This post was written for inclusion in the WBW 2013 Blog Carnival. Our participants will be writing and sharing their stories about community support and normalizing breastfeeding all week long. Find more participating sites in the list at the bottom of this post or at the main carnival page.
My twin daughters had my breastmilk as part of their diet until they were 7 months old. They were preemies, born at 33 weeks gestation, and both spent time (16 and 21 days) in the NICU before they were stable enough to be released to us. I work full time and returned to my job when the girls were 11 weeks old and not quite 5 lbs each. My (now ex) husband is a soldier and deployed to Iraq when J and M were 5 months old for a 15-month tour. He was also gone for the first 3 weeks after the babies were home, thanks to pre-deployment training out of state.
When I describe my nursing situation like that, it seems like a victory that I was able to keep it up for 7 months. Don’t be fooled, though. Even now, 6 years after my daughters stopped nursing, I feel the dull ache of failure when I think of our breastfeeding experience. Objectively, I know that my 7-year-old daughters are healthy and smart and funny and sweet. It didn’t harm them in any way that I can see that I only breastfed for 7 months. I know I did everything I could. I know that, on balance, I’m a good mother. Still, my daughters’ 7 months of breastmilk and high-calorie formula feels like a personal failure. My goal had been 12 months of exclusive breastfeeding.
While pregnant, I had been under the impression that nursing, because it was a natural instinct, would be easy. In retrospect, “natural” and “easy” rarely go together. I should have known better. After all, what’s more natural that raising your child? And what’s harder? There are plenty of new moms for whom breastfeeding is easy. I wasn’t one of them.
It also wasn’t so hard for me that it wasn’t worth pursuing, as it was for some of my friends: the friend whose baby’s lactose intolerance meant that he couldn’t gain weight on breastmilk; the friend whose baby never once latched properly; the friend whose baby was so premature that her body didn’t even interpret it as a live birth and never produced milk at all. We all have our own stories and our own set of challenges.
Ah, the twin thing. I had enough breasts to go around, so that was a plus. My aunt-in-law’s successful breastfeeding of her triplet daughters 12 years before my girls were born was a huge inspiration for me. It also gave my husband a surprising degree of insight into what might work for us.
Let me say this loud and clear. Moms of multiples, if you want to breastfeed, it’s worth a shot. You may be a natural (pun intended), like Wiley. It may not work out. Either way, it’s the rare MoM (that’s Mothers of Multiples to those of you not in the know!) who regrets trying to breastfeed her multiple infants.
I tried tandem nursing, simultaneously breastfeeding both babies, but it didn’t really work for me. When the girls first came home, they didn’t have the muscle tone to hold their heads up, so I needed one hand to support a body and another to support the associated head. When my husband was home, I could sit in his lap and use his arms to support the second baby, but it wasn’t practical on my own. Instead, I’d let one baby feed in my arms while the other nestled in my lap.
My daughters’ early birth and subsequent NICU stay were the biggest challenges to establishing breastfeeding. My water broke–or rather “J’s water broke”; M’s amniotic sac had to be ruptured by the doctor–nearly 2 months before the girls’ due date. I had to have an emergency C-section, delivering 3 lb 9 oz and 3 lb 6 oz babies. They hadn’t yet put on the baby fat that allows full-term newborns to regulate their own body temperature and provides them the calories to carry through until mom’s milk came in.Instead of the newborn suckling I had anticipated, my babies were fitted with feeding tubes. Instead of their first meal being colostrum, it was high calorie formula. Those calories in the formula come from corn syrup.
I began to run a fever shortly after delivery, so I didn’t get to see my daughters until about 36 hours after their birth. Both my husband and I had been loud and obnoxious about our desire to get breastmilk to our babies. The hospital staff provided me with a breastpump and associated accessories. I began pumping when the babies were a few hours old and pumped every 3 hours for the time they were in the hospital. 16 days of round the clock pumping was the only thing I could really do to mother my babies. I was no medical professional and they required medical care, but pumping made me feel a little less helpless. I was still grieving the drug-free vaginal childbirth and chubby newborns I’d imagined I’d have.
About a day after the babies were born, the pumping bore fruit. A tiny golden drop of colostrum clung to side of one miniscule bottle into which I was pumping. A maternity ward nurse delivered it to the NICU for me, where the nurses poured liquid formula into the bottle, washing every speck of colostrum into the girls’ next meal. They split the enriched formula between my babies. From that point on, any milk I could produce got magicked into my teeny ones by feeding tube.
Only once in the 16 days both my daughters were in the hospital did I have the opportunity to breastfeed. The lactation consultant was available during M’s feeding time, and she worked with me on a successful latch. M had already been exposed to the doll-sized NICU bottles and had been sucking impressively. We had just got the hang of it when a NICU nurse gently pried M from my arms. We couldn’t afford to let her use her energy on suckling. She needed to focus on the growing that she didn’t get to finish in utero.
