Parenting

7 Things I Wish Someone Told Me About Breastfeeding Twins

twin babies

There’s no shortage of resources and information for women who want to breastfeed. But when you’re expecting twins or multiples, so much of what you read doesn’t apply to you. The rest of the advice is like a lot of advice you read pre-baby – reasonable in print, ridiculous in practice. Breastfeeding is no different.

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I’ve met a number of twin moms and there doesn’t seem to be a general consensus when it comes to breastfeeding. Some tried, some didn’t. Some were able to nurse exclusively, especially in the beginning. Most supplemented with formula at some point. My experience was not unusual, but I believe it could have been better. Here are the things I wish someone had told me before I attempted to breastfeed my twin sons -- a venture that may not be as impossible as people think, but may not be as easy as you hope.

1. You have two boobs, but that doesn’t mean both are ready for action.

As I was pumping between nursing sessions in the hospital to help establish my supply -- which had to fill the demands of two hungry babies -- I noticed my left breast was much more of a team player than my right. This is not uncommon. Try as I might, the right boob never caught up to its mate in milk production and as a result, neither baby was interested in feeding from it. So much for tandem feeding!

More from The Stir: 7 Tips for Breastfeeding Twins

When your babies take turns feeding, they’ll tag team you like a couple of WWE wrestlers. There was a time my schedule went like this: feed, feed, pump, feed, feed, pump, feed, feed, pump -- on a seemingly endless loop.

And sometimes they’ll get hungry at the same time, and will thereby cry at the same time. If you have one baby-approved breast and two babies, choosing who to feed first is a real-life version of the Hunger Games.

2. It’s not only okay to ask for help, but you also probably really do need it.

My biggest regret and mistake was underestimating the critical value of daily in-home help. Given our circumstances, that would have meant hiring professional staff. Not even to help with the babies directly, but to help keep our home (and ourselves) from falling apart.

When I wasn’t nursing, pumping, or bottle-feeding, I was doing baby laundry, changing diapers, washing bottles, and consoling two crying babies through their perfectly synchronized witching hours. A mother’s helper could have handled the baby prep work and consoled the crying baby while I nursed his brother uninterrupted. A housekeeper could have stopped our home from becoming an episode of Hoarders. A personal chef or even a meal train organized by family and friends could have ensured my husband and I didn’t eat our way into take-out oblivion -- if you’re trying to build a milk supply, dinner should be full of vegetables and protein, not simple carbs and MSG. Lastly, if I just had someone around to fill my water bottle when I was covered in babies, I probably would have seen a boost in my supply.

Instead, trying to manage all this between my husband and me jeopardized my ability to breastfeed. My best advice to other moms is: Get as much help as you are able to afford or secure.

3. Two babies may mean two different sets of challenges.

Any baby could have a number of feeding issues -- poor latch, weak suck, reflux. With two babies, it may be doubly difficult to identify those obstacles and work to overcome them.

For example, my smaller son had latching issues, so nursing sessions with him were frustrating for us both. He also had reflux and, when fed a bottle, had to be held just so, lest he scream or spew forth an hour’s worth of hard-pumped milk -- and then he had be held upright for at least 20 minutes afterward, resulting in feeds that lasted an hour and a half or more.

More from The Stir: Breastfeeding 101: Getting Baby to Latch

This took some of the focus off his brother, who was bigger and better at latching. He was not always patient when I was holding his brother upright, so often I’d end up giving him a bottle, significantly cutting down the time he got at the breast. Eventually his enthusiasm for breastfeeding did wane.

4. Uninterrupted nursing sessions will be hard to come by.

You strap on your nursing pillow, scoop up your cuddly baby, and settle in for a nice, long nursing session. You experience the euphoria of letdown and then start a blissful doze when suddenly ... bloodcurdling cries from your other baby. You either press on in a state of guilt that robs your lungs of air and seems to crush your soul, or you de-latch the nursing baby to tend to the crying baby.

More from The Stir: How to Survive Breastfeeding Twins

And here’s why that’s a problem: Establishing a supply for two babies can be challenging. Twin moms are unlikely to find the time to sufficiently hydrate, nourish, and rest -- the Holy Trinity of breast milk production. The single most important thing you can do to ensure you produce enough milk is to nurse as much as possible, preferably until your breasts are empty. My stop-and-go sessions undoubtedly sent my body mixed signals, and my supply suffered as a result.

5. Don’t expect support or encouragement from everyone.

“Breastfeeding twins is never going to work!” Variations of this sentiment were repeated to me during my pregnancy and even as I was breastfeeding. Some people were well-meaning, fearing I’d put pressure on myself to breastfeed exclusively. But their words of concern often gave way to ones of skepticism. And that can really kill the morale of a doubly hormonal first-time mom.

But when expectations are low, any effort can be deemed a win. I breastfed my boys non-exclusively for over six months and people usually commend me for it rather than scorn me for not sticking it out a year.

Whenever you find the doubts and criticism of others seeping their way into your own thoughts, consider their usual source -- people who don’t have twins. Mothering two babies at once is a specific experience only truly understood by those who have gone through it. Take negative comments for what they are -- uninformed opinions that have nothing to do with you.

6. Formula is not the F word.

Wanting to breastfeed did not stem from a disdain for formula. To me, breastfeeding seemed economical, beneficial to both mom and babies and an experience I really wanted to have. But when supplementation appeared inevitable, I was fearful of formula and its contents. My apprehension subsided after I did some research and found an organic brand I trusted and my boys liked. I suggest pre-selecting a formula and familiarizing yourself with its contents during your pregnancy, so should supplementation become your reality, you don’t miss a beat -- and you don't needlessly stress.

More from The Stir: What Happens When You Start Supplementing With Formula?

7. If things don’t go as you plan, it’s not a failure.

My sons are not going to care that they were breastfed. In fact, they probably won’t want to think too much about it. Any regret I have about my experience is just that -- regret about my experience. My children have been loved and well cared for from the start. If your plans to breastfeed fall short of expectation, know that any loss you feel is your own, not your babies’. Personally, I can live with that.

 

Stephanie Kivich is a personal chef and culinary instructor. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and her twin toddler sons.


Image via iStock.com/oksun70

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