This post is about, you guessed it, breastfeeding. But more specifically, it’s about the cool art-form known as tandem nursing.
I wish this post could be a “how-to” deal, where any new mother could read it and follow the directions to a wonderful experience of nursing her babies. But I know better. For some moms, nursing will be a no brainer, as-nature-intended act. For others it will take some (okay, a lot) of patience, trial and error and creativity to make it work. And for even more, it will take a lot of heartache and tough decisions, maybe some to continue and some to stop. I fall somewhere in the middle. We had a rough go of it for the first three months and had I been a sane person, I likely would have called it quits. But somehow we kept going and things actually got really good. So good, in fact, that we’re at 13 months now and down to one glorious feeding a day. It’s from this perspective that I’d like to share some of my own tips and tricks. But better yet, I also have compiled some of the wonderful collective wisdom and experiences of my esteemed “How Do You Do It?” colleagues. So if your babies are still in your belly and your planning or considering breastfeeding, or if you’re a newer mom looking for advice, I hope this post can give you some inspiration and some downright practical ideas.
In the Beginning
Hopefully everyone reading this has or will go to full-term and their kiddos will spend no time in the NICU. But because the average twin pregnancy goes to about 35-36 weeks, you have to give this reality some consideration. I count myself lucky, having the boys at 36 weeks and them spending 3 short days in the NICU. I was able to start nursing them the morning they were born, amidst the tangle of heart rate and oxygen monitoring wires. Make sure and take advantage of the lactation consultants at the hospital. They were invaluable, and not just when we were in the hospital. I scheduled consults with them every single day we were there, and they continued to provide free consults for the first 3 months. Truly awesome.
The boys were a healthy 5lb 7oz and 4lb 13oz, however the doc wanted us to supplement with formula from the get-go. I was a die hard “only breast milk” kind of person, but when we found out the boys could get out of the NICU as soon as they started gaining weight, we quickly bagged our “perfect scenario” mentality and started supplementing. Because the boys were technically preemies and lacked the strong suck of a full-term baby, and also because we chose to rest at night and have the NICU nurses feed them, I started pumping after every nursing session, and through the night, with a hospital-grade double pump (Medela). I didn’t realize how important this pump would become! It took my milk 14 days (count ’em, 14!) to come in. I truly thought after day 7 that my body couldn’t produce milk. I came to learn after several lactation consults and tons of research that often times in takes moms with preemies longer to initially produce milk. So if you find yourself in this situation (and hopefully you won’t!), take heart, think positive, and keep on pumping with that hospital grade sucker (you can usually rent them on a monthly basis from your hospital). And if it doesn’t work out for whatever reason, at whatever point you are in the journey, try not to beat yourself up over it. You’ve got enough to worry about as a new twin mom.
We made our first attempt at tandem nursing in the NICU (as did some other HDYDI moms). It was hilarious. I was completely topless, there were nurses and lactation consultants all around, and I was sitting in a wheelchair of all places! I quickly learned that until the boys were better at latching and sucking, it would be a whole lot easier to work with them individually. But as I neared four weeks, I realized my mom was leaving, and I would only have help from my mother-in-law for two more weeks. I would soon be on my own, and I just couldn’t see how it would work if I didn’t tandem nurse. That being said, try and schedule as much in-home help as possible, for as long as possible! Spread out visits and make sure no one overlaps, so you make the most of the help you can get. At one month, we started tandem-trying every day. I had my E-Z Twin nursing pillow, my husband would get the boys situated, and then we’d both try and get them to latch. As soon as one would latch the other would come off, and Jordan would spend the next ten minutes running from side to side. It was a three-ringed circus, literally! I decided to go to our hospital lactation dept. for a tandem nursing consult. The woman recommended nipple shields, as she saw I had a fast let-down and the boys were having a tough time with it (i.e. popping off). As soon as we put the shields on (Medela, again), the boys latched, and nursed away, tandem-style, for the next 20 minutes straight. I started crying with joy right then and there. We used the shields until the boys decided they didn’t like them anymore at 4 months.
Tandem nursing was easy enough with another set of hands. But how do you do it when it’s just you and two starving babies?! First, you’ve got to find the right location. I don’t recommend buying a traditional nursing glider or rocker, just because they are not big enough or versatile enough to accommodate tandem feeding. Think about places that will be big enough to maneuver two babies without putting them in danger (bed, couch, big arm chair, etc.), and that will also be comfortable for you. Also, most of us used a twin nursing pillow of some kind, especially in the beginning. I used the E-Z Twin (and still do!), but the Twin Hugster and My Breast Friend Twin Pillow also got high marks. Most of us also used the double football hold. There are endless combinations you can try, and sure, I tried them all and always came back to the old faithful football. The most important thing is to find what works best for you and your babies, and trust that it will, at some point, change! The other key to tandem feeding, and this is actually a blessing, is that both babies must stay on the same schedule for it to work! Trust me, you’ll be thankful that your babies are eating and sleeping at the same time once you experience a “mixed” day. Most twins start out on a 3-hour regimen in the beginning. Oh, and you provide a full feeding for each baby with each boob, so no need to worry about switching them mid-way nursing session. However, keep track and make sure and switch sides with each feed so you don’t end up with lopsided boobs.
I chose our couch at first. I situated two boppies with babies snuggled in them, side by side, on the middle cushion. I sat next to them with the E-Z Twin around me, pillows propped underneath it to get the babies high enough to reach the goods, and pillows propped in back of me so I didn’t have to slouch over (this is key! you can end up with a nasty back ache if you don’t pay attention to posture). I was also as close to the padded arm of the couch which acted as an excellent barrier for a rolling baby. I picked up one baby, got him into position closest to the arm of the couch, then picked up the other dude and got him into position (I wiggled the boppy over to act as a barrier on this side). Then I got them each latched and hugged my arms around their bodies to hold them in place. We had reflux babies (god bless them) so I had to burp them frequently. Every five minutes or so, I would take one off, scoop him up over my shoulder, burp him, and getting him back into place, all the while the other guy was still nursing. Geez, it makes me exhausted just remembering all this stuff! Once the boys hit 3 months and had better head control, we moved to our roomy armchair. I’d put one guy in a boppy on the ottoman, snap the pillow around my waist, pick the other guy up over my shoulder, sit down in the chair, get him positioned, and then grab the other dude off the ottoman.
Cheryl, of Twinspiration fame, tandem fed exclusively. Her set up was always on the bed with a nursing pillow and boppies on either side as “on deck circles.” She’d grab one babe and get latched and situated, then reach over and get her other baby settled. Her girl had reflux too, so she’s put Darren back in the boppy (with pacifier – good tip!) with head elevated, burp Sarah, and then switch. Cynthia tandem nursed on her couch or bed with a nursing pillow and boppies on either side. She’d set down one boy on a boppy and hold the other while she sat down. Once the first boy was in position, she’d pick up the second. When she was done, she’d often just stand up with one boy on each shoulder and gently lay them down (simultaneously) in their crib or pack-n-play. I have also read on other MoM blogs of all varieties of pillow and couch cushion propping, babies nursing one on top of the other, etc. The most important thing is to experiment with what works best for you and your babies.
One thing’s for sure, tandem nursing gives you a bird’s eye view of some amazing moments. The boys would explore each other’s faces, hold hands, reach up for my face, rest their hands on my chest, and often times peacefully fall asleep. When you all start to get in the groove of things, it’s a beautiful place to find yourself!
All Grown Up
When my boys were about 4-5 months old, nursing became a real pleasure. I could pick them both up at the same time, maneuver the pillow into place, plop them down and let them go to town. They would stop mid-way, crack each other up, crack me up, eat some more, and then I could hoist them both up onto my shoulder and stand up and go on our merry way. And then around six months life got way too interesting for them, and nursing became an exercise in distraction management, along with climbing and standing practice using me as their jungle gym. They were efficient eaters, so the actual nursing only took about 10 minutes, a far cry from the hour-long sessions when they were younger. At nine months, Abel became obsessed with eyes and I quickly found myself reffing eyeball poking matches. But I also found us playing a lot on the pillow after nursing, with the boys each taking one of my hands and flipping it over, and over, and laughing hysterically at the realization that it had two sides. Again, some really amazing, intimate moments. By eleven months the boys had naturally weaned themselves to three feedings and soon after their first birthday they were on the move and couldn’t stop for a second to nurse during the day. Weaning happened just like that. We’re now still nursing once a day, first thing in the morning when they wake up, for a max of five minutes. I give it another week.
I was the paranoid type for the boys’ first four months and always wondered if they were getting enough nutrition. They weren’t great nurses in the beginning, so we kept up with our supplementing routine, but by 3 weeks I was pumping enough that we switched them off formula and they exclusively got breast milk supplements. I’d get the mini-bottles with an once or two of milk prepped and ready to go next to the couch or armchair, and then after they nursed I’d just grab those bottles and feed them in the same position. Along with other HDYDI moms, we also tandem bottle fed them in boppies on either side of us, as well as in their bouncy seats. I occasionally found myself in a situation where I had to bottle feed one and breastfeed the other (don’t ask), and I would treat this the same way as tandem nursing. Same position, but I held a bottle for one while the other nursed. Krissy nursed her baby girl (and still does!), while has pumped and bottle fed her lil’ guy after his nursing strike at four months. She does it the traditional style of feeding one after the other. Just be assured that whatever scenario of breastfeeding/bottlefeeding you might find yourself in, you WILL find some incredibly resourceful and creative way to accomplish the goal at hand. You’re a twin mom, after all!
Pumping, Pumping, Pumping
I’m going to defer to CraftyLissa’s recent post on pumping, as it’s chock full of fantastic advice. I was a serial pumper and was hooked up to that darn machine ten times a day until the babies hit 6 weeks. I don’t recommend it, but if you have to do it, you have to do it. I then “weaned” myself to pumping only in the evenings, usually three times (twice before bed and once in the middle of the night). It was just too hard for me to pump during the day while I was by myself with the boys. Just remember that you are producing A LOT of milk to feed two babies, so use your pump wisely to “relieve” yourself when it’s necessary, especially when you are weaning or reducing their number of feedings, etc. I ended up with plugged ducts on several occasions, and mastitis once, on account of engorgement. Trust me, you’ve got enough on your plate and don’t want to add this to it. I highly recommend reading Cheryl’s experience with mastitis in Twinspiration. I was so glad I did, because when I noticed the warning signs (hard lumps in boobs, red blotches, fever, feeling like utter crap), I high-tailed it to the doctor and got antibiotics to clear it up right away. And if you’re not pumping to get as much milk out while all this is going on, lord help you.
As much as pumping stinks, you can make the most of it by strapping on the porno tube top (aka hands-free pumping bra) and taking some time for yourself to eat, meditate (the droning sound of the motor is a great mantra), and of course, read the recent posts of How Do You Do It! Be careful though about catching a snooze while you pump. This happened to me one time as I pumped before bed and I woke up an hour later with overflowing catch bottles and sore-as-heck nipples.
Tandem in Public?
If you are like me, you will quickly relinquish any and all modesty once you become a tandem breastfeeder. I nursed the guys in front of my mom and dad, my in-laws, my brother and sister, my best friend and her boyfriend (yikes! but he honestly was the BEST mother’s helper!), countless friends and their children, nannies and babysitters, neighbors. Gosh…I’m just now realizing how many people have seen my boobs! Despite this, I never had the gumption to tandem nurse in public, meaning in the Babies-R-Us lobby or on a park bench. We get enough crazy attention just being out and about, I can’t imagine what kind of stares and comments we would have received if we tandem nursed. But I certainly did not hesitate to nurse the boys in public one at a time. Typically this would be in the women’s lounge at Nordstrom, one of the comfiest spots I found. I’d just keep one guy occupied with a toy while in the stroller or car carrier while I nursed the other. It worked great. If you’ve got the comfort and the technique to tandem it in public, I say GO FOR IT! Totally awesome.
Where to get Help
Obviously, this topic is HUGE! I feel like I just scratched the surface and didn’t even address some of the crazy challenges we encountered over the past 13 months. So here are some excellent places to go for more information. Definitely get a copy of Mothering Multiples by the La Leche League. It’s a great resource to read before your babies arrive and an even better guide once you’re making a go at it. I can’t tell you how many times I read certain chapters of that book. It’s especially useful if you have preemie multiples and when things just aren’t going the way you expected. Twinspiration, by our very own Cheryl, is another great book. It’s funny and entertaining but most of all, it’s a real life account. My husband even read it and loved it. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to use the lactation consultants at the hospital. They’re free and they are readily available. And most hospitals offer breastfeeding classes you can take advantage of. Also, several HDYDI moms recommend using a lactation consultant for a home visit to help with your set up, technique and measure how much the babies are consuming. If you’re in a bigger city, many local maternity stores have lactation consultants, classes and almost always have a scale where you can drop-in and check your babies weight. I rented a scale from my local store so I could periodically check how much the boys were getting at different feeds. It only cost about $30/week. And then, of course, you have amazing resources with your local La Leche League and MoM’s group. Join these groups, get on their listserves, go to meetings and use these incredible women for their knowledge, experience and support.
Oh, I almost forgot one of the best sources of all – the Internet! Here’s just a few blog posts on tandem feeding (Boobie Monologues, View from Above). And ladies, don’t hesitate to ask questions and add your experiences, techniques, heartbreaks and triumphs of tandem nursing to our comments section.