Monica Wamaitha credits herself for being good with babies. From working as a nanny for many years, Monica understands the intricacies of staying up at night for long hours, regularly nursing little babies and calming down screaming toddlers. Simply put, taking care of children is her specialty. This notion was, however, intensely challenged, when she got triplets this year. Nothing, not even years of taking care of children would have prepared her for the task of taking care of three children all at once.
For the 33-year-old, caring for her triplets has been one wild ride; filled with new discoveries, exhaustion and excitement. Breastfeeding her babies has, especially taken great commitment. Before delivering her triplets in January this year, the second time mother understood the dynamics of breastfeeding. “Even with one child, it’s never an easy ride,” she says. After Monica delivered her babies at Kenyatta National Hospital via caesarian section, she retreated to her mother’s home in Ndeiya, Kiambu County.
Unlike during her first baby, there were even longer hours of staying awake, and balancing between breastfeeding the three babies. Each of the babies has their unique needs and challenges. The youngest of the triplets, for instance, had difficulties breastfeeding. “He cried a lot and barely breastfed,” says Monica. Just as they were about to turn two months, the youngest of the triplets came down with a flu further complicating his feeding patterns. “While the other two continued to gain weight, the youngest did not and appeared weaker,” she adds.
Balancing between one sick baby and two clingy babies, who also needed her attention was tough. Her mother, a casual labourer assisted when she was home ,but was mostly at work fending for the family. On several occasions when the sickly baby was admitted, Monica had to juggle staying with all the three at the hospital. The stress was overwhelming for her. The overnight arrangements were particularly difficult, but with help from her mother, the burden was a little bearable.
At one point, when her young baby’s sickness persisted, the doctor recommended that she breastfeeds him more to see if it could help. I breastfed him on one breast and left the two to share the other.
Death of one of the triplets
The milk from one breast could not satiate the two babies. Getting food to eat for us was by chance. We ate when my mother got a job and lacked if she did not get any,” she says. Her solution was to supplement breast milk with formula milk. But the costs of buying formula milk on unstable income were extremely high. Much as she was determined to exclusively breastfeed for six months, she ended up supplementing milk with porridge at four months. There have been dark times for Monica. Like when she lost her youngest child. “Unknown to me, the child had a heart condition that went untreated. It was difficult, but I took the loss in stride. After all, I had to be strong for my other babies who were counting on me,” she says.
For her two boys, it has been a fulfilling journey seeing them grow despite the challenges. She has learnt not to cluster their needs together as they are two unique individuals. To her, they may have been born at the same time, but she tries hard to concentrate on each at a time.
Strong support system
At times their sleeping schedules and their feeding times are different. But she is keen on ensuring that each of them gets her attention. Her eldest daughter, nine, has also been of great help in taking care of her younger siblings. “When not at school, she helps look after her brothers,” says Monica.
Nerea Ojanga, a lactation expert at KNH, says breastfeeding takes commitment. And for a mother with multiples the intricacies are more. Nerea advises mothers, especially those of multiples to surround them with a strong support system and not to be afraid to ask for help. Having extra help eases the burden of nursing multiple babies.