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!

Breastfeeding & Festivities: Hari Raya Special

By Nabila Hanim, BMSG Counsellor

Just like many other festivities, Hari Raya is a day of celebration and joy yet it can also be overwhelming for mother and baby.

“Oh come, come! You can go into the room with your baby and susukan (nurse) your baby there, more comfortable!” said a relative of mine to me. I was perspiring in my baju kurung and carrying a wailing baby in tow – this was the ultimate invitation that I knew would provide us relief. I had wanted to look pristine for the day but there I was, feeling like I just needed to go home right there and then.

This was a scene from Hari Raya visiting about a few years ago and the third one with a baby, but it never gets better. Like many other festivities, Hari Raya brings with it joy, merriment (and FOOD!) but nothing beats the exhaustion and exasperation that comes with bringing a young breastfeeding baby in tow.

As a mother of three who have gone through the ups and downs of celebrating Hari Raya for the past seven years, I have four tips that can help make the lives of nursing mums and bubs that bit more comfortable to join in the merriment of celebrating Hari Raya.

Regardless of how old your baby is, always observe your baby’s cues for tiredness and fussiness.

 

Tip 1: Try to get some privacy

Back to the makcik (aunty) who offered me a room: it was the best.decision.ever.

Why? Because not only did I get the room to myself, and a bed even, to nurse my baby. I also get to escape from the huge crowd in the flat’s small living room filled with strangers in Hari Raya garb trying to get the last lontong in the pot. I could also unzip my baju kurung to breastfeed while at the same time enjoying the blasting fan all to myself, and sometimes if I am lucky, I get air-con!

While Hari Raya clothes are so pretty to look at, the material can be a pain. Non-absorbent, mixed with Singapore’s humidity, your sweat, and sometimes baby vomit can really be a recipe for disaster.

I have tried to breastfeed in the living rooms at some of my relatives’ homes. But if there is a huge crowd who seems to show a huge interest in my milk affair, I much prefer the comforts of a room. While it would be nice to breastfeed anywhere I can, I also do appreciate the respite that comes with a room to myself.

Exclusively pumping mums may also appreciate being allowed a room to pump milk in peace. I have also heard of mummy friends who pump in the car or at the void deck with a nursing cover before visiting. Whatever it is, make time for nursing because not only is it good for baby, you can also get some rest.

Preempting baby’s feeds and nursing for comfort are some ways you can try to manage your baby being overstimulated.

 

Tip 2: Watch your baby’s cues

Every year when we had a new baby, I would make a deal with my husband: “We will only visit four homes today, ok?” but we almost always ended up visiting more. Just like everything else, Hari Raya schedules are unpredictable.

I always try to manage my babies by looking out for their cues. With the flurry of activities and social interactions, including passing baby around, I always look out for my babies’ cues to see if they may need some time away from the crowd. If all things fail and baby remains fussy, be ready to change your plans and head home. I have found, too, that when baby is overstimulated in the day, it may signal a long night of fussiness ahead as baby may find it difficult to settle.

At times, I will also nurse a baby at the void-deck of the home we are about to visit or in the car with the aircon blasting before we head upstairs. This gives my babies and I ample time to regroup and for the family to just take a breather. If you also have other younger children, a quick pit-stop for ice-cream or rest at an air-conditioned restaurant can do wonders to your moods!

Elaborate outfits can contribute to your baby’s discomfort. Check that your outfit is not studded; this can be uncomfortable or too sharp for baby when you carry or feed him or her. Baby’s cheeks may also become sore if rubbed too hard on these. Additionally, such studs can easily come off if the sewing was not done properly – definitely a choking hazard!

Tip 3: Don’t miss feeds!

If you are embarrassed about asking for a room to feed your baby or pump, or if for some reason baby is sleeping longer than usual and not waking up to drink, remember to make time for feeding or pumping before you get engorged.

Missing a feed can cause a myriad of consequences that may not be comfortable for you and your baby:

  • Engorgement can lead to blocked ducts, which may be painful or cause other side effects such as lowered supply or mastitis
  • Engorgement may also cause a build up of foremilk which will then cause gassiness if baby feeds too much of it. Remember, a gassy baby may make a fussy baby = not fun for both of you
  • Lowered supply in the long run; breasts which are frequently emptied signals to your body to continue producing milk. Since Hari Raya visiting may also happen on weekends, it is absolutely important to ensure that you continue to latch on demand to maintain your supply. This may be especially helpful if you are a working mum on the weekdays and pumping milk for your baby’s next-day feeds.

 

Tip 4: Wear comfortable clothes for yourself and baby

Keep yours and baby’s clothings comfortable and continue to nurse to baby’s comfort throughout the day.

It is great that more and more designers and fashion companies are mindful of the needs of a nursing mother nowadays.

While nursing access is a must for any Raya outfit, material is equally important. If you still want to look classy and elegant on Hari Raya, opt for materials which offer more sheen or sequins, preferably not at the bust area as this may be uncomfortable for your baby.

There are also stretchable offerings for Hari Raya clothings such as stretch lace and even printed lycra. You can jazz up your skirt, shawls (if you are wearing one) or bags and shoes while keeping your top simple. If you wear a shawl or tudung, I also find it extra helpful to wear one with ample front coverage so that you do not need a nursing cover to feed. If you do need a nursing cover, some mums find that a plain one may work better than a printed one, since that can distract baby from nursing. You may also prefer a darker-coloured top if you are concerned about milk stains and sprays.

For baby, it may be helpful to bring several changes of clothes. There are also options for traditional wear for babies made from more comfortable material such as lycra or stretch cotton. Also, do not be afraid to make your baby wear something simple if that is more comfortable for baby. A simple onesie and socks may just be all that your baby can bear in this unbearably hot weather and hectic visiting schedule!

All in all, what’s important is that you and your baby’s comfort is top priority!

With the end of Ramadhan fast approaching, I wish all nursing mothers and their families a Selamat Hari Raya! May we reap the benefits and rewards of Ramadhan and be blessed with a joyous Syawal <3

Do you have other tips to  make breastfeeding more comfortable this Hari Raya? Share your comments below!