I never got to even try to nurse J in the hospital. She had a hard time remembering to suck on her bottle, and had to have her feeding tube reinserted after it had been removed to make way for exclusive oral feeding. That’s why she ended up being hospitalized 5 days longer than her sister. She needed to be able to take 1 oz (31 mLs) of formula by mouth, 8 meals in a row, to be released from the NICU.Another challenge my preemies presented was their size. They were simply too small to reach from my breast to any pillow. I tried stacking three pillows, but they were wobbly. I used pillows to rest my arms, but I wasn’t going to trust them with my babies.J and M’s prematurity-related weakness was another challenge. Their sucks were incredibly weak. Once we got home, I discovered that it took them each about 45 minutes to get a full meal. By some miracle, the babies switched to the breast easily. Finally, a round peg for a round hole!
At the pediatrician’s recommendation, my daughters supplemented their diet with two meals daily of high calorie formula and infant vitamin supplements. I still pumped for the feedings while holding the babies’ bottles. I froze the milk.
We settled into a routine. Nurse M for 45 minutes. Nurse J for 45 minutes. Do as much as I could in 90 minutes: change diapers, play with the babies, eat, do minimum necessary tasks around the house, go grocery shopping, shower, bathe the girls, sleep. Then nurse for another 90 minutes. I got a lot of reading done, let me tell you!
My 11 weeks of maternity leave came to an end, much to soon. I was grateful to get back to the world of adult challenges and conversation, but leaving the babies in the care of strangers was terrifying. Those strangers are now members of our family. My daughters attend the same school as their infant room teacher’s daughter. I bought my house to ensure that they’d be at the same school.
At work, I took three 15-minute breaks, morning, noon and afternoon, to pump. I didn’t produce anywhere near the quantity of milk that I did when I pumped on one side while nursing on the other. The girls’ formula intake went up.
I’d leave my expressed breast milk in the refrigerator at daycare, and the teacher would exhaust the breast milk before resorting to formula.
I was extraordinarily fortunate to have an understanding boss and supportive work environment. The guys at work rearranged our office assignments so I could share an office with a female coworker who was unbothered by breastfeeding. I could pump at my desk without having to pause my work.
It also helped that my boss was the mother of two. Her youngest was only 4 months older than my babies, so we were pumping simultaneously and both constantly eating ravenously. We both stored our milk in the office refrigerator. My boss turned out to be a font of parenting knowledge and gave me many a breastfeeding pointer.
I started taking fenugreek supplements. I looked at photos of my girls while I pumped. I watched videos of them. I brought the onesies they’d worn the day before to work with me in the hope that the smell would trigger my body to produce more milk. Nothing seemed to help a whole lot. I couldn’t get more than 4 oz in 15 minutes when I pumped exclusively. When I had a baby to one breast and the pump to the other, it was a different story. The milk came gushing. I tried several floor model pumps at the local breastfeeding store. It wasn’t the machine. It was me.
My husband left for Iraq for the second time when our babies were 5 months old. My extra pair of arms for tandem feeding was gone. The extra person who could latch the babies on for midnight feedings without waking me was gone. We could no longer change diapers at the same time. He couldn’t fix me a sandwich while I bathed the babies. Plus, he was getting shot at. He would miss our daughters’ first words, first steps and first hugs. When he finally got to come home, our girls didn’t recognize him, unable to equate the strange big man in their house with the photo we said goodnight to.
Within a few weeks of Daddy’s departure, J went on nursing strike. I’d bring my breast to her lips and, instead of opening her mouth and latching, she’d angrily turn away. I am completely convinced that she was protesting Daddy’s absence.
One day, after I’d broken down in tears in her office, my boss suggested that I take a few days off to try to reestablish breastfeeding with J. “Spend a few days skin-to-skin with her,” she said, “and see what happens.” I’d exhausted my vacation time during maternity leave, but my boss assured me that I could make it up. I could just do my work in the middle of the night while I was nursing instead of going on leave without pay.
I took three days off, I think. I took M into daycare and kept J with me, separating the girls for the first time since the NICU. I spent my time alone with J shirtless, holding her every second that I didn’t have her on the changing table for a clean diaper.
I tried a nipple shield. I tried latching J on in her sleep. I tried starting her on a bottle and then quickly switching to the breast. I tried the football hold and the cradle and the cross-cradle and side-lying. I tried singing and silence and white noise. I tried rocking and reclining and lying down and standing and walking. I’d already been taking fenugreek for months and constantly smelled like brunch.
One thing worked. If I sat in the bathtub with J, the water slightly warm, she would breastfeed. As soon as her little bottom touched the water, her head turned toward me, her mouth open, and the magical latch would just happen. If I lifted her out of the water, even for a second to get myself to a more comfortable position, she would break the latch and turn away again.
I kept up my attempts to break J’s nursing strike for another month. I dutifully sat in the tub with her, her sister in a bouncer beside the tub, morning and night. I didn’t quite have the reach to hold J in the water and comfort M at the same time, so we never managed the whole 45 minutes in the water. Besides, the water cooled and the sound of the water refilling the tub made both babies unhappy.
After a long frustrating month, I quit trying. I’d already gotten into the habit of nursing M on one side and pumping for J on the other.
A month later, M started fussing when I offered her the breast. I’d already been through the wringer trying to fight J’s wish to move on from nursing. I didn’t have any fight left in me.
