Can breastfeeding multiples work?

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Categories Breastfeeding, Feeding, Infants, Mommy Issues

Laura wrote a wonderful post this week on how hard it can be to breastfeed multiples and how it sometimes just doesn’t work. Sometimes, giving up breastfeeding is the best choice to make for your family. It wasn’t the choice that I made, but I also wasn’t faced with the hurdles that she had to cope with. I always feel weird when people are impressed that I breastfed my twins to a year. Because, while it was hard work, we had a couple of things happen that let this work for us. We also DIDN’T have some things happen that would have gotten in the way of breastfeeding working for us. So, here’s my story of what made breastfeeding work for me.

Factors that allowed us to breastfeed:

1. Twin moms make good friends. When my babies were 2 weeks old, we met a neighbor who had nine month old twins. (Ok, so she came running out of her house when she saw us walk by with the duoglider and two infants.) She dragged me (keeping her babies awake for their naptime so we could all go) to a local breastfeeding support group that was fantastic. The LC had twin granddaughters herself and was totally supportive of exclusively breastfeeding twins. I learned so much from her. Thank you, neighbor. (She also taught me swaddling, introduced me to Happiest Baby on the Block, and watched my kids for me one glorious morning so I could sleep for two hours. Love her!

2. Long prengnancy, healthy babies. I carried  my twins to 36 weeks 2 days. They were sleepy, slow eaters, but they could both suck. Although they did not get to breastfeed until about 12 hours after birth, due to my own recovery issues and their need to be monitored in the nursery for a few hours, they had no NICU time. This let us practice breastfeeding from the get-go, although boy was it slow at first! Danny had to be stripped down to his diaper each time (talk about effort!) and poked and tickled to stay awake. Abigail refused to be awakened to eat, but when she wanted to eat, she was insistent!

3. Supportive doctor. My pediatrician never pushed supplementing and was very supportive of exclusively breastfeeding. She never made me worried about their weight gain and never suggested supplementing. She didn’t know a lot about breastfeeding, but that was ok. I knew a great LC!

4. Fat babies. They were big babies (5lbs 15oz and 6lbs 6oz) for 36 weekers and once home, gained weight quickly. (Think a pound a week each for a while–it was shocking!). I stopped worrying about whether they were getting enough milk from me rather quickly. Then, if I was at class and needed to pump, and the pump only produced 4-6 ounces, I didn’t freak out about my milk supply dwindling. I KNEW that the babies were growing great, and that pumps don’t get milk as efficiently, so I wouldn’t obsess about small amounts of milk (too much).

5. Say no to the pump! I pumped only once a day, just to get a bottle for Seth to feed them at midnight, so I could skip that feeding and sleep longer. I hated pumping. Ugh. If I’d had to do this six times a day, I’d have lasted about 2 weeks. I have so much respect for moms who do it long-term.

6. Lots of help! Seth took 6 weeks off of work (2 weeks of paternity and 4 weeks of vacation) when the babies were born. My mom stayed for the first two weeks after they came home from the hospital. All this help let me focus on breastfeeding the babies (I think I wore a hole in one corner of the couch, I sat there so long!) and not on anything else. I still got to eat and wear clean clothing. (I really think life would be better if Mom still lived with us, but no such luck).

7. Feeding one at a time. I didn’t tandem feed. This works for some people and they swear by it, but I hated it. I couldn’t get both babies to attach right. I didn’t like how it felt. I felt like a cow. I gave myself permission to give this up and just feed them one at a time. Nice snuggle. I liked it. And, it worked for us.

8. No sore/cracked nipples. I didn’t have a lot of pain. It certainly hurt when they latched on for the first few weeks (ow!) but overall, I didn’t have a lot of pain. And, the mastitis waited until 6 weeks when BFing was already established. Ouch. That was no fun.

9. No schedule!  I fed on demand. This helped with milk production, but also helped keep the kids satisfied and full. It let me avoid the need to supplement out of a fear that the babies weren’t getting enough. (This of course is not the case for people whose babies AREN’T gaining weight). I have to credit the LC again here, who would say to us every class THE BABY WILL NEVER RUN OUT OF FOOD. Apparently, babies can trigger a second let-down even when the pump can’t. Who knew? There were nights when I would feed the babies one after the other from 5pm to 7pm, when they would finally stop eating and go to bed. Maybe even 4pm to 7pm. I would sit on the couch with one and watch tv. Seth would have the other one with him. Then we would switch. And switch. And switch. Full babies, relaxed mommy (LOVE my DVR) and great milk supply. This feeding on demand also let me let the kids take 3 hour naps, and then have me feed them when they got up, and an hour later when they were hungry again. I NEVER woke them upa t night. We didn’t do a regular every three hour schedule until…hmm, maybe 5 months?  

