By Erin Stisser
Like many others, my breastfeeding story begins long before I had any children. Unlike many others, my story is a bit unique; in that I gave birth to triplets at only 27 weeks into my pregnancy. Needless to say, things were hectic from the get go.
I always knew I wanted to be a mom and I knew I wanted to breastfeed, but I was terrified of getting my hopes up. First off, I’ve known plenty of women who tried and failed for various reasons. Secondly, none of the women in my family breastfed. Both of my grandmothers had 8 and 10 children, respectively. Back then it wasn’t popular to breastfeed, nor was it thought to even be the best thing for a baby. Formula was being marketed saying that it was just as good, if not better, than breast milk. So my grandmothers never bothered to put any of my aunts, uncles, or parents to breast. Consequently, my mother grew up never experiencing other women breastfeeding; which lead to her not even trying to do so herself, when she first had my older brother. By the time I was born in the early 80’s, it was becoming popular to breastfeed again, but she felt it would be unfair to my brother if she breastfed me. So, she also gave me formula. As you can see, I come from a lineage of women who didn’t know how to help me breastfeed successfully or support me in the way other women who have breastfed could.
If that was strike one, then strike two is the fact that I have a history of ovarian cysts. Although still not officially diagnosed, recent tests indicate I have been suffering PCOS in addition to a hypothyroid. All of these factors made getting pregnant difficult for me. After trying many things over several years, my husband and I did IVF. We were lucky enough to get a positive pregnancy the first try. We had 2 embryos, both took and one split; creating triplets as well as an automatic high risk pregnancy. The pregnancy went very well for me until about 23.5 weeks when I was put on hospital bed rest for contractions and rapid dilation. All that additional time I had planned to be at home preparing for what was to come was now gone.
Everything is different when you are having multiples, especially 3. It seems like nothing applies to you. The books I read about how to care for or breastfeed your baby wouldn’t work for me because I had to do everything in triplicate. Sometimes the things that work for 1 baby won’t work for 3. It got to the point where I didn’t even bother to read anything. I figured I will just have to figure it out for myself. Thankfully, I was lucky enough to connect with other triplet mommies all over the world through a face book group, as well as a breastfeeding triplets group. If anyone could understand what I went through, what I am currently going through, and what I have yet to get through… its those women. Thank God for them!
Even though I knew its inevitable to have premature babies when carrying triplets, I never really thought I would be one of the moms who would have what we call micro-preemies(babies born before 29 weeks gestation). Due to pre-eclampsia and placental detachment, that is what we went through. Babies don’t learn/have the ability to suckle until about 32 weeks gestation. So, if you have a baby before then, you can not hold your baby right away or breastfeed right away. I actually had to wait a few weeks before I was even able to do kangaroo care (holding a baby skin to skin) because they had to have special IV lines at first. Therefore, I had to start right off with pumping. 24/7 just me and a dumb machine.
Moms that have similar issues I had getting pregnant can often have a hard time getting enough milk, or even milk at all, due to hormonal issues. On top of that, having a baby too early can also take longer for your milk to come in. I don’t know how long it took for my milk to come in, it depends on what you mean by “come in”. I literally was pumping for 15 minutes every 2-3 hours for drops of milk. I would take a syringe and carefully suck up all the little drops that I could. They aren’t kidding when they say “liquid gold”, and “crying over split milk” is for real! The amazing thing is that your body knows you have preemies, so the colostrum it makes then is even more valuable than the colostrum you make for a term baby. Yay nature!
Needless to say, my boobs have always hated the pump. I feel like I still have to remind myself not to judge my supply on what I see from the pump. I pumped for months just getting maybe a couple ounces at a time. It was never enough to feed my babies. I was constantly bombarded by people telling me there was no way that anybody could make enough for three babies. The sad part is, I believed them. But, that is totally not true! Even if my medical issues made it more difficult, how non-supportive is a statement like that? I set little goals for myself as I was determined to do all I could for my babies while they were in the NICU. There’s not a whole lot else you can do in these situations. So I thought I will just keeping going, at least until they come home; then I could re-evaluate. I think this was a big key to my success. Make little goals, meet them, re-evaluate, and keep going.
Three months went by and my identical girls were doing great. Both were on bottle and at breast in the hospital. They were ready to come home. But, my other girl was still struggling with her oxygen; which made it hard for her to learn “suck and swallow” and also took twice the amount of energy for her when she would sometimes manage it. The nurses compared her struggles by having me imagine trying to run a marathon, up a hill, and drink water at the same time. Because of her struggle, she was mostly tube fed. I had such absolute little hope that she would ever breastfeed. In fact, even the lactation consultants told me to not count on it. As is hospital policy, she needed to be able to finish all her bottles in order for her to come home with her sisters. The only way she ever got close to finishing bottles was if she was given breast milk in them. She hated formula. So, with my other two girls home, I was still stuck mostly pumping. I was barely producing enough milk to save and bring to the hospital. Back then, the thing I didn’t quite get was the whole supply and demand. I thought if I breast feed my two babies at home, I wouldn’t have enough when it was time to pump for my baby in the hospital. So, essentially what happened was, I unintentionally weaned my two babies at home off the breast. I also did not know that once babies are off the breast for a certain time, they will not easily go back on, at least not without a good deal more effort than a mom of triplets has energy for.
Eventually, my baby girl still in the NICU ended up getting a G button placed, which is a surgical button placed directly in the stomach that allows you to feed them what they need, if they can not take it by mouth. After the button was in place, she was then allowed to come home without the worry of failing to thrive. I had no idea how I was going to still have time to pump and feed three babies, especially one that was now considered special needs. At every feeding we needed to at least try a bottle with her, and that proved to be a struggle. She didn’t want to eat at all. It was frustrating for both her and me. Every once in a while I would still try to put her to breast just to have the skin to skin time. She always liked being there but would get frustrated when she couldn’t figure out how to eat there.
One afternoon I was so upset because I was thinking “I can’t go on like this”; just pumping all the time. But, I passionately didn’t want to give up on providing milk for my girls before they reached 6 months. I, at least, wanted to go that long, if not longer; but I couldn’t see that happening in my current situation. So I thought “okay one last ditch effort. I’m going to put her to breast. No expectations. Just hanging out. One last chance”. I put my baby skin to skin and for the first time she latched and miraculously began eating. We have never looked back. During the day I nurse her and at night I pump for the other girls. My babies are almost a year old now. My current goal is to make it nursing through when my daughter gets her g button removed since she hasn’t needed it to eat in months.
I would never have made it this far if it weren’t for the most wonderful and supportive lactation consultants at my hospital that I still keep in touch with, and the awesome ladies in my triplet groups.
My main take-aways about breastfeeding are:
- Trust your body, trust that nature and God know what they are doing to make your body perfectly capable to provide for your baby(s). This is pending medical conditions of course, but we can overcome more than people might tell us. My case is an example of that.
- Get the right support. Surround yourself with women who breastfeed, go to breastfeeding meetings and have a good lactation consultant in your back pocket. If you really want to keep going or if you need validation that its okay to stop-those woman will be there for you.
- Ask a lot of questions! Your lactation consultant doesn’t know what you know or don’t know, so tell them and don’t be afraid to ask anything.
- Set small and easy to achieve goals for yourself. Don’t go into your pregnancy thinking “I’m going to breastfeed this baby forever and be supermom of the century!” because unpredictable stuff does happen and you may get your heart broken. The first few weeks of breastfeeding and/or pumping are the toughest. Ask any momma! Start off just wanting to get over the hump of that first month!