Breastfeeding is one of the best mothering choices that you can make; for yourself and your baby. But, just because breastfeeding is natural does not make it easy! I learned how to successfully breastfeed twins. If you find that you are expecting twins know that you too can be successful!
The day I had the ultrasound that revealed that my much anticipated fifth baby was also to be my sixth as well, I had two fears immediately flash into my head.
The first was fear of a c-section, and my second was the fear that I’d not be able to breastfeed two babies at once.
Both fears were unfounded. My OB was a rockstar who much preferred vaginal twin births and I was able to successfully breastfeed both girls for eighteen months!
That is not to say that breastfeeding twins is easy.
However, the benefits of breastfeeding have outweighed the possible inconvenience and the slower-than-normal start that we had.
I began planning even before the girls were born
I am a reader, I am a planner and I am a studier.
As soon as I found that I was carrying twins, I began to research how I would feed them. I talked to friends, I read a lot of books, and I scanned the internet.
Not all that I read was very encouraging. Tales of premature babies with weak suck reflexes and the rigors of pumping outweighed tales of healthy “normal” breastfeeding relationships.
I remember one of my friends from my husband’s graduate school days who struggled to nurse her twin sons and often found herself overwhelmed, exhausted, and a bit like a feeding machine.
One of my local friends was very encouraging and told me that “of course” I’d be able to breastfeed the girls. And then, the more I thought about it, I knew that I could. After all, I had successfully nursed four other children, just not at the same time.
So I planned in my head how it would go. I would have two, healthy, full-term infants, and then, while I was recovering with both babes by my side, I’d call in some help in learning how to tandem feed.
Then I learned to expect the unexpected
While I did deliver two relatively healthy, term (38 weeks), infants; I was not afforded the luxury of rooming in with both of them.
Emily, our Baby B, had a congenital defect, a flap of skin covering her trachea, that made breathing difficult. She had a very rough first few hours of life, and, while the condition was completely resolved, she did spend five days in the NICU.
So, instead of spending my first few days postpartum learning to nurse two babies at once, I spent a lot of time praying for my milk to come in.
I learned another side of breastfeeding twins
Elizabeth was able to breastfeed within a few minutes of birth, and, like her siblings before her, latched right on as if it were her job. I was greatly relieved.
Emily was not able to have her first session breastfeeding until later that night, and while she did find it, I learned that feeding a NICU baby is very different from feeding a rooming-in baby.
When I would feed Elizabeth, the mom/baby nurse would take note of it, sometimes asking me how long she fed and asking if I had any problems or concerns.
She would also keep an eye on output. I was used to the amount of time a newborn spends eating or does not eat and was very familiar with newborn output.
With Emily in the NICU though, nursing was a different story. NICU doctors and nurses are not just concerned with input and output.
They are concerned with exact amounts of input and output. And they have stringent guidelines about what those amounts need to be.
So Emily was weighed before and after each feeding. While she ate (she latched on fine as well) I would pray that I was producing and she was eating the prescribed amount of precious breastmilk.
Often we came up short. But, thanks to some great advice, from the same friend who assured me that I could breastfeed twins, I allowed Emily to take complementary formula feedings.
Sure, I could have tried to pump in between feedings, but really, in between feedings I was back in my hospital room feeding the other twin. Those complementary feedings did not go well.
Often all she needed to take was another half an ounce to an ounce, but she was little (5 pounds 10 ounces at birth) and she was worn out after a nursing session. I remember crying as the very kind NICU nurse taught me to bottle feed my newborn.
While all of my other kids had at least tried to take a bottle at some point, it was never at this very newborn learning stage.
But I remember feeling so inadequate that here I was holding my sixth child, and someone had to teach me to feed her!
During those first few days, we had to resort to tube feedings, which was the most heartbreaking thing of all! But, when the time came to take Emily home, she was taking 100% of her feedings from me, and I felt triumphant!
I had to adjust to a new normal
I left the hospital with one girl at a time, and for nearly the first week of their lives, I had never fed them even in the same room together.
The first time I ever even saw them next to each other was moments after I got Emily home! I never did get that instruction on tandem nursing that I was counting on in the hospital. I could see that this was going to be a self-taught skill!
I tried nursing them together later that day and it was a total failure. I had not counted on the fact that brand new babies are kind of floppy, and don’t respond very well to being juggled.
So I continued to feed them separately, as that seemed easier to me at the time. Both girls nursed well, and on their own schedules. I’m a huge advocate of nursing on demand, and a huge failure at scheduled feedings.
All of the advice I had been given and read before the girls were born said that I needed to keep them on the same schedule. However, many of these sources were the very sources that said nursing twins was so hard! And yes, for me, keeping them on the same schedule was hard!
Because to keep them on the same schedule meant that I either had to tandem nurse them (too hard at this point) or I had to feed one (which could take up to a half an hour) and then feed the other immediately after.
I found that in the early days if I waited for their individual hunger cues, they still ate enough, and I still nursed for as long. It seemed, at least to me, that I got a break in between feedings.
Nursing felt more like feeding a very demanding singleton than like being tied to the recliner with twins. Since I had already fed four very demanding singletons, this felt rather normal for me!
I still had a lot to learn
I still felt a little cheated out of that cozy visit from a lactation consultant while I was in the hospital, and I was more than a little disappointed by the advice given in many of the twin books I had read.
(We already had eight people in our family, and the thought of having a relative come and stay for a few months seemed crazy, and really, I’m not sure I could have found a live-in baby nurse here in North Dakota had I wanted one!)
I had a lot of help from friends and church members. We were stocked up on food, and people were taking my younger boys on weekend outings to entertain them so that I could focus on the babies, which was great!
I ordered it right away and it arrived just about when the girls hit their six-week growth spurt, and I sat, glued to my recliner, reading and watching Netflix movies for about 3 days straight.
I loved that book
I loved it so much that I even recommend it to friends who are expecting twins and don’t intend to breastfeed.
Because, out of all the twin books I read, this one seemed the most down-to-earth, realistic, and encouraging about parenting twins! And the best part?
There were photos of moms tandem nursing twins in many different positions, which was great because now my girls were not so floppy and I could give it a go again!
I felt like a rockstar!
No lie! The day that I finally figured out how to nurse both girls in tandem, I felt like I had conquered the world! It was a HUGE deal for me!
However, it was not a new skill that I was willing to go public with. It was not, and still is not, the most modest way for me to nurse babies.
So I saved my new skill. I saved it for bedtime, or when both were up in the middle of the night, or if both were screaming like crazy in the middle of the day.
We still hit roadblocks
At around two or three months old, the girls hit a stage where it seemed like I could not possibly have enough milk for them. They were always hungry, especially in the evenings.
(I now can note that this seeming lack of supply also coincided with me taking back dinner preparation duties. . .if you are feeding a new twin mom, keep it up, you are helping her more than even she realizes!)
In an act of desperation, I began giving a small (2-3 ounce) complementary formula feeding after I had finished their evening feed.
I often allowed a big brother to give me this bottle. After the complementary feed, they both seemed more satisfied. I was afraid that this would be the end of our breastfeeding relationship.
However, I limited that bottle to a small amount and only for that one feeding that seemed lacking. After a few weeks, I tried taking it away and it was not missed.
I’m glad that I was able to recognize the need for some additional nutrients, but I am also glad that I did not use that as a reason to give up.
Giving myself that small break was a good way to actually increase my supply.
I also had each girl nurse only on one side each day. I never consciously had them switch sides the next day, and I’m pretty sure they each have a preferred side.
My friend Jean suggests this very thing, as well as switching every day or so. My friend Kristin was a super-duper tandem nurser and fed most of her feeds this way.
She also recommends co-sleeping. Co-sleeping works for me with one baby at a time, but two seemed too much for me.
However, I’ve found, that when it comes to sleep and babies, doing what works for you is the best thing!
Next week I’ll tell you more about what I learned while breastfeeding my older twins! Let me tell you, I got quite the education!
Chime in! Do you have any tips or hints to share about breastfeeding multiples? Do you have questions? You know I’d love to hear from you!