So, at 7 months old (5 months corrected), M, J and I ended our breastmilk journey.
Life After Breastfeeding
Today, J and M are 7 years old. They’re smart and curious bookworms. They’re outgoing and popular. They’re healthy and happy. They’re loving and kind. They’re more than okay. They are the kind of people I want to get to know and be friends with when they’re adults and they absolutely adore each other.
Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She co-parents at a distance with her soldier ex-husband and his teacher wife. She decided to retire her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school in order to better protect their privacy, and was delighted to have the opportunity to keep a foot in the blogosphere through HDYDI. She also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.
Featured on the Breastfeeding and I project linkup.
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants. Below are a list of links for today’s participants; you can find a complete list of links (updated throughout the week) at our main carnival page:
- An Unexpected Formula-Fed Attachment — Kyle (of JEDI Momster and) writing at Natural Parents Network, exclusively breastfed three healthy babies. So when she was pregnant with her fourth, she assumed she would have no breastfeeding troubles she could not overcome. Turns out, her fourth baby had his own ideas. Kyle shares her heartfelt thoughts on how she came to terms with the conclusion of her breastfeeding journey.
- It Take a Village: Cross Nursing — Shannah at Breastfeeding Utah shares how cross-nursing helped her baby in their time of need, and how that experience inspired her to create a community of cross-nursing and milk-sharing women.
- Random little influences and Large scale support communities lead to knowing better and doing better — amy at random mom shares how her ideas and successes involved with breastfeeding evolved with each of her children, how her first milk sharing experience completely floored her, and how small personal experiences combined with huge communities of online support were responsible for leading and educating her from point A to point D, and hopefully beyond.
- Mikko’s weaning story — After five years of breastfeeding, Lauren at Hobo Mama shares how the nursing relationship with her firstborn came to a gentle end.
- My Milk is Your Milk — Lola at What the Beep am I Doing? discusses her use of donor milk and hhow she paid the gift back to other families.
- World Breastfeeding Week 2013 Blog Carnival – Celebrating Each Mother’s Journey — Jenny at I’m a full-time mummy lists her experiences and journey as a breastfeeding mother.
- Working Mom Nursing Twins — Sadia at How Do You Do It? breastfed her twin daughters for 7 months. They made it through premature birth and NICU stays, her return to full-time work, her husband’s deployment to Iraq, and Baby J’s nursing strike.
- So, You Wanna Milkshare? — Milk banks, informed community sharing and friends, oh my! So many ways to share the milky love; That Mama Gretchen is sharing her experience with each.
- Milk Siblings: One Mama’s Milk Sharing Story (and Resources)Amber, guest posting at Code Name: Mama, shares how her views on milk sharing were influenced by her daughter receiving donor milk from a bank during a NICU stay, and how that inspired her to give her stash to a friend.
- Humans Feeding Humans — Krystyna at Sweet Pea Births shares ideas on how we can celebrate all the different ways modern mommies feed their babies. While we are comfortable with the breastmilk-formula paradigm, she proposes that we expand our horizons and embrace all the different ways mamas feed their infants.
- When Breastfeeding Doesn’t Go As Planned — MandyE of Twin Trials and Triumphs shares the challenges she faced in feeding her premature twins. She’s still learning to cope with things not having gone exactly as she’d always hoped.
- Taking Back My Life By Giving Away My Milk — When Amanda Rose Adams‘s first child was born, he was tube fed, airlifted, ventilated, and nearly died twice. In the chaos of her son’s survival, pumping breast milk was physically and mentally soothing for Amanda. Before long her freezer was literally overflowing with milk – then she started giving it away.
- The Tortoise and the Hare — Nona’s Nipples at The Touch of Life discusses why we care about breast milk and formula with everything inbetween.
- Finding My Tribe of Women Through Milk Sharing — Mj, guest posting at San Diego Breastfeeding Center shares her journey breastfeeding with low milk supply and supplementing with donor milk using an at the breast supplemental nursing system. She shares the impact milk sharing has had on her life, her family, and how it saved her breastfeeding relationship. Her article can also be found at her blog:
- Human Milk for Human Babies — Sam at Nelson’s Nest shares her perspective on milk-sharing after an unexpected premature delivery left her pumping in the hopes of breastfeeding her son one day. Sam’s milk was an amazing gift to the other preemie who received it, but the connection was a blessing in the donor mom’s life too!
- Sister, I Honor You — A mother feeding her baby is a triumph and should be honored, not criticized. Before you judge or propagate your own cause, go find your sister. A post by Racher: Mama, CSW, at The Touch of Life.
- Every Breastfeeding Journey Is Different, Every One Is Special — No two stories are alike, evidenced by That Mama Gretchen’s collaboration of a few dear mama’s reflections on their breastfeeding highs, lows and in betweens.
- Quitting Breastfeeding — Jen W at How Do You Do It? share a letter she wrote to her boys, three years ago exactly, the day she quit breastfeeding after 9 months.
- A Pumping Mom’s Journey — Shannah at Breastfeeding Utah shares about her journey pumping for her son, who was born at 29 weeks.