INTERVIEW WITH A MOTHER BREASTFEEDING TRIPLETS
Today, I have Tanyaradzwa Rimayi on the phone. Tanyah first made contact with me through La Leche League when she was still expecting. Today the babies are 5 months old and I am curious to hear about her breastfeeding journey so far.
Katinka: Hallo Tanyah, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Tanyah: Hallo! I am 25 years old, married and live in Marondera. My mom died when I was very young and I was raised by my father.
Katinka: You are a mother of a “trio” as you call your triplets. How did it feel when you learnt that you are expecting 3 babies at once?
Tanyah: I got pregnant normally within the first year of my marriage. All throughout my pregnancy I thought I was expecting twins. Only when I was 6 mon
ths pregnant it was discovered that there are in fact three of them. At the time I had to be admitted into hospital as my blood pressure was very high. I was shocked and very scared.
A friend told me about the La Leche League breastfeeding support group and so I contacted you to get some information about breastfeeding triplets.
Unfortunately, my blood pressure did not normalise and they were born at 7 months only a month after I found out I was carrying triplets. I named them Maya, Kingsley and Aya.
Katinka: From early on in your pregnancy you were very determined to breastfeed your triplets at all costs. Where did your determination come from?
Tanyah: Yes, I was very determined. I believe in breastmilk so much. A long time back my friend gave birth to a very small preemie at only 800 g. I could see first hand how my friend’s baby was developing and thriving on breastmilk alone. Breast milk is magic.
“My triplets are due next week via c-section, they are my first, I am so scared kuti (*means if or so that in Shona*) am I going to be enough? I've been hearing about 8-12 hour feeds per baby per day...since they are coming in preterm, I am scared of giving them any other source of milk except breastmilk… my doc has been saying my body will produce. All I need to do is to stop worrying and trust nature… I am soooo nervous being a first time mum and all… I worry about skin to skin contact - I don't want anyone to lack."
Katinka: How did your birth and hospital stay go for you? Were there any challenges in those early days and weeks that you faced?
Tanyah: Due to my blood pressure, I had to have an emergency caesarean section. Two of my babies were all right but one of them was very small and had to be in the incubator for a month. In that first month I breastfed and pumped for them every 2 hours. I got 30 minutes for each baby and 30 minutes to rest between feeds, so that was very hard. I could never sleep. Luckily the small baby latched and drank very well, she was strong.
I had bought a manual pump, but that did not work for me and I got more milk using hand expression. Luckily, I had been given the Global Health Media video that taught how to hand express well. The nurses did not teach me how to express, they just kept demanding more and more, as the babies needed a lot of milk. The pressure on me was very high those days. In the end I mastered the skill and everyone was very impressed. I could even teach other mothers how to hand express.
Top tip: https://globalhealthmedia.org Clear, practical and trusted videos with step-by-step guidance for health workers and caregivers in multiple languages.
Tanyah: At one stage the nurses were suggesting formula, and the hospital bought a tin and they used it twice. My babies got severely constipated, the poo was very hard. I ended up talking to my doctors and the nurses that formula is not an option for me and I would like to exclusively breastfeed. I feel most people are just afraid to talk to the staff but my experience was very positive. The staff supported me and my decision and gave me extra time to pump and helped me as best as they could. Your baby, your choice.
The pressure of the early days, seeing my babies cry a lot while I was struggling to express, and having to deal with the emotions of having two children with albinism eventually got to me. I developed Postnatal Depression. My blood pressure shot up again and I had to be readmitted. That is the time when I decided to concentrate fully on me and my babies. I asked not to receive visitors any more for some time, I received counselling and medication and with time I got better.
Katinka: Breastfeeding 3 babies is challenging and time consuming as well. How does your day look like and what support system do you have to help you cope and manage.
Tanyah: When I first came home with the trio I spent the whole day in bed with them, cuddling, doing skin to skin, breastfeeding and expressing and keeping them warm. I was now very good at expressing and would easily fill 2 cups with milk.
“Yeah it's not been easy… I spend all day in bed with them and take walks with each baby one at a time… I've noticed how they keep calm if I place them on my body… people are always wondering why I am not losing weight.”
The babies are now 5 months old. They do not have any fixed routine. I try to make sure that one is always awake. After feeding and putting that one to sleep, I will wake up the next one. I always have a baby with me at all times, my arms are never empty. I am not going out much, just getting some fresh air in the yard. These days they sleep very well at night from about 10 pm to 3 am. The girls latch on well and are able to drink at the same time, while the boy needs to drink by himself. I express 5 times a day now and keep a small milk bank in my fridge of expressed breast breastmilk so that I can give them a top-up as and when they need it.
“I eat a lot of veggies and water is my favourite drink, I finish up to 4 liters per day.”
I have not gone back to work yet, my employer has agreed to give me extra time off work all the way to 6 months! I work with Dr Mugurungi, the Director AIDS/TB Programmes at Ministry of Health and Child Welfare.
Katinka: What was the reaction of your family and friends on breastfeeding triplets exclusively?
Tanyah: After my discharge from the hospital my husband's mother came to stay with us to help me. Problems soon came up! My babies cried a lot, you must imagine only having two arms but 3 babies to care for. One was almost always crying. The grandmothers always think that it is because of hunger but at times the babies wanted to be close to me or needed a diaper change, it was very hard to manage with only 2 hands.
When I asked my mother-in-law to take one for a diaper change, I would stay behind worried if she would feed the baby porridge or cooking oil without me noticing. One day my baby vomited up porridge. I decided to talk about it to the elders, I explained how my babies are under-developed and very small and how their gut is not able to digest other foods well yet. My mom-in-law appreciated the talk but now she did not want to help me any more. She felt that I was a know-it-all who wanted to do everything my way. But I stood my ground and I managed to keep them on breastmilk only.
At every check-up at the clinic the nurses were amazed and commented on the babies' extraordinary health. This made my mother-in-law very proud. She told me how she battled with my husband as a baby, how he had “nhova” (a sunken fontanelle) and how she had fed him porridge and cooking oil 3 times a day back in the day.
“When they cried a lot my fam usually said it's because of hunger to the extent of trying to feed my babies porridge when I was asleep and tired… I stood my ground and they respected my wishes now… yesterday they were even commenting that the trio has never been sick ...never had we felt the need to visit baby clinic because of rise in temperatures or colds...I never gave them cooking oil or any medicines except for the boy who gets colic most of the time when weather changes I use colic drops...the trio are doing great and we are about to enter our 5th month”.
When my mother-in-law first came to stay, she had brought herbs and a 2 liter bottle of cooking oil, but now she is defending me. She will tell people: “My daughter knows what she is doing, we are not worried about the babies.”
In all this time, the La Leche League breastfeeding support group was strengthening me. I was also reading a lot on the internet, researching more information about breastfeeding triplets. Also my friend with the premature baby was there for me, she would call often to check in with me.
Katinka: What would be your advice to a mother who is expecting triplets or even twins from your experience?
Tanyah: The most important thing is to seek help before giving birth! Learn and know how to express breastmilk for your babies and know how to feed your babies.
Never give up, it's hard, it's very hard. It's emotional, you will deal with doubts and thinking that your milk may not be enough and your babies may be crying. But you should not give up.
I have noticed that you do not need any gadgets! Trust your hands to be able to express your milk. I am now so good that I see foam on top of the milk while expressing, that is how much pressure it can have.
“I've done it all… 2 months 2 weeks exclusive breast milk… they no longer look like preemies… I express all the time everywhere I am and it is working… I am healthy and I pump pump pump… kkkk"
When learning to breastfeed, trust your babies, they will mould your nipple into the correct shape that is needed. I was told my nipples were too big, but my babies managed very well. With practice they will succeed on any nipple shape.
Talk to your babies and sing to your babies, they will listen to you. Hold them long and often and do skin-to-skin. I was told that I was spoiling my babies and I still did it up to this day.
“Breast milk is magic… whether in bath water or consumed… their skin is glowing and no rashes yet.”
Katinka: Thank you so much for your wisdom, you are an amazing mother and have achieved a lot! All the best for you and your family.
Katinka, LLLeader, Zimbabwe