Thinking of exclusively pumping for your twins? You aren’t alone!
Enabled by advances in pump technology and accessibility, exclusive pumping is growing in popularity for mothers of twins and singletons alike, all who, for one reason or another, don’t find breastfeeding to be a good fit but still want to provide their babies with mother’s milk.
There are numerous reasons why a mom might choose to pump for twins (e.g. going back to work, difficulties latching). Whatever your reasons, knowing the ins and outs of pumping for twins before you give birth can be a lifesaver down the road.
There is a wealth of info about breastfeeding offered to you during pregnancy, but a breast pump is like this weird robot you are expected to use and nobody really tells you how.
A twin mom overwhelmed with the pressure of breastfeeding two babies is more likely to give up on giving her little offspring breast milk altogether if she doesn’t know how to tap into the source.
Pumping is by no means an easy way out: you are a bottle washer, a gas station attendant, and a milk cow; you don’t get sick days or holidays.
To a lot of twin moms however, providing her babies with mom’s milk is worth the extra work. And hey, there are hidden perks to pumping too!
Bottled milk means that your partner can take a night shift while you catch a few more minutes of shut-eye and that they can share in the bonding experience of feeding a baby too!
Can You Produce Enough Breast Milk for Twins?
The short answer to this question is: Yes! You have no reason to doubt that you can produce enough milk for twins. In fact, most women can.
A quick science lesson about us mammals: Prolactin is the hormone responsible for milk production. When a baby suckles, or you pump your breasts, the nipple stimulation signals for your brain to trigger the release of more prolactin from the pituitary gland.
More suckling and pumping = more prolactin = more milk production. It is supply and demand! It is also a positive feedback loop. You are making flashcards, right? Good.
Plenty of twin moms have breastfed or exclusively pumped for their twins, some with milk to spare!
Milk Production isn’t JUST Supply and Demand
In fact, it involves eating enough, drinking enough, resting enough, and some other biological factors that vary from person to person.
The first few months of nursing twins is an almost continuous effort and pumping will be as well. Mothers who feel supported in their breastfeeding endeavor tend to breastfeed for longer.
Point is, if you plan to produce enough breast milk to feed your twins, your needs are a close second to your babies’. Accept help with household tasks like cooking, cleaning, and grocery shopping.
If your partner complains about constantly refilling your water or bringing you a snack, challenge them to pump just one ounce: problem solved!
On a side note, some people do struggle with supplying enough milk for one baby, let alone two.
Read on to learn how you can establish and maintain a milk supply for twins, just understand that if you are someone who struggles with low supply-don’t worry!
Any amount of milk is good milk, and most likely your kid isn’t going to come home from school crying because someone on the playground asked what percentage of his infant diet consisted of breast-milk and the answer was only 63.5%.
The Number of Calories Needed to Breastfeed Twins
Breastfeeding twins is like fueling a rocket ship. Okay, that may be a bit of a hyperbole, but it does require a lot of energy.
Each ounce of milk produced costs the body approximately 20 calories.
If your goal is to pump 50-60 oz of milk a day (the amount you will need to feed twins breast milk exclusively) this will run up a tab of about 1200 calories!
It is therefore likely that you will need to take in 800-1000 calories a day in addition to what your pre-pregnancy caloric needs were. There are other factors that influence this figure, like BMI, activity level, and if you are supplementing with formula.
For instance, some women may have greater fat reserves from pregnancy that their body can draw upon and they may not need to consume as many extra calories.
On the other hand, if you are incredibly active your calorie needs may be even greater. Or if you are pumping “just” 25-30 ounces a day, you will need proportionally less.
But all of this just serves as a reminder that to feed your twins you need to feed yourself!
There is no need to count calories too carefully (unless advised by your doctor) because your appetite will grow to meet your needs…and grow it will (the “share” size of M&Ms means for “sharing” with yourself…right?)!
It can be hard to find the time to sit down to a meal when you are caring for newborn twins, so be sure to keep some snacks handy.
How to Establish The Proper Milk Supply When Exclusively Pumping Twins
Don’t put away your highlighters yet, we have ONE more lesson. We already covered prolactin and milk production.
The second hormone to know about is oxytocin. Similar to prolactin, the release of oxytocin from the pituitary gland is triggered by baby suckling. The release of oxytocin causes contraction of your milk glands and milk ducts to move the milk out the breast. This is called the let-down reflex.
Once the milk lets down, baby stops suckling and drinks with slower, stronger pulls. You may be thinking…why do I need to know all of this to pump?
To get the most out of pumping, it is best to understand how breastfeeding works and then try to mimic it with your pump.
So when you get that pump, you will start with suckling, or “let-down mode,” which is lighter suction and faster cycles (about 70 per minute).
Once the milk lets down you will switch to drinking, or “expression mode,” which is stronger suction and fewer cycles (about 54 per minute).
Pumping may not be the first thing on your mind after bringing two beautiful humans into being. But maybe by the fifth or six thing, and perhaps a good nap, you should start thinking about your milk supply. Request a hospital-grade pump for your room and start pumping either after nursing or within 6 hours of birth (if not nursing).
Alright, now read this next part fast… like ripping off a Band-Aid: to get off to the right start, you really need to pump about 10 times a day in the first month, every two to three hours around the clock.
Since prolactin peaks between 10 pm and 6 am, try to get a couple of your pumping sessions in overnight after feeding your babies.
As for the rewarding part of your hard work: first you will see colostrum, then transitional milk, then mature milk! Your milk will come in about three days postpartum and you need to pump until your breast feels soft and empty (here is a fun visual: think “sock”…not “softball”).
If you are having trouble emptying out, try applying a warm washcloth and doing breast compressions (a cold washcloth can be used later to soothe).
After you have emptied your breast, pump for two extra minutes to signal your brain that you need more milk. Then, gradually increase to five minutes of pumping after you see the last milk come out. Each session will probably be about 25 minutes in the beginning.
The goal in establishing a milk supply for your twins will probably be 50-60 ounces a day (3-5 ounce bottles x 4-10 feeds daily x 2 babies).
Here is the kicker: you will also need to feed your twins every few hours, change their diapers, attend to your postpartum needs (like C-section care or sits baths), eat, etc.
Keeping track of all this can be tricky so prepare a worksheet ahead of time, or put your faith in a good phone app. Lastly, let your partner take care of you so you can take care of your babies!!
How Often Should I Pump for Twins?
In the beginning, you need to pump as frequently as your twins eat which is to say both breasts, for about 25 minutes, every 2-3 hours.
Here’s the good news: by 6 weeks postpartum, your milk supply should be largely established and you may be able to pump less frequently and for less time, as long as you still empty your breasts completely and continue to pump for a few minutes after that.
This depends on you as an individual, but it could be 6-8 times a day for 15-20 minutes. If you find that scaling back hurts your supply, increase the frequency of your sessions until you find a happy medium that works for you.
Below is a sample schedule for pumping for twins
Having at least one overnight session is important for maintaining supply in the beginning, and can help you boost your supply later if you see a drop.
With all of those night feedings it can be tricky to squeeze in a pumping session and still catch those all-important zzz’s, so try setting your pumping station up next to your bed to make it easier!
How Long Do You Have to Wait Between Pumping?
There are no steadfast rules about time in between pumping sessions, and in fact, short but frequent pumping sessions are better for milk production (and your nipples) than a marathon session.
For the sake of collecting milk, you will want to pump every two to three hours but at least an hour in between pumping sessions is advisable to give your body time to accumulate more milk.
If you are trying to boost your supply, you can “power pump” or pump with ten-minute breaks in between for up to one hour.
This isn’t how you should pump all the time, but it can mimic the cluster feeding of a growing baby if you are having trouble keeping pace with the demands of your twins.
The best bet is to create a pumping schedule and try to stick to it. Of course, while taking care of twins you need to be flexible.
A and B probably won’t wait patiently while you pump so don’t think you need to throw in the towel if you didn’t follow your schedule to a T or miss a session now or then.
Tips for Exclusively Pumping for Twins
Tip #1: Stay Hydrated!
Drink up, Mama!
Producing this much breast milk will likely make you thirsty, and dehydration will slash your supply.
Your individual needs may vary (especially with factors like heat and exercise), but mothers who have successfully nursed/pumped for twins found that 100 ounces/ 3 liters of water a day satisfied their needs.
To remember to drink water, leave your bottle at your pumping station and guzzle a bit down whenever you pump. You might also use a phone app to set reminders and track your water intake.
Tip #2: Get your hands on some snacks
Everyone you see in the grocery store that spots your tandem stroller will say something like, “Wow! You’ve got your hands full!” It is a figurative expression, but with newborn twins, it is often literally true.
To satisfy your caloric needs, stock up on easy to grab snacks like protein bars, trail mix, string cheese, individual yogurts/cottage cheese, precut fruit, and shakes. If you are expecting twins and full of that nervous, nesting energy, make some oatmeal muffins or lactation bites ahead of time and freeze!
Tip #3: Write it Down
With no less than ninety-thousand things to keep track of with newborn twins, pumping sessions and volumes can be easily forgotten.
Use a phone app or a good old-fashioned notebook to record: date and time, volume pumped, and if refrigerated/frozen/ or fed. An inventory can help you stay on top!
Tip #4: Always be Prepared
Come on Scout, always be prepared with what you need to get your milk out of your breast and into your baby. Checklist:
- A really good pump *
- A spare pump, portable pump, or at the very least a manual pump *
- Extra tubes, membranes/valves (replace if loss of suction), and flanges
- Car adaptor or batteries
- Nursing cover for pumping around company if you are comfortable doing so. When you are pumping every 2-3 hours you may like some company. Or if not, it is a good excuse for some alone time. Either way!
- Milk storage bags or bottles (bags take up less room in the freezer)
- Hands-free pumping bra, Freemies, or DIY your own with a sports bra
*see our article Best Breast Pumps for Twins
Tip #5 Relaxxxx
Rest is honestly hard to come by for twin moms.
The advice “nap while they are napping” only works in a world where both twins are napping at the same time, you have finished pumping and eating, the bottles are washed…in other words, you are more likely to get your Hogwarts letter than you are to “nap while they are napping.”
But stress can take its toll on your milk supply, so try to treat pumping like a little break and close the door, read something enjoyable (not baby message boards!), and have some refreshments.
Wrapping Up Pumping for Two
Pumping for twins requires a bit of commitment (ever pump in a car? what about a photo booth?), but most twin moms find it to be totally worth the work to provide their twins with breast milk. Get organized, accept help, and start pumping! You can do this, Mama.