In my last Twinfant Tuesday post, I talked about the things that make the first year of parenthood challenging: not knowing your kids’ likes and dislikes, not being able to ask babies what they want, the expense, the sleep deprivation. These are things common to all parents, not just parents of multiples.
There are challenges that are unique to us, though, unique to those of us who proudly (or tentatively) wear the badge of the Mother of Multiples club, that exclusive, amazing, inspiring, terrifying club that we find ourselves in. Feeding alone is (warning: pun ahead) all-consuming. Whether you’re exclusively breastfeeding, exclusively bottle-feeding, doing both, or somewhere in between, feeding multiple infants is crazytown.
When I recently visited Liggy‘s perfect little ones, we found ourselves talking about how, after nursing for over 12 hours a day, we just don’t want to be touched any more. Even hugs or affection from our pets feel like invasions in those rare moments that our bodies belong to us.
It’s not that we resent the time that our babies are nursing or snuggling. That contact is still beautiful and (once you have the babies’ preferences figured out) peaceful. It’s that nursing contact is the only contact that our senses can handle. It’s as if our bodies are primed to breastfeed and all other physical contact, no matter how otherwise welcome, pushes our sensory capacity over the edge.
Tandem? Sequential? What if We Have More Than Two?
“It’s a good thing you have two breasts,” my daughter M mused the other day.
“True,” I responded. “You know that Aunt D had triplets.”
“I was just thinking that!” M exclaimed. “I guess she had to use three bottles…”
“No, she actually breastfed,” I informed her, proudly.
M was floored. “SHE HAS A SECRET BREAST?”
It’s not just 7-year-olds who assume that breastfeeding more than two babies is downright impossible. While it’s not impossible, it is indescribably difficult. Juggling the babies, consuming enough calories and fluids, getting everyone comfortable, making time for anything else…. People who haven’t experienced life with multiple infants just don’t understand.
Even those who have observed for a few hours can’t possibly imagine what it really means to breastfeed more than one child at a time. You have to get everyone to cooperate. Maybe you’re able to produce enough milk, but if just one of your babies refuses to nurse unless she’s lying across your lap without another baby in the way, there goes tandem nursing.
I like words. I love writing. I just do not have the words to explain how incredibly hard it is to breastfeed two. I know that I don’t have the capacity to comprehend how many harder it is to breastfeed more, and yet mothers do it. Every day. All day.
The Bottles, the Pump Parts, the Washing. Oh My!
When my sister was a baby, we washed her bottles by hand. We also had servants. There was one of her. It was still a lot of work.
I can’t tell you how glad I am to have a dishwasher. We used that thing. A lot.
Word to the wise: if you’re in the dishwasher market and considering having kids ever, buy a model that runs quietly. It was so worth the extra money to have a dishwasher we could run while the babies were sleeping.
Now add in all the breast pump parts that need to be washed. There are flanges and adapters and valves. Occasionally the tubing needs to be washed out. Depending on how you store you milk, there may be storage containers to wash.
Even if you use disposable bags for storing your milk, you have to restock those. You have to pull frozen milk out of the freezer to allow it to defrost.
There’s just so much stuff to remember and to do to keep our babies fed.
There are shortcuts that can make your life easier, things I wished I’d thought of earlier.
If formula is part of your game plan, as it was for us, consider preparing it by the pitcher instead of by the bottle. Just make enough for the day (or the night) and refrigerate it. Alternately, pre-measure you formula into individual containers so you don’t have to think about proportions or deal with scoops all day. Warning: this is another thing to wash!
It took me a while to realize that I could store the nipples assembled in their collars with the lids on. That saved me the assembly. My husband also loved drop-in bag/liners for thawed breastmilk.
If you’re pumping and nursing, you may be able to breastfeed on one side while pumping on the other. I don’t know about you, but I could get about 4 times as much milk from a pump-and-nurse session than from pumping alone. I found that my Medela flanges tucked comfortably into open-front and pull-down nursing bras for a hands-free experience.
I didn’t (and still don’t) remember all that I do in the middle of the night. I had to write down which baby I’d changed and when, who had eaten and when, who’d been fussy and when. Not only did our notebooks serve as a communication solution between my middle of the night zombie self and the awake version, but between me and my husband too. It didn’t hurt to have these notebooks on hand when we went to the pediatrician, either!
We found that one bottle parts dishwasher basket was inadequate, but two was plenty if we washed what we used daily. We ran the dishwasher on the sanitary cycle. We did not skip a night.
Hard? Yes. Impossible? No.
Despite how hard this is, we find a way to feed our kids.
The vast majority of our kids grow into solid foods. They wean off the bottle or breast. Eventually, this becomes a vague memory. What stays with us are just impressions: the smell of the baby on our shoulder, burping while the other continues to suckle; the weight of our children in our arms; the weight of our eyelids; the sight of squishy cheeks; the leap of our hearts when we see our children holding hands; above all, the knowledge that we all survived.
We MoMs did the impossible, rendering it merely improbable.
What is/was hard about infant feeding in your family?
Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced 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 retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.