March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
Baby, baby, baby...
Is it possible to effectively breast-feed twins or triplets? Yes! And, it's worth the effort. Breast milk delivers the nutrients and antibodies babies need in an easy-to-digest, convenient and economical package. Breast-fed babies tend to have lower risks of respiratory tract, gastrointestinal and ear infections, as well as eczema, diabetes, obesity and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) among other conditions. Breast-feeding also provides advantages for new moms, including valuable bonding time with the baby and a weight-loss boost.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend exclusive breast-feeding for the first 6 months of life. Ideally, complementary breast-feeding is continued once solid foods are introduced through at least 12 months.
Nursing multiples is nutritionally demanding. Healthy breast-feeding moms need to consume about 500 extra calories per baby per day. And, don't forget to increase fluid consumption too. Nursing mothers should focus on achieving this higher-calorie goal through a well-balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, fat-free or low-fat dairy and whole grains to get adequate overall nutrition, including sources of iron and calcium.
For optimal brain development, breast-feeding mothers should get adequate omega-3 fatty acids, particularly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). This can come from eating two weekly servings of fatty fish such as salmon or sardines, or supplementation.
How does breast-feeding work when there are two or three bundles of joy? Though it seems daunting, it is possible. Melinda Johnson, MS, RDN, LD, says, "With multiples, you face similar challenges whether you bottle or breast-feed."
Johnson and Alicia Simpson, MS, RD, LD, a lactation consultant, offer some tips for breast-feeding moms of multiples:
- Get a good lactation consultant. A lactation consultant can help instill confidence and answer concerns along the way.
- Get the first and second babies on the same schedule. "The most successful moms usually nurse two babies at once and then pump and feed the other child(ren) expressed breast milk in a bottle," says Simpson.
- Take help from a partner. Simpson praises the partner who can take over the role of changing diapers, soothing and playing with the babies to allow the mother time to rest and concentrate on nourishing her children.
Notes on Nursing Premature Multiples
It's not uncommon for multiples to arrive a little early. Premature babies may have digestion difficulties eased by breast milk which is easier on tiny tummies. Importantly, premature babies often lack the muscle development to latch on and suck properly. If this happens, pump to keep mom's milk flowing until the babies are able to breast-feed directly.
Johnson notes that premature babies may not be ready for solid foods as soon as full-term babies. "They take a little longer to develop the chewing motion," she says. Johnson encourages parents and healthcare providers to work together to identify feeding cues that will move the child forward. In the toddler stage, children born prematurely may experience developmental delays that may make mealtime a challenge. Practice patience and repetition.
Whether you're feeding one, two, three or more babies, never underestimate the power of nutrition, a good lactation consultant, partner support and patience to give them the best start at life.