Providing breast milk for your baby is no easy feat. Imagine doing it for two babies- in the NICU- as a first-time mom!
Our guest today, Jeanne Visser, has done exactly that.
Jeanne began her journey as a twin-mom back in 2016 when she gave birth to her first babies; twin girls. Since then, she has given birth to a baby boy and begun blogging about her experience at Have Twins First.
Jeanne has some amazing insight into the world of a pumping mother of NICU twins, and offers real, practical advice for how to juggle it all.
*This post contains affiliate links. You can read my full disclosure here. It’s pretty anticlimactic.
When you are pregnant with twins, the thought of a NICU stay is always in the forefront of your mind.
You know that you are likely to have an early birth, which greatly increases your chances of a NICU stay.
I was mentally prepared for a NICU stay and I knew I wanted to breastfeed. But for some reason the thought of pumping for NICU twins never crossed my mind.
An Early Twin Birth
My twins were born at 35 weeks, which is the average length of a twin pregnancy.
While I was in labor it was unclear if a NICU stay would be required. Shortly after they were born, we learned that it would be.
I was able to hold each twin for about 10 minutes before they were whisked away to the NICU.
After that, my husband and I went back to our room to recover. Little did we know the journey that we were about to embark on.
Recovering From A Twin Birth
One of the most important factors for successful breastfeeding is the mother’s well-being.
If the mom is in significant pain, the road to breastfeeding will be much more difficult.
I received an epidural during labor, but the insertion did not go well. Spinal fluid leaked out of my spinal cord, resulting in debilitating spinal headaches.
Trying to breastfeed with a spinal headache is next to impossible.
Spinal headaches cause a throbbing migraine when you sit up. The only way to relieve the pain is to remain flat on your back.
The culmination of labor, delivery, and these postpartum complications prevented me from sleeping for 3 whole days.
This made the transition to breastfeeding, especially breastfeeding multiples, quite difficult.
Breastfeeding Preterm Babies
Babies do not fully develop these reflexes until 36 weeks gestation, making them common hurdles for premature babies.
So, what were my options? I was advised by the nurses that my path to successfully breastfeeding my twins would be to start by pumping.
For whatever reason I was not prepared for this.
I had taken a special class about twin birth, but still did not realize that pumping was a very real possibility.
Pumping At The Hospital
While I was still at the hospital, the lactation department came to fit me for a pumping bra and set me up with the Medela In Style Advanced pump.
I had been advised at my Twins Class to wait to get my pump at the hospital because lactation could advise and provide the best pump possible for free through my insurance.
During my stay, the nurses showed me how to use their hospital grade pumps, and I pumped as needed.
With the spinal headaches, it was very difficult to make it through each pumping session, but I powered through.
Because the twins were being cared for by NICU staff, I could focus on pumping at the correct times.
Twin ‘A’ Comes Home
Twin A did not need a long stay in the NICU. In fact, she was able to come home with us at the same time I left the hospital.
Unfortunately, Twin B needed to stay in the NICU to receive antibiotics because she swallowed fluid during birth.
This is when pumping became complicated.
Pumping At Home
We decided to go home in hopes that I could get better sleep and be more comfortable. It was a very tough decision, and we hated leaving Twin B at the hospital.
This is a very real possibility with twins, to have one twin at home and one still in the NICU.
I start pumping at home for both babies. It is important to point out that during this whole process I was not pumping enough breast milk for the twins to receive breast milk exclusively.
I was pumping six times a day and about 40-50% of their diet was breast milk. The rest was formula.
With one twin at home and one twin in the NICU, we were running back and forth between our house and the hospital constantly. Thankfully, the hospital is close, and we were able to bring Twin A with us.
Breast Milk Storage
A tricky part of pumping breast milk while you have a baby or babies at the NICU, is transferring breast milk from your house to the NICU.
It is difficult to pump enough breast milk for twins. It can be done, but there are many different factors that play into your breast milk supply.
Once you pump, you will need to separate the milk you have evenly for both babies. It’s definitely a good idea to have sticker labels such as these on hand so you can record the:
- quantity of pumped milk
- which baby the bottle is for
The next step is transporting pumped breast milk from your home to the NICU in a timely manner. You will need to make sure the NICU has as much breast milk as possible.
I highly recommend the Medela cooler or something similar.
Pumping At The NICU
The wonderful thing about pumping in the NICU is that they have pumping rooms set up with hospital grade pumps.
This meant that I did not have to transport my personal pump to and from the house every day.
It also made scheduling visits a little bit easier.
Everyone Is Finally Together
As you can imagine, between my difficult recovery after birth and having one twin home and one in the NICU, it was a huge relief when Twin B was able to come after a 1 week NICU stay.
I was able to continue (mostly) exclusively pumping over the next 10 weeks.
After going through the experience of pumping for NICU twins, I came up with some tips to help other twin moms get through pumping for NICU twins.
Each family will have their own unique journey, but here are some tips to help.
Pumping tips For NICU Twins
- Accept help from family, friends, and nurses. If someone is willing to help, take them up on their offer. Do not feel guilty.
- Pump as much as you can, BUT don’t drive yourself crazy overdoing it.
- Take care of yourself, so you can be there for your babies.
- Decide how many times you will pump a day and establish a pumping schedule. The more often you pump, the more milk you will produce.
- Label your bottles and have a good system for transporting breast milk to (and possibly from) the hospital.
So, there you have it. I hope my experience gives some insight on what to expect if you end up pumping for NICU twins.
It will be difficult, but the good news is that it is a temporary situation.
And, last but not least, good luck with the start of your journey into twin motherhood.