I did not have an easy experience breastfeeding. I love my baby and I’m thankful that season is over. I remember during one of the most difficult days my best friend said to me, “It could be worse. What if you had twins?” I couldn’t even imagine how tough that would be. So when I was thinking through who I wanted to do guest posts, I wanted to be sure and include the voice of a mother of twins.
Chanda and her husband are friends of mine from college and if their four kids (three girls and a boy) all married my four kids (three boys and a girl) I’d probably be just fine with that. Along with both being smart and funny, they are great parents- very thoughtful and intentional about their parenting decisions. I have a lot of respect for them even in the ways we differ in our choices. I remember when their twins were born Chanda’s husband posted a picture of her shortly after their birth with the caption “My Warrior Princess”. It was so beautiful and sweet and she looked every bit the strong woman who birthed two full-term (and good sized!) precious babies. They are a beautiful family.
I’m so glad she agreed to share her story with us about how she made the decision to nurse her babies and how she made it work for her family. I love how she makes it sound so entirely doable and simple. And when I asked her to share her story, she was good enough to connect me with another friend who had wisdom to share, too. I hope you’re as encouraged and educated by these stories as I was.
Was breastfeeding your first two children a smooth or difficult process?
Breastfeeding was a bit of a rough start with my oldest daughter. I had read so many books & articles about breastfeeding, but I don’t know if anything can truly prepare you for the first awkward attempts! Nobody writes about how floppy and noodley a newborn is, or how they reflexively put their hands up to their mouths and block your attempts to latch them on and you feel like you need an extra pair of hands to support their head so you can pin their arms down and position them correctly onto your breast. I wasn’t expecting it to be so painful when my milk came in, and I was so engorged that she could barely latch on because my nipples were almost flat. Then, because she had such a “shallow” latch after birth, I endured almost 2 weeks of knife-like nipple pain every time she started to nurse. It was a relationship that got more and more comfortable as time went on, but I don’t think I ever really enjoyed breastfeeding my first daughter. When she was about 9 months old I got pregnant again. This caused my milk supply to drop substantially so we weaned her at 11 months. Breastfeeding my second daughter was much different. I had hardly any nipple pain or soreness, and I knew what to expect and felt confident in what I was doing. I went back to work doing 3rd shift full-time when she was 6 weeks old and used a pump to express my breastmilk. My husband stayed home to take care of the girls and gave her bottles of my milk. She was weaned at 9 months, which is definitely sooner than I wanted. I think it was a combination of me working so much, her biting habit (not pleasant!), and starting solid foods that ended her breastfeeding.
When you found out you were pregnant with twins, did you consider bottle-feeding?
I never considered bottle-feeding my twins. Two babies, two boobs right? For awhile I had an assigned boob for each baby but since my daughter doesn’t eat as much as my son that left me a little…lopsided. Not to worry! I was able to fix it by switching them up sometimes Seriously, though, successfully breastfeeding my older daughters gave me the confidence that my body could do what it needed to do.
What resources helped you prepare for breastfeeding twins?
I read anything I could find about twins! There was a great book called “When You’re Expecting Twins, Triplets, or Quads” by Dr. Barbara Luke that helped me to prepare before the babies were born so that I was as healthy as possible & the babies were born as big and as late as possible. I stalked online forums like Mothering.com & Twinstuff.com to read about other mothers’ struggles & triumphs. Kellymom.com is another great breastfeeding site. Also, it really does help to see people breastfeeding. I watched Youtube videos of women breastfeeding twins & looked for real pictures of different positions & pillow arrangements. I thought about what I would do if we weren’t at home, how I would feed them in our van or at church, what I would need to bring with me, etc. My best resource, though, was the knowledge I gained from having breastfed my other two. I think the learning curve with your first is the hardest.
What has been the biggest benefit to breastfeeding twins?
Knowing that my babies and I are both healthier because of it…and that I saved thousands of dollars by not having to buy formula (somewhat offset by the sheer number of calories that I have to consume every day in order to feed them…and by that I mean chocolate). The extra benefit with twins is the closeness that breastfeeding provides to two babies having to share their mommy.
What has been your hardest struggle?
I struggled with letting go of my expectations of the way I believed things were going to go & fully embracing what worked for our family. For instance, I had read so much about how convenient it is to tandem-feed twins that I was determined to always feed them together & try to be scheduled. I did feed them together for awhile & though I didn’t like it, at the beginning it was necessary to treat them more like a unit. It was never comfortable for me. The sheer logistics of positioning and pillow placement can be a little much at 2am. I finally put them both between my husband and I, and we would shuffle them around at night so that I could do side-lying nursing. At one point when they were both simultaneously hungry I laid on my side and we stacked them one on top of the other. That was a little precarious. After a couple of months, dear husband went to the couch & I moved from one side of the bed to the other during the night to feed whoever was hungry & try to get some sleep in between or during feedings. It has been exhausting, but I think that goes with the twin territory. Feeding & caring for two babies is going to take some work no matter how you do it. Another reason tandem-feeding didn’t work for me was because of my 2 year old. She’s always getting hurt or up to something, so having two babies latched on can be inconvenient. You’re kind of stuck. With one baby latched on however, I learned how to multitask very well. I could change a 2 yr old’s diaper, calm the other baby, read to a 4 yr old, surf the internets…or just give a twin baby some individual time with mommy. I know some moms who have had a lot of success with tandem nursing and even do it in public, but it just didn’t work for me. Now that mine are older, I do occasionally nurse them together if they are both hungry at the same time. It can be really sweet to watch them stare at each other while they nurse, until inevitably someone decides to pull hair or poke an eye or put a foot on a face. I definitely still prefer single feeds! And my twins are so different when it comes to nursing. My boy had the most perfect latch. It was like something from a breastfeeding textbook! His twin sister, not so much. She had a tiny little mouth with a skinny little tongue, and to this day she still swallows a ton of air. My older two fell somewhere in between. Each baby has nursed differently, but having twins makes it easier to compare.
How is breastfeeding twins different than breastfeeding your single child?
If you’re going to tandem-feed then logistics is a big issue. You have to try different positions, different pillow positions, decide on tandem or single nursing sessions, figure out where you can set up – bed? couch? recliner? For me it wasn’t harder than feeding one baby, just more time-consuming because I chose not to tandem-feed after they were a few weeks old. Another issue that caused me anxiety was my milk supply. I know it’s all about supply and demand…but sometimes when a baby is fussy for a couple of days, or hasn’t had a bowel movement for three days – you can start to question your body’s ability to nourish two babies. It’s hard for me to not know exactly how much my babies are eating. Also, it’s important at the beginning that your babies have a good latch because if you start getting sore nipples it’s going to take a long time for them to heal. They don’t get any breaks! Another issue is how much you have to eat and drink every day. A mother of twins can burn an extra 800-1,000 calories a day breastfeeding. That’s a lot of food. You need to eat often, and you don’t want to lose your baby weight too fast because you have to protect your milk supply.
What factors should a pregnant woman consider who is deciding if she’ll be capable of breastfeeding her twins?
What kind of support do you have? Do you have people around you who are pro-breastfeeding, and is your hospital pro-breastfeeding? That will make things much easier. If you’re married, is your husband going to be supportive and help out in other ways since he can’t feed them? Are you willing to do research yourself? Have you successfully breastfed before? Are you going back to work?
If you could go back and do it all over again, is there anything you’d do differently?
The only thing my husband and I would do differently is limit visitors at the hospital and for the first couple of weeks at home. New twins are exciting and novel and everyone wants to meet them, but it won’t hurt family and friends and neighbors to wait for a bit. Having people over added to the stress of maintaining our household and worry about feeding the babies when others were around. Not to mention that I felt like I actually had to get dressed! If you don’t think you can turn people away, maybe every person that comes over has to do a chore or bring a meal.
Is it possible to publicly breastfeed twins or were you homebound during the first months?
We definitely were not housebound due to breastfeeding, but we were stