Breastfeeding can be a struggle, even for moms of singletons. And when there's double (or more!) the trouble, the challenges are only compounded. But if you want to nurse your twins, triplets or higher-order multiples, it can be done. As the mom of twins who breastfed until they self-weaned at around 15 months, I have been there, done that and worn the milk-stained T-shirt to prove it.
Here's what you need to know to survive.
1. You will need allies
This is true of all new moms, but if you’re the mom of twins (or more), you're outnumbered from the get-go. It’s hard to say "I need help," but consider this: You do. Starting with the nurses in the hospital and going on to include your spouse or partner, your parents and friends and, of course, the most important ally of all: a Netflix or Hulu subscription.
2. You will also need food
So much food. An extra baby or two's worth of breastmilk calories means you should think twice before turning down a second helping. And yes, healthy calories and fruits and veggies and yogurt, blah, blah, blah — but also remember that sometimes you don't have to deny yourself that half-pint of Ben & Jerry's, either. Some of those calories are for your emotions, not just your energy intake.
3. You have to figure out which method of nursing works best for you
And there's no good way, really, except trial and error. Lots and lots of error. Tandem or one at a time? Tandem is faster (and a good twin nursing pillow is a thing of beauty and a joy forever), but one at a time can be easier early on, when neither you nor the babies know what’s happening yet. It takes twice as long, but there’s typically a lot less crying on both your parts. See also: Netflix. Because, really, when it comes right down to it…
4. Your newborns' "nursing instinct" sucks
No pun intended — well, maybe a little. Sorry to disappoint you, but yes, the wrinkled little potatoes currently slurping on your side-boob really are the end product of a billion years of evolution. Pointing out where your nipple is to one cute-but-confused little bundle at a time is a lot easier than trying to sort both of them out at once.
5. Your privacy preferences are up to you
If you want to nurse multiples in tandem, it’s not quite as easy to discreetly lift your shirt hem as it is with a singleton. If you’re not comfortable flashing the girls in public or with others around, you’re not letting down the breastfeeding cause. And if you do want to take care of business wherever you need to, it’s no one else’s business but yours and your babies’.
6. You probably still need a pump
Sorry, pumping directly after feedings can be a great tool to ramp up your supply faster to make sure your production can keep up with the horde of hungry mouths you have to feed. And don’t feel bad about supplementing with formula, either, if that’s what you want or need to do. One baby is a lot of baby, let alone two or more.
7. It will get better
But first, it will really, really stink. Your boobs never get a break on any feeding cycle. They will be sore and tender and there won't be enough lanolin and cool gel packs on the entire planet to make them feel better. (But you should use those things anyway.) Eventually those tits will toughen up, and there's no shame in not wanting to power through the pain to get to that point. You have plenty to deal with right now, with or without having two angry, throbbing grapefruits strapped to your chest.
8. Then it will get worse again
The sweet spot of nursing seems to last from around two months to nine or 10 months, also known as "the point when kids discover how much fun it is to poke each other in the eyeballs." When they’re old enough to start getting distracted by one another, the ceiling fan or that precious Netflix, it can be hard to keep them focused on the boob long enough to finish a feeding.
9. Posture, posture, posture
Especially when you are feeding the kids one at a time and thus spending approximately 93 percent of your life nursing — if you end up hunching or scrunching your spine, you are going to end up in pain during the other blissful 7 percent. Use some pillows to prop up yourself or the kids as needed, and straighten up that back before you turn into a C-clamp.
10. You can stop whenever you want — and you can keep going, too
If it's making you and the kids miserable, you're always allowed to decide to call it quits. Why, I had formula as a baby and I dropped out of one of the finest PhD programs in my field! Formula is a perfectly good baby food and is no more full of "chemicals" than breastmilk is. (Spoiler alert: "Protein" is a chemical, too. That word means nothing.) And conversely, if breastfeeding is working great for your family, don't let anyone pressure you into stopping because they think it’s "weird" for your two-year-olds to still be nursing. You do you, and the kids will do them. Just because you have multiples to worry about doesn't make your bodily autonomy subject to a majority vote.
11. Good luck!
You're going to need it. But then, so do all the other moms out there, too.
A version of this article was originally published in January 2016.