Feeding multiple babies can be a challenge at first. But midwives, lactation consultants or community health nurses will help you, and the links in this article will provide further advice and resources. Make sure you get plenty of help from family and friends, and rest as much as you can.
When feeding multiple babies, it’s important to treat each baby as an individual. Try not to compare siblings: decisions about their feeding patterns and how they are growing depend on each baby’s sex, weight and when they were born.
Many multiple babies are premature and born very small, so you may need additional help with feeding them. If they are in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), they may be fed at first through a tube in their nose that carries the milk straight to their stomach.
Using different positions, pillows and other equipment can make it easier to feed twins, triplets or other multiples. It is also helpful to keep detailed records of every feed, especially at first.
Breastfeeding multiple babies
Breastfeeding is preferable for all babies. Breast milk is easily digested, it’s convenient and it’s economical. Breast milk is especially important for low weight or premature babies because it helps them to fight infection.
Even if your babies can’t breastfeed at first, it’s a good idea to express and freeze breast milk to feed to them later. Expressing will cause you to release the hormone oxytocin, which helps you to bond with your babies. This is especially important if you’re separated from them for a while.
Mothers of multiple babies often worry that they can’t make enough milk. But it is possible to breastfeed multiple babies. Breastfeeding works on ‘supply and demand’. The more often your babies feed, the more milk you will produce. Keep up a good supply by alternating babies between each breast.
How to breastfeed 3 or more babies
Breastfeed your babies as soon as you can. It is possible to breastfeed twins at the same time using the ‘twin football hold’, with one baby under each arm. There are other positions for feeding 2 babies at once and your lactation consultant can advise you about this. But many women feed their babies separately, especially at the beginning. The most important thing is to make sure each baby is attached properly so as to avoid sore nipples.
Breastfeeding 3 or more babies is a little trickier. You will have to learn how to express milk and will ideally need someone else to help you.
Once you master feeding 2 babies at the same time, the third and/or fourth baby can be bottle fed with expressed breast milk or with formula. You can feed the third and/or fourth baby when you’ve finished feeding the first 2, or have someone else do it at the same time. Rotate the order of the babies for the next feed.
Breastfeeding 3 or more babies can take a lot of time and patience. Accept all the support you can. Remember, even if you don’t breastfeed for long, some breast milk is better than none for your babies.
Formula feeding multiple babies
Many parents of multiple babies introduce formula feeding at some stage. Formula feeding means you can share the feeding with others, and it may be necessary if you have trouble breastfeeding one or more of your babies.
Some parents decide to use a combination of breast and formula feeding. Remember that using formula at the same time as breast milk will affect your milk supply. If you decide to stop breastfeeding altogether, it is hard to go back later.
There is a range of different formulas available, including formulas that are suitable for small or premature babies. Follow the directions on the label, keep all the equipment sterile, and have separate, clearly-labelled bottles for each baby so you can keep track of how much they are taking.
Timing multiple babies' feeds
Feeding multiple babies is a skill that takes time to learn. It will become easier and you may be able to feed your babies at the same time. But many mothers continue to feed them separately, especially at night.
Each baby will have their own feeding patterns. At first, you might like to feed each baby when they wake up and cry. But after a while, most mothers feed the baby that wakes up first, then they gently wake up the next baby to feed them. This means you will have a longer interval before the next feed, although the sleepy baby may not feed so well. An alternative is to feed one baby then express milk for the next baby so someone else can bottle feed them while you have a rest.
Multiple babies often have different birth weights and nutritional needs. Your midwife, lactation consultant or community nurse will advise you if you need to adjust your feeding schedule to suit one or more of the babies as they grow and their needs change.
There is no right or wrong way to time feeds for multiple babies. You will eventually find a routine that works for you, the babies and your support network.
Looking after yourself
Feeding multiple babies can be hard work, especially at first. It is normal for parents of multiples to feel constantly exhausted and stressed. Mothers of multiples are much more likely to suffer postnatal depression than mothers of single babies.
Make sure you look after yourself by eating healthily, resting whenever you can, and finding and accepting support.
For more information on postnatal depression or anxiety, help and support, call the Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA) helpline on 1300 726 306.
The Australian Multiple Birth Association sells equipment for feeding multiples and can put you in touch with other mothers in a similar situation. The Australian Breastfeeding Association sells books and CDs on breastfeeding multiples.
For help with breastfeeding problems, contact your midwife or lactation consultant, or call the Breastfeeding Helpline on 1800 mum 2 mum (1800 686 268).
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Last reviewed: December 2019