So I made it to 6 months of breastfeeding twins!
It’s been a road with a few twists and turns… read on if breastfeeding journeys interest or intrigue you!
My tiny baby girls were born at exactly 36 weeks gestation, relatively well for twins – one went to NICU for 3 days with breathing difficulties, and the other became jaundiced so went into an incubator for phototherapy. Neither a great start from a breastfeeding point of view! Both were “prescribed” 100% their daily calories in premie formula, which they had through NG tubes initially, then from bottles.
We were discharged on day 5 with two massive boxes of formula, and began the unholy triumvirate of breastfeed/formula top up/express every 3-4 hours… indefinitely. 😶
It was insanely gruelling. We basically didn’t sleep more than 2 hours at a time, for two months! But the support I got from a Facebook group devoted to Breastfeeding Twins & Multiples was a godsend, and gave me the will to continue. They provided smart & encouraging advice available 24/7, plus plenty of stories from people who had been through it and survived… and were still going!
Key here was their mantra Never give up on a bad day and their revolutionary view that the use of formula is not literally the devil’s work (the attitude I unfortunately encountered in my NCT breastfeeding session), and in fact that combination feeding is a healthy solution for some mums who are being overwhelmed by the demands of exclusive breastfeeding. They also emphasised that it’s not a one-way street: you can use formula for a while and then gradually work your way back to exclusive breastfeeding. This message was definitely absent from my NCT class! And if I hadn’t had people telling me it was possible, I probably would have given up shortly after we left hospital when it was so, so hard.
There were so many moments I would have given up, if not for that group. When it hurt for no apparent reason; when the babies didn’t put on weight fast enough despite the schedule, so I was advised to top up more and restrict breastfeeding to sessions of 20 minutes max; when the endless evenings of cluster feeding made me doubt my milk supply; when the breast pump made me despondent; when I was excruciatingly tired and just wanted everything to be easier.
Their input, as well as the unconditional support from my OH and my mum, gave me the will to persist. Oh, how we persisted.
Luna, my firstborn, was a great, strong determined feeder, and basically brought my milk supply up single-handedly. Aria, the younger by 1 minute, was a more delicate and sleepy feeder, plus suffered with reflux so half the milk that she did take immediately reappeared. 😫 Still, she gained weight steadily on the 9th centile, so we kept going, feeding on demand, every 2-3 hours and sometimes much more frequently. I expressed using a hospital-grade double pump 6-8x per day, to make up for every formula feed. I ate flapjack accordingly. So much flapjack.
I weaned formula top ups for Luna first, a couple of weeks after their due date [about 6 weeks old], because she was feeding so well. By this point I was expressing over 500ml/day and therefore was able to replace all of Aria’s top-up bottles with expressed milk. Such a great moment when the steriliser moved from the middle of the kitchen counter to the corner to gather dust!
Eventually, after their 8 week check, I weaned top ups for Aria too, and we moved to simply breastfeeding on demand. And it all got a lot more relaxed. 👍
Their weights stayed stable without top ups, and I kept expressing once daily to maintain supply and so other people can give a bottle of expressed milk when I need to sleeeeeeep.
And here we are! SIX MONTHS. It’s been such a rich and amazing experience, as well as being incredibly hard work. Definitely 100% worth the effort though – any version of feeding two babies involves a lot of work, but the powers of the magic boobies are so much greater than just food. They soothe and quieten. They make the babies smile and snuggle in close. They make them fall asleep! And overnight, even if they wake several times each, I often feel the surge of oxytocin that comes with the let-down, a soothing soporific rush that makes us both drift easily back to sleep afterwards. I honestly have no idea how I’d have managed without them.
I have become a passionate believer in normalising public breastfeeding, because it is a hard enough task without women feeling additional societal pressures to keep it private. However, I also don’t know anyone personally who has stopped breastfeeding for any reason other than it being too physically and emotionally overwhelming to continue to struggle with it, and/or futile due to either their own medical history or their baby’s specific problems with feeding.
I think breastfeeding is a normal thing to do, and that it should be accepted in all contexts, but I don’t think it follows that not breastfeeding is an abnormal choice. It is the appropriate choice if the costs of breastfeeding are too high for whatever reason. It is also a choice a lot of women feel forced into making during an incredibly stressful time, and my gut feeling is that with more support and individually tailored advice some of those women would be able to continue rather than stopping sooner than they would like. Others may be able to make the decision with more psychological equanimity, if they knew that for whatever reason it would be unfeasibly difficult to continue.
Meanwhile my two babies are showing all the signs of being ready to introduce solid food alongside milk, so that’s our next step. I’m genuinely proud to have reached the recommended 6 months, and so grateful to everyone who supported me in person, and all the ladies in my phone, who have facilitated us reaching this milestone.