10. Sidelying position. A nurse in the hospital spent the whole morning before discharge helping me get the babies to latch on and eat. The LC at the hospital had already told me that no one BF’s twins, and that you formula feed one and BF the other, then switch for the next feeding. (Uh, what?!). Anyway, this nurse taught me how to BF in the sidelying position, which my babies took to immediately, even though they had trouble latching on in any other position. For the first few days home, I only fed them in the sidelying position. It was also the only way to feed them at night, lying down in the dark with them next to me in bed. Not ashamed to admit there were a number of times I fell back asleep. At the very least, you don’t have to be all the way awake. Even now, at 12 months, when they wake up in the morning, I bring them in one at a time and feed them lying in our bed. It’s a great snuggle and a nice way to get awake in the morning. This position got me through all those night feedings.

11. Not working full time. I’m a stay at home mom, at least 90% of the time (still finishing classwork and dissertation writing). BFing is so much easier than pumping at work three times a day.

Laura mentioned that she’d love to see this post, because her perception was that all moms of twins went through the struggles she did and she wasn’t strong enough to stick it out. They don’t! While breastfeeding twins is always a challenge and always work, for some people, a confluence of happy events makes it easier than for others. I hope my list of what made it possible for us helps other moms, either to make breastfeeding work, or to give up that guilt over not breastfeeding that’s so tricky to leave behind. Now that they’re one, we’re on to the next new challenge….weaning.

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9 thoughts on “Can breastfeeding multiples work?”

  1. I know so many women who think they are drying up because the pump doesnt get anything. I exclusivly BF t 7 months and i only ge tlike 2 or 3 onces from the pump IF even, sometimes only 1. I never let it other me, and I ralrey pump!

  2. Great combination of good advice and good circumstances. And you hit on the two biggest things I wish I had done: ditched the pump and BF on demand. It’s possible someone gave me that advice at the time, but it’s all a blur, and so hard to know what the “right” thing is to do when you’re exhausted and hormonal! As soon as I master time travel, though, I can go tell my past self what my future self now knows. :-)

  3. I was able to breastfeed exclusively for the first 6 months. I found that the pump wasn’t able to help me at all the times I was away from them for 24 hours during that period. It was completely unable to get enough out for me to be comfortable during that period. I had the Medela Pump In Style which everyone said was going to be great. I hardly ever used it and when I went to a wedding for five days in July, I figured it was easier to move to bottles then have to deal with engorged and painful breasts that whole time. Anyway, I wonder if other twin moms have this problem?

  4. Omigosh! This is an awesome post too! We also were fortunate in that we made breastfeeding work for us for the first year with our twins as well…and almost entirely differently than Rebecca did! (Great evidence yet again that twin-blessed families each find what works best for them!)

    Here were our suck-saving graces:

    a.) we had to strip ours down too…keep ’em cool so they’d stay awake to eat. Tickled feet, rubbed cheeks, whatever we could!

    b.) Big “Ditto!” re: supportive docs and LCs who didn’t force dogmatic ideas…just backed and encouraged.

    c.) Our babies while born at 36w5D were smallish…and our son slow to suck. We had weight checks CONSTANTLY it seemed in the early weeks…and it was stressful! But it worked.

    d.) For us, tandem nursing (go ahead and sing “Our State Fair is a Great State Fair!”) was the only way we could make it work…and on a schedule—every 3 hours, 24/7 like clockwork and it worked marvelously for all of us…once we got in a groove (I doubt I could have done it otherwise.)

    e.) Sitting up on the bed in the football hold was the only comfortable way we could manage..but manage…actually thrive..we did!

    Having weaned ours Rebecca (and anyone else getting to that stage), for our situation, weaning was a bit emotionally challenging for me (no more “babies!”), but they did great! You’ll be FINE! :)

    To reiterate/reinforce Rebecca, breastfeeding CAN work…and it can work a variety of ways. :) Whichever methods you finagle, you’ll find a form that is distinctly your own! Great post, Rebecca!

  5. Oh, and a PS—I did have the Medela Pump In Style…because our babies were small, and we needed to give her additional supplements and bolster my supply, I pumped after each nursing for the first couple of weeks…and when I did contract mastitis, the pump was a GOD-SEND! (The babies still nursed, but we needed to try and get some flow a goin’) Also, we traveled a few times when we were breastfeeding only…the pump was a needed engorgement reliever! Wish I had acquired the hands-free device…I did feel dorky and somewhat rendered useless while holding funnels on! 😉

  6. Dawn…I wonder if your pump was somehow defective or adjusted/defaulted to something strangely? While I NEVER got as much out via pump as the babies managed to, I could always somehow relieve the pressure. :(

    Sorry that happened–I’m betting others have had that problem. (Your babies are darling…love your blog!)

  7. It seems (not surprisingly) that the most successful nursing-of-multiples stories are from moms who can be with their children 24/7. I’d like to throw in that I successfully nursed my twins to 7 months (one had pumped milk only for the last 2 months) while spending 11 hours, 5 days a week, on my work-and-commute day. I exhausted my leave when our babies were 11 weeks old. My secrets to success were a supportive work environment, a supportive daycare, an involved husband, exclusive breastfeeding at night and on weekends, and an acceptance that “sleeping through the night” was a far less crucial goal to us than long-term nursing. I did supplement with an enriched formula on the advice of our pediatrician, because my children were 33-week preemies, 3lb 6oz and 3lb 9oz.

  8. In response to Sadia’s post above, I had a similar circumstance. I used up family leave at 12 weeks, and had an 8 hour work day and 3 hour total commute each day from the time the babies were 3 months until they were 7 months (when my husband was transferred and we moved to a different state). At work, I pumped at least 3 times a day to have enough for the babies for the next day. They are still breastfeeding now at 11 months but, like Rebecca, I am starting to wean them (that experience would be a good post, if someone went through it already!) Anyway, my point is that you can be successful at breast feeding twins and work full time too, BUT, I will say I had a great company to work for – we had our own lactation room and it happened to be only about 30 steps from my desk. For those women forced to pump in a bathroom, or in their car – that is just wrong and I would never have been able to breastfeed as long as I did. Every company should have to provide a clean, private space for pumping.
    For us, the key to success was
    1. Mothers of Twins club – I heard stories from one woman that said she fell asleep with the pump on and after that could pump 6 bottles at a time! Also, another mom that said she bawled after pumping and then knocking a bottle over before it was capped – and her husband helpfully said “Now you are LITERALLY crying over spilled milk”.
    Also, a third talked about how she heard the pump talking to her, giving her a little mantra. Remembering these stories helped me laugh during the rough times…

    2. Long pregnancy, healthy babies. I am a definite proponent of GAINING WEIGHT EARLY ON if you are carrying multiples. There is a book about this that gives great advice … its from a woman doctor, the name escapes me right now.

    3. Our first pediatrician was not that helpful. She had us supplement initially because she was worried about weight loss before my milk came in. I think she jumped the gun (she was young) but I dropped that supplementing as soon as they were on track.

    4. Yep, fat babies. Very similar in weight to Rebecca’s: 5lbs 14 oz and 6pds 1 oz at 36 weeks 5 days.

    5. I pumped as often as I could bear it during those first months ( I think I didn’t start until month 2) after feeding the babies – it really helps to drain the breast totally in order to increase your milk supply in the long run. Its depressing – only 1 or 2 oz but freeze it anyway – it adds up!

    6. Super supportive husband, and MIL visited first week, my parents the second week. I did nothing but breast feed.

    7. Tandem fed. I had to feed both at once, since I fed them so often – that was the ONLY way I could ever have a break. Even now, I feed them together except if I end up feeding them in the middle of the night. The EZ- to -Nurse pillow was the best thing I got to prepare for twins.

    8. It was painful when they latched on (this post reminded me of that!) but I never had mastitis or anything. I also got bit when their teeth came in but I quickly learned to unlatch them as soon as they started playing around.

    9. No schedule – on demand feeding all the way.

    10. Sidelying position – we used a cosleeper that attached to the bed and during the night I never sat up. I ended up sleeping next to a baby until the other one cried and switching them out. It was the only way I could get enough sleep to make it to work the next day when they hit 3 months and I had to go back.

    11. Again, I worked ALMOST full time ( I stayed home on Wednesdays) but that lactation room made it totally possible.

  9. Great post. I’m actually still nursing my twins. . .they’ll be 3 in June. 😉 But they were my 4th and 5th babies and that helped quite a bit. They were also full term. . .6.5 lbs. and 7lbs. even. That makes a HUGE difference! I too have such respect for moms who pump long term.

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