I had plans to exclusively breastfeed my boys until they were at least a year old. I read books, attended classes, lined up lactation consultants (LCs), lined up a post-partum doula, and watched videos. I was ready for anything, or so I thought. I would find I was not the least bit prepared for breastfeeding two preemies.
My boys were born at 36w, 3d. At birth, Nate had breathing issues and Alex had “feeding issues.” Every preemie parent knows it is so easy to say “feeding issues” and so hard to deal with those feeding issues. We couldn’t leave the NICU until he gained weight.
In the meantime, we spent 24 hours a day at the hospital. I pumped every 3 hours and Jon labeled precious containers of breastmilk for the boys’ use in the NICU. After two days, they were cleared to try breastfeeding. Every three hours, we’d get seven people together to breastfeed – one nurse to wake up Alex, one nurse to wake up Nate, an LC, me, Jon, Alex, and Nate. For 20 minutes, the nurses would vigorously rub the babies’ heads, stroke their palms, and gently shake them until they woke up. I was then under the gun to try to get a good latch with each baby and get them sucking before they fell asleep again. No pressure or anything!
For the first couple of days, there was no success. They would then get a formula/breastmilk feeding by gravage and I would go back to my room to pump. We eventually got to the point where Nate was feeding well. However Alex’s sucking reflex was so weak we only had one successful feeding the entire week in the NICU.
At home, things rapidly went downhill. Jon and I were exhausted trying to focus on breastfeeding. The routine was – 20 minutes wake baby 1, 30 minutes feed, 20 minutes wake baby 2, 30 minutes feed, 30 minutes Laura pump, 60 minute break and start again. 24 hours a day.
Alex never stayed awake long enough for a feeding and the time he was awake, his sucking reflex was extremely weak. He lost so much weight his skin was sagging off him. We made a joint decision with our pediatrician to supplement with formula. An LC showed us how to cup-feed and SNS-feed. We had an LC at our home trying to help us as well. I broke down in giggling hysterics the first time Alex drank from a cup. Jon cried one night when Alex could barely stay awake through one ounce of formula. We were so worried Alex would die or have to be re-hospitalized.
During this entire time, Nate was feeding well. I spent hours on the phone and internet with experts on what to do about Alex. We’d try him at the breast with an SNS then try to cup-feed him and eventually had to get out a bottle at each feeding.
I completely exhausted myself to the point of depression trying to get breastfeeding to work. We’d set the alarm to get one hour of sleep and when it would go off, I would cry hysterically. I got to the point that I didn’t want the boys to wake up because I was so tired. I cried and cried and cried. I cried in bed, I cried in the shower, and I cried sitting in my living room. I have a history of depression and I was heading a bad path very quickly.
Here’s where Jon saved me. I learned parenting is a joint decision. Jon said we had to make the best decision for our FAMILY. We were not comfortable with breastfeeding just one of the boys while the other was formula fed. We decided we would try a new strategy for 24 hours. I would pump and we would bottle-feed the boys. I would get some rest then we would re-assess.
Those 24 hours, I didn’t cry once. I started to enjoy being a mom. I started to enjoy cuddling my babies and staring at their little toes and fingers. I felt the fog lifting once I switched to pumping. I felt like myself again. The despair and depression were gone. I decided to become an exclusive pumper.
We had lined up help for 2 months and when our help left, I found it very difficult to pump and care for the boys at the same time. After much discussion, Jon and I decided I would stop pumping. Our freezer stash lasted until the boys were almost 3 months old.
Looking back, I don’t feel like I failed at breastfeeding. At each step along the way, we made the decision we felt was best for our entire family. And that’s what I didn’t understand about parenting while I was pregnant – these decisions need to include the entire family, not just the babies. I would have loved to have made it to a year, but I feel like we did everything we could to make it successful. I have peace with my almost 3 months of breastfeeding twins as a first-time mother. While breastfeeding didn’t work out the way I planned, I feel ok about it because nothing in parenting has turned out the way I planned yet it continues to far exceed my expectations.