Millions of people tune in to watch the hit TLC show John and Kate plus 8, and the Discovery Channel’s The Duggars (Anna Duggar just had her 18th child). America is amazed by how these families do it, but never have they had to take care of more than six infants at once. Now, not only are people all over the globe shocked by the recent multiple births headline, but the medical world is blown away by what appears to be the first successful birth of octuplets. What I find most fascinating and inspiring, is that their amazing mother will be breastfeeding all eight of her newborn infants.
At present, five of the octuplets are being fed donated breast milk while their mother is pumping to save milk for all of her babies. The medical staff will help the mother learn how to express her milk so that they can store and give it to the infants. Each baby now weighs in at under 3 lbs each, so it is essential that they receive their mother’s breast milk to help their tiny bodies grow in strength, and to build up their digestive and immune systems. Mom and babies will gradually get used to breastfeeding, but will always be allowed to have skin to skin contact while the babies gain their strength. Such contact is another important necessity for their sustained health. (This is the typical recovery breastfeeding system for premature born infants).
When the new family is able to move home and they no longer have the extra helping hands, that is when the challenge will truly begin. Though it is not an official statement, odds are that this birth was brought on by artificial insemination. There is a logical reason why the human female body has two nipples and other mammals have multiple nipples to feed and sustain several offspring. There is no way around it, this will be a challenging road for the new family. But the end benefits such as bonding, using money otherwise spent on formula for other uses, the inherently eco-friendly nature of nursing, and the fact that breastfeeding typically burns 200-500 calories per day (that’s based on one baby) are worth the investment.
Once the babies are brought home, they will have put on more weight, they will be strong enough to latch on to the breast for feedings, and will already be accustomed to feeding from a bottle (hopefully BPA free). Thankfully, the lactation consulting the mother will receive at the hospital will prepare her for expressing milk at home. She will definitely need to express breast milk around 10-12 times per day so that she has extra milk stored for future use (breast milk can be refrigerated & frozen).
Above is a chart I created to give you an idea of what a typical day of breastfeeding octuplets may look like. Newborns generally feed anywhere from 8-12 times per day. Multiply that by eight, and the number of feedings that will take place in one day will be between 64-96 feedings. Wow, that is a lot! Obviously, it is physically and emotionally impossible to feed one baby at a time in this case. Thankfully, the mothers has her two breasts, both the mother and babies have their father, and perhaps other relatives or a postpartum doula to help out with daily routines. The family will need to create a system so that they are easily able to monitor and rotate each baby throughout the day so that each one gets to nurse at the breast at least once a day. It will be most beneficial if, in this case, the couple definitely have two live-in help aides, so that one aide can assist with breastfeeding and diapering and another can help take care of the parents.
Most likely, the mother will experience breast discomfort from engorgement. An economical and environmentally friendly way to mend this discomfort is by placing a Savoy cabbage leaf (scored at its stem) within each bra cup between feedings. I would also recommend that she consider drinking teas such as Organic Mothers Milk Tea, which helps promote and sustain milk lactation for nursing mothers. The new mother will also need to maintain her own nourishment and monitor her caloric intake in order to provide enough milk for her children while remaining in good health herself. It would be great if Discovery Health created a documentary on this mother’s breastfeeding journey. I wish this family all the best.