I wanted to write a reflection on my breastfeeding journey, as in my two and half months of motherhood, it’s been a point of major struggle, pride, grief and exhaustion. I want to write this for myself, but for other mothers of twins who may share some of my experiences. Hopefully some things I’ve found helpful will be helpful for other mothers as well.
For my non-mommy friends who are reading – trust me… this section is not for you.
All during my pregnancy I was determined to breastfeed. And I wish I could tell you it was because I was committed to all of the amazing health benefits breastfeeding provides - immunity and antibodies, simpler digestion, less ear infections and lower risks of diseases like leukemia. While all of these benefits are true (and have really been the main reasons I am still hanging in here), I knew way too little about breastfeeding to do it for these altruistic reasons. What I knew more about was a budget that was going to be drastically reduced by me staying home, and that formula would cost approximately $2600 for the year with twins. I was cheap – and breast milk was free. And I was fat, and breastfeeding (so I heard) helped with the weight loss.
As a child, I was fed formula exclusively from birth – as was my brother, my cousins, my parents, my husband and his siblings. I was lucky that I felt no family pressures to breastfeed (which may have made my “failure” more difficult) but in the same right, all of my family was a little apprehensive that this would work as they knew so many women struggle. I was committed – and when I’m committed, there is little that can sway me from that path, right or wrong.
We purchased a Medela Pump in Style breast pump, took the classes for preparation. We bought the twin breastfeeding pillow and lots of nursing tops and bras so that I’d be ready. I did buy a twin breastfeeding book, but never really read it since I’m not a huge reader. Maybe had I given it the time, I’d have known what I was getting into – but I can’t go there. So with all of our purchases prepared, we sat back and waited.
In the hospital for delivery, I had a Cesarean birth, and had some slight complications with the anesthesia. I came out of surgery high as a kite from the anti-nausea medications, and feeling extremely sick. As I knew was the goal, the nurses attempted to latch the babies at my breast, without success. I couldn’t even help in the process I was so sick. They let me wait and said it was okay – we’d try again once I got into a postpartum room. A few hours later, they checked the babies blood sugar, which was crashing due to my gestational diabetes. They said that the time had come for the babies to eat, and without a successful nursing session, we’d need to formula feed. We tried nursing again and didn’t have any success. In my state, I was perfectly okay with this and felt like – “bring on the bottle.” It was important to me to do whatever was necessary to make sure they got what they needed and in that moment, I wasn’t able to do that. I thought we’d have plenty of time to figure it out.
So for the next 48 hours, every time it was time to feed, I’d attempt to nurse with the LD Nurse’s assistance, and each time we’d be unsuccessful. Finally, one of the nurses brought me a few “gadgets” from the lactation center to help with my “flat nipples.” Now let me clarify here what is meant by flat nipples… I’ve never been a person with constantly erect “National Geographic” nipples, but I certainly thought mine were normal. I guess I don’t make a habit of investigating those of other women so I wasn’t going to question what they were telling me. I received “shells” which were supposed to perk things up a bit – and a breast shield, which creates an artificial nipple in which mine rests, through which the baby feeds.
The breast shells were worthless in my case, but the shield was wonderful. We had a lactation consultation the day after delivery, and again on Saturday before I left the hospital. The first consultation consisted basically of an attempt with Julie to nurse, who (as she is my constant sleeper) kept falling asleep. I doubt she was getting anything from her attempts. The second consultation was with Brayden, and I was assured he was successfully nursing with the shield, to nurse every 2-3 hours, and to pump for 20 minutes after each feeding to make sure I was emptying my breast and ensuring my supply.
So that’s what we did – for almost a month. But it wasn’t quite that simple with two… Feeding with Brayden was so frustrating for both of us that he frequently turned into “the hulk” and screamed so loudly that I’d give in and give him the bottle after a twenty minute struggle. Julie was a bit less upset by the whole thing, but would constantly fall asleep at the breast. My routine was feed baby 1 – feed baby 2 – pump – wait half an hour – and start again. The problems really came though, when feeding baby 1 and 2 and pumping was taking so long that baby 1 was hungry again, and I had just pumped myself empty. So now the routine was feed baby 1 – feed baby 2 – pump – bottle feed baby 1 – bottle feed baby 2 – wait half an hour – and start again. It was exhausting, and immensely frustrating. Part of the problem was that I only had one breast to offer each baby, but what was I doing wrong?
Julie was growing so well with the milk, but Brayden didn’t gain much weight the first few weeks and we were required to begin him on a 50% formula plan. But I was a champ at pumping, and my milk came in well.
After a month of this struggle, I was heading in what I believe was the path to postpartum depression. I couldn’t bond with my babies because I was so reactionary to their cries of frustration at nursing that I didn’t feel like I knew how to help them or give them what they needed. I felt like a failure as a mother – blamed myself and blamed them (as much as I hate to say that looking back). My supply was starting to decrease, since feedings would run into one another, and I was never wanted to “give up” on them and just go pump.
At our one month appointment, I was on the verge of giving up. Our pediatrition’s office has a doctor who specializes in breast feeding. She observed Brayden nursing, and diagnosed that his poor latch through the shield was causing him to exhort more calories, which put him to sleep – and wasn’t allowing enough milk flow, which was why he was hungry again so soon after feeding. I’m not sure if I agree with that second part, as there was milk always sitting in the cup of the shield, and the babies mouths would gush with milk as they finished a feed – but regardless – that’s what she told us. She said that the bottles we were using for supplement (Playtex Drop Ins) were some of the worst for promoting healthy latch, but couldn’t really recommend one that was better. She suggested that the shield may be gagging the babies, causing them to latch onto only the protruding part of the shield, and that was preventing them from getting a full latch – which is what we needed to make this work. Her only advise was to work to get away from the shield – and that eventually, the babies would “just get it.”
Poor advise… Recommitted to making this work, a purchased a single baby breastfeeding pillow (since we were a FAR way from tandem nursing), and bought Tommee Tippee shields (as they’re shorter and have slits to allow more milk). We bought Medela’s bottle nipples since we already had many of their bottles for the pumping, and figured that they must work decently to promote nursing since that’s what Medela’s all about. We tried this for another full week.
I had such a hard time emotionally with the thought of giving up nursing. No, we personally weren’t having many good bonding experiences with it, but the few we had were precious. In those moments I felt tremendously connected with my children. So the thought of any one time nursing being “the last time” pained my heart – and still does.
So after a month of all of these struggles, I decided to give up nursing as a major means of feeding my babies, and just do it for comfort and bonding. It allowed me to release the stress, tension and pressure of feeding them, and just enjoy the few minutes of bonding if we got there. My goal was to nurse each once a day – which has evolved to once every other week or so.
In the meantime, I pump exclusively. In the beginning, I had pumped every three hours after every feeding, and had kept that up as I gave up nursing. We began renting a Medela Symphony from the hospital when I slowly started seeing my output decrease. I believe it had to do with the fact that the Pump in Style was not strong enough to pull all of my milk – but with the nursing we were attempting, I had enough stimulation to keep things up. By giving up nursing, we were on a sinking ship and the Symphony helped with that. I started taking Fenugreek which has also increased my supply, and now I’m pumping about 60 oz daily. It’s enough to keep up with their needs now, and hopefully I’m able to keep increasing in the future. I pump now about every 4 hours, but let that slip to 5-6 overnight and in the morning so I can get some sleep. Hopefully I’m able to keep it up when my mom moves out and goes back home, when I’m left with them both all day alone. We’ll see how it goes, but I’m hoping to do this long term – for all 12 months.
Exclusively pumping hasn’t been without it’s own trials. There are moments when I am raw from the pump, have gotten blood blisters and milk blisters on my nipples. It’s hard when my baby is crying in his crib, and I can’t lean over to pick him up because the milk will spill out of the bottles. For me though, it’s a much less frustrating experience, and I still have all of the health benefits in providing my twins with my milk.
I don’t nurse very frequently now – only when the babies are hysterical and I need to give them comfort, food, and fast. It usually works if they’re having major issues spitting up and I want to give them a little bit of food, but not have them gulp down a bottle. Amazingly, even though they’re nursing only a few times a month, they remember how and go right at it. In those moments, it’s wonderful to know that I can give them what they need right then with confidence.
I read once on a website that when breastfeeding doesn’t work out as planned, the emotion women most likely feel is regret. In my case, I can agree that my babies and I are missing out on a lovely bonding experience in nursing that I’ve caught fleeting glimpses of. Yes, you can bond over a bottle or in a cuddle or giving a bath or a number of things as well. Nursing is just one additional way that you bond with your children that I wish we were able to share. I know functionally though, this is honestly better for our family. With two, I’ve read other mothers reflect that tandem nursing does take away from some of the intimacy, and I’ve honestly never felt very comfortable with the notion of nursing in public. Perhaps everything worked out the way it should have in the end.
Some products I’ve used have been invaluable in this experience, and I wanted to provide links to the things that have worked for me.
- Nipple Shields from Tommee Tippee or Medela – I prefer the Tommee Tippee ones.
- Medela Bottles make my pumping, refrigeration and storage simple.
- My rented Medela Symphony Pump
- A hands free nursing bra – a MUST HAVE. Buy two so when one’s washing you can still use the other.
- A mini fridge for the nursery. We re-purposed our wine cellar so that I didn’t have to go downstairs in the middle of the night after pumping, and we had a stock of fresh bottles for the late night and early am feeds.
- Milk Storage Bags – I prefer the Lansinoh brand because they can store 10+ ounces per bag vs. the Medela bags which store 5. Yes, you can pump directly into the Medela ones, but that seems like such a delicate process that I know I’d make quite a mess with that.
- Breast Pads – I also prefer the Lansinoh brand on this one because they feel more like fabric vs. stiff padding in the Medela kind.
- Fenugreek – I take three of these twice daily. Don’t take my word on dosage though. I kinda “winged” it. And yes, it does make you smell like maple syrup.
I also just want to remind any moms reading that in my humble opinion – breastfeeding is a balance. It is an amazing, selfless, nutritious gift that is fantastic if you can share with your baby (or babies) be it one day or one year. But that gift has to be balanced with an emotionally healthy mom, and only you can tell when that balance tips the scales one way or another. Looking back, I have been known to say that “nursing was my own personal hell,” and it truly was, with a very angry baby and feelings of helplessness, guilt and self blame. Luckily pumping worked for me, but by nine months, it still had me exhausted and I felt that having a more energetic mom was more vital to the babies than continued breast milk. And please remember to take your vitamins! I struggled much more with exhaustion and emotions than I needed to due in part to my own laziness in taking my vitamin. Breastfeeding (especially for two) truly sucks all of the nutrients out of you – leaving you with nothing. Happy Healthy Mamas = Happy Healthy Babies.