Breastfeeding isn’t always the magical bonding experience that some might picture in their minds. Breastfeeding just one child can feel stressful. Breastfeeding twins can seem, well... twice as hard. Literally. Any new mom of twins is bound to have at least a few moments where the thought of tandem breastfeeding feels totally overwhelming. You might wonder if it is even possible to breastfeed twins. After all, how you supposed to nurse two babies at a time, or focus on nursing one while the other one is crying? While it’s true that breastfeeding twins might not be the easiest thing in the world, it is possible.
If you’re a new or expecting mom of multiples, and you’re hoping to breastfeed them, this breastfeeding twins guide answers the most common questions about breastfeeding multiples. As tough as it may be, it comes down to setting up a routine, and being able to go with the flow.
How to breastfeed twins
Breastfeeding twins “can be challenging, but it is doable.” says Dr. Jessica Madden, International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant and medical director at Aeroflow Breastpumps. If you hope to breastfeed your twins, there are a few things you can do to set yourself up for success. Madden suggests the following:
- Connect with other twin moms before giving birth. “It can help a lot to meet and network with former twin moms who have breastfed to get guidance and advice,” Madden says. This firsthand advice can be invaluable, and setting up a support system of other moms who understand what you’re dealing with can be just as important.
- Get extra help if possible. Madden says that if you’re able to, having a night nurse or postpartum doula can be really helpful in the beginning. If that’s not feasible, don’t be afraid to ask the people around you for help around the house, as you’ll have your hands full keeping those twins fed. Getting support from your partner as well as close friends and family members is key.
- Keep the visitors to a minimum. Everyone might want to meet your new babies, but the first few weeks postpartum is such an important time for establishing the breastfeeding relationship as well as your own post-delivery recovery. “I recommend not having a lot of visitors to your home right away after your babies are born so that you can have plenty of uninterrupted skin-to-skin bonding time,” Madden says. “Your milk supply will increase if you are able to spend a lot of time with your newborns skin-to-skin after birth and in the early weeks.”
- Make breastfeeding a priority. If you want to breastfeed your twins, it has to be a priority, especially in the beginning. “Put everything else by the wayside, if possible, in the first few postpartum weeks to months,” Madden recommends. “Focus on feeding your babies and establishing a full milk supply.” Outsource some of your usual tasks and chores to other people, such as your partner, family members, or close friends who are willing to help. This can include cooking, cleaning up around the house, doing laundry, and dropping any older kids off at playdates, school, or activities. Basically, if someone else can do it, let them — you’ll need all the extra time you can get to focus on breastfeeding. Once you can establish a strong milk supply, things will become a little easier and more predictable. If exclusively breastfeeding feels overwhelming, know that you can always supplement with formula.
- Be patient. Sometimes it can take a while for your milk supply to kick in. Lactation consultant Leigh Anne O’Connor, IBCLC, LCCE, tells Romper that patience and perseverance are key. “Ask for and accept help,” she says. “Often twins are born slightly early, so they may need a bit of extra support to feed.” And try not to stress over your supply. “Remember, your body carried two babies. In most cases, your body will make enough milk for both babies.”
- Figure out the breastfeeding system that works for you. There are a few different ways to breastfeed twins. “Some parents will designate one breast per day for one baby and alternate the next one,” O’Connor says. “Others will alternate breasts per feeding.”
- Get on a regular nursing schedule. Ensuring your milk supply meets the needs of your growing babies means breastfeeding as much as possible at first. Just how often? As frequently as every hour or two, at least until your supply has regulated. “Just like with anyone making milk, the way to make and keep a supply is to keep taking milk out of the breasts,” O’Connor says. This doesn’t mean you need special supplements or lactation cookies, though. Instead, just focus on nursing or pumping as much as you can. “You want to ensure the babies are able to nurse effectively,” she says. “Sometimes one of the babies is a stronger feeder than the other and sometimes pumping is necessary to keep up the supply.”
How to tandem breastfeed
Tandem breastfeeding is a term you hear a lot when people talk about breastfeeding twins, and it simply means feeding two or more babies at the same time and if you want to breastfeed twins, you’ll need to get the hang of tandem breastfeeding. While it may feel like a juggle at first, nursing both babies at the same time helps keep their feeding schedules synced and is the most efficient way to manage the feat that is nursing two babies at once.
Before the babies are even born, you can set yourself up for tandem breastfeeding success by creating a dedicated nursing space. “Set up at least one nursing station in your home where you have what you need within arm’s reach,” O’Connor advises. This could be your bed, the couch, or a chair in their room. Whatever spot you choose, consider both your own comfort and proximity to the babies for the many newborn nighttime feedings ahead. Stock the area with:
- A full water bottle so that you can stay hydrated, which is a really important part of breastfeeding and especially breastfeeding twins. Pro tip: choose a water bottle with a straw so it’s easy to drink if both hands are full.
- Your favorite pillow to stay as comfortable as possible.
- Nursing accessories, such as extra nipple shields if you need to use them and nipple cream for any soreness post-nursing, or nursing pads to catch any leaks when you’re done.
- A tandem-friendly nursing pillow to keep the babies (and yourself) in a comfortable position.
- A phone charger, so that you don’t have to worry about your phone dying.
- A dim light, such as a Hatch nightlight, to make the environment more soothing. This is especially great for nighttime feedings when you want some light but don’t want to wake the babies up too much with something bright.
- A pacifier or some sort of soothing toy to keep one baby happy and busy if one twin is done before the other.
- A Haakaa (or something similar) to collect any leaking breastmilk so you don’t lose anything.
- Burp cloths to clean up any mess that might be made.
- Some snacks just in case the session is going longer than expected and you get hungry.
- A book, magazine, TV or a pair of earbuds to listen to a podcast to keep yourself entertained, especially if you don’t have your hands free to scroll through your phone.
And have a space for one baby to sit or lay down while getting into position. “Latch on one baby at a time, get that baby latched and settled, then get the second baby latched,” O’Connor says.
If you’re able to get extra assistance from a lactation consultant outside of the hospital, that’s an option you should take advantage of. “The key to tandem feeding twins is getting lactation assistance from the beginning,” Madden says. “This will help you find the best positions for feeding both babies at once, to ensure they are latching well, and that you have built up an adequate milk supply.” She recommends arranging for both in-hospital lactation help and also several weeks of in-home lactation support if you can. If possible, set this up before your babies are born or right after. “Many moms do not seek help until their babies are several weeks old, and this is sometimes too late to be able to establish a full milk supply if problems have arisen,” she says. Of course, while working with a lactation consultant in your home isn’t something everyone can do — it’s expensive, not always covered by insurance, and isn’t super accessible for all — so don’t fret if you’re not able to do that. It’s not make or break.
Tandem breastfeeding positions for twins
Nailing the art of tandem breastfeeding means figuring out which breastfeeding position works best for you and your babies. Both Madden and O’Connor recommend these four nursing positions:
- Double football: This is one of the easiest options and can be the best to start with. Each baby will be facing you with their bodies tucked under your arms and your hands supporting their heads. You can rest the babies on pillows for extra support.
- Double cradle hold: Hold both babies in the cradle position. Position them so that their legs overlap and make an “X” shape across your lap. This allows the babies to interact with one another a bit more.
- Football and cradle: Hold one baby in the football position, with their body tucked under your arm and your hand supporting their head. Hold the other baby in the cradle position with their legs on your lap. You can alternate their positions if needed in different sessions.
- Upright latch: You sit in a reclined position with the babies laying on your front, kind of upright. Use your arms to cradle them, knowing that since you’re reclined, it helps keep them in place.
Breastfeeding pillows for twins
A breastfeeding pillow (or two) can be incredibly helpful for anyone hoping to breastfeed their newborn and especially if you’re planning to nurse twins. Though many new moms swear by nursing pillows like the My Brest Friend and the Boppy Best Latch, Madden notes that you don’t need to invest in a specific pillow. “Some moms do best just using regular bed pillows,” she says. “I really feel that this is an individualized decision, and what works well for one mother of twins might not work for another twin mom.”
When looking for the perfect breastfeeding pillow, O’Connor says to look for one that fits your body and supports both babies. “A pillow with adjustable straps that are easy to manipulate with one hand is particularly helpful,” she notes.
There are a lot of breastfeeding pillows out there, but the below are highly rated for comfort and ease of use. The My Breast Friend and Boppy are really versatile, while the TwinZ and TwinGo are made specifically with twins in mind. Here are a few options to keep in mind:
How many calories do you burn breastfeeding twins?
You’ve probably heard that breastfeeding helps burn a lot of calories, since your body is making and producing milk. So, does breastfeeding twins burn more calories? “It is estimated that nursing twins burns about 1,000 calories a day,” O’Connor says. “Nursing one baby burns about 500 calories, so it stands to reason that nursing two babies doubles that.”
That said, know that it’s not the same for everyone. “I suspect that it’s probably somewhere between 500-1,000 calories per day, and may vary greatly from mother to mother,” Madden says. Remember that, when breastfeeding, it’s key to eat a lot of food and drink a ton of water to maintain your supply and keep yourself hydrated. Since cooking, refilling your water bottle constantly, and even simply feeding yourself can be difficult, leaning on your partner for support is really important. Talk to them about how they can help keep you fed and watered while you focus on breastfeeding, whether that means getting them to cook you some meals, shopping for high-calorie snacks, or even feeding you while your hands are full.
How to deal with a “slacker breast” when breastfeeding twins
It is not uncommon for breastfeeding moms to have a “slacker boob,” AKA one breast that doesn’t produce as much milk as the other one. This can make breastfeeding twins feel especially tricky, but it’s not a deal-breaker.
“If you are nursing both babies at the same time, I recommend alternating which baby starts the feed on the ‘slacker breast’ each time,” Madden says. “If you are only feeding one baby at a time, consider pumping on the ‘slacker’ side with a hospital-grade pump, while nursing your baby on the other side.” She recommends that if you do this, you should use an actual electric pump or a hand pump.
Breastfeeding twins definitely comes with a learning curve, but that doesn’t mean it’s an impossible task. It’s absolutely doable, and once you get the hang of it, you’ll start to feel more comfortable and less overwhelmed. A lot of support is really key to making this journey work. And if you end up feeling like it’s just not for you, that’s totally okay too.
Dr. Jessica Madden, M.D., IBCLC, International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant and medical director at Aeroflow Breastpumps
Leigh Anne O’Connor, IBCLC, LCCE, International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant