As a mother-to-be, whether or not to breastfeed your child is a big decision. We all know it has immense benefits for baby and mom, but as any nursing mom will attest to, breastfeeding involves major lifestyle changes and a lot of sacrifices.
When it comes to nursing twins, that’s a different game altogether. The benefits, but also the sacrifices, are doubled. So if you’re a bit apprehensive about what to do, you are not alone. Luckily, here at Twin Life Magazine we are blessed to have an amazing “Brain Trust” of experienced moms of twins, and we sought their advice on this important topic.
The overall consensus? It’s not easy. Should we say it again? It’s not easy! So be prepared to arm yourself with lots of patience, perseverance and quite possibly a nipple guard or two. For most moms of twins, a breast pump is a must. Supplementing with formula is a very real possibility. But if you decide to give it a try, and you stick with it, even for a little while, it’s heaven. There’s nothing nicer than having your little ones stare at you, their skin against yours, as you feed them.
Setting Up Realistic Expectations for Breastfeeding Twins
When Mila Penta’s twin daughters Victoria and Madison were born last October, Mila had plans to nurse “for as long as I could, possibly a year.” Soon, reality set in for the Natick, MA mom. “To my surprise, it was a little tougher than I had thought it was going to be,” she says. Her daughters latched on well and were gaining weight, “but the process was very time consuming,” says Mila.
The doctors at the hospital were very supportive of Mila’s choice to breastfeed, but because her girls were a bit premature they also wanted her to supplement the feedings with formula. “I had to breastfeed one twin on each breast for about 20-30 minutes, then I would feed them each two ounces of formula.” Mila also had to pump for 30 minutes after each feeding, to make sure her milk supply came in. It was a full-time job that many moms of twins can relate to: the girls ate every two to three hours but the process of feeding them took about one to one-and-a-half hours. But the process “got a lot easier with time,” Mila says. She used the “My Brest Friend Twins Plus Deluxe Nursing Pillow” and thought it was “extremely helpful” because she could feed both girls at the same time. Having extra sets of hands was key: “My husband and mother helped feed the babies the formula, which helped with the time too.”
Mom blogger Farrah Ritter of Simpsonville, South Carolina advises moms to be prepared for “a lot of work.” After successfully nursing her first son for a year, she thought that nursing her twins Chase and Lincoln, now 15 months old, would turn out the same way. “What they don’t tell you is that it might not be so easy the second time…I did make it six months, but it was work and I did not enjoy it as much as I did with my first because it was so awkward,” she says. “The only plus was that I was completely prepared for the pain — cracking, bleeding, agony — those first few weeks, and it didn’t happen, I was fine.”
Success Through Perseverance
For Sara Cohen of Maynard, MA, who is mom to 10-month-old boys Noah and Reese, sticking with breastfeeding in spite of several ups and downs eventually paid off. She had known she wanted to breastfeed, yet remembers getting mixed reactions from friends when asked about her plans. “One mom even said, ‘Good luck with that!’” she recalls.
Since her babies were born prematurely, Sara had to pump her milk during the first weeks. It was a grueling schedule: she pumped every three hours, fed for 15 minutes and supplemented the babies’ nutrition with formula. “At the two month mark I thought, ‘I can’t do this forever,’ she says. “I was frustrated because I could only pump enough for one baby.”
Sara soon realized that pumping so much came at a price, at least for her: “As I talked to more people, I learned that, apparently, a baby is more effective than a pump at getting more milk. Your body responds to a pump in a certain way and I wasn’t able to pump that much.” So there she was, at the two month mark, wanting to spend more time nursing her babies, but very dependent on her pump instead. Along the way, Sara had to deal with mastitis—a painful infection of the milk ducts—and she began to think that maybe, just maybe, breastfeeding wasn’t going to work for her the way she had hoped.
But Sara didn’t give up. She sought advice and encouragement from a lactation consultant, as well as her sister, and had a big turning point into her third month. Skin-to-skin feedings and night nursing, when a woman’s supply is most bountiful, were two helpful changes. “I love how it finally clicked,” she says. “I love the bonding, love the look in their eyes. It’s cool to have these two pairs of eyes looking at you when they’re nursing. It’s just this closeness that I really, really love.” Sara still nurses and, like Mila, swears by her “My Brest Friend” twin nursing pillow. She now nurses the twins at the same time, every two to three hours, and sleeps longer stretches at night.
The Guilt Factor
Ah, the guilt. It’s something many moms of twins have to live with, and something we should really try to brush aside, because it’s not productive.
Mindy Kern of Holliston, MA, and mom to 6-month-old twins Elliott and Aaron, has certainly been there. She switched from nursing to formula six weeks after getting home from the hospital. “I had to stop, as once my help left I could not manage my four-year-old and nursing twins,” she says. “The boys were never real big fans and I had to use a nipple shield.”
Though overwhelmed, it was difficult for Mindy to give up breastfeeding, and she strongly stands behind its benefits. “Even now, six months later I contemplate re-lactation,” she says. “My boys also have horrid reflux issues and a milk protein allergy which made me feel even more guilty…If there is one thing that drives me crazy is everyone telling you that you can do it and it’s best. I know it’s best, but I can’t do it and you have no idea the guilt I feel for not doing it.”
Mila has been there too: at around eight weeks, she decided she wanted to stop breastfeeding because of the pain she was feeling in between feedings, since her breasts filled up too much with milk. “I felt guilty wanting to stop and continued to breastfeed until ten weeks. The tapering-off process was also painful as you can’t express any of the milk or your body would think it needed to produce more milk.I kept telling myself that I did as much as I could. At four months, they are strictly on formula and are doing great!” she says.
Words of Wisdom
In her book Twinspiration: Real-Life Advice from Pregnancy through the First Year (c.2006, Taylor Trade Publishing), Cheryl Lage of Richmond, Virginia, and mom to 10-year-old twins Darren and Sarah, encourages moms to always do what’s best for their bodies and their babies, despite what society might dictate.
We’d like to thank Cheryl for allowing us to excerpt some of her very wise advice (and if you don’t have her book yet, go out and buy it. It’s a must-read for any mom of twins!)
Here, a few helpful tips from Cheryl’s book:
Well-intended, but often crusade-like, pressure to breastfeed twins is often a tremendously guilt-inducing, stress-magnifying, joy-robbing aspect of a new twin mom’s earliest days with her infants.
Common medical knowledge indicates correctly that nutritionally and from an antibody-providing perspective, milk from the “breast is best”. However, plenty of viable, healthful, nutritional, and ever-improving formula feeding alternatives are available.
If the “drain” of nursing two is too much, but mom wishes (and is able) to nurse, a “Bottle + Breast” combination method is a great option. Twin A nurses and Twin B is bottle-fed (formula or expressed breast milk) at Feed #1; for Feed #2, B is breastfed and A is bottle-fed. Alternating back and forth keeps both twins on an equal playing field.
Often, one twin is a “good nurser” (latches well and nurses actively) and the other isn’t/doesn’t/can’t. Prematurity plays a definite role in feeding ease and ability. There is nothing wrong with nursing one twin and bottle-feeding the other!
For you moms who do not or cannot nurse your twins, whatever the reason, do not feel you are depriving your babies (or yourself) of a singular bonding experience! If you envisioned implementing one feeding method, and are forced to rethink your plan, it is okay! Keep your flexibility at a maximum and your self-flagellation to a minimum.
Whether your twins’ meal was mammary-manufactured or pharmaceutically-formulated, whether transmitted to your babies via a breast or a bottle, your twins will be supplementally nourished with your engaging eye contact, your physical cradling touch, your loving voice, and of course, with nutritional sustenance.
Make, and prepare to modify, a feeding decision that seems healthiest for your unique family. Offer no excuses, make no apologies, stand on no soapboxes, and never judge another mother for the feeding choice she has made for her family. People should always supersede process.
Thanks Cheryl, we could not agree more! And thanks to our awesome “Brain Trust” for all the helpful advice.
Also be sure to check out our Breastfeeding Twins Q&A on this very topic with lactation consultant Raechel Hackney, RN, IBCLC, from Lactation Care, Inc.
To read Cheryl’s blog, visit www.twinfatuation.com
You can purchase Cheryl’s book Twinspiration: Real-Life Advice From Pregnancy Through the First Year (for Parents of Twins and Multiples) on Amazon.
To read Farrah’s blog, visit www.thethreeunder.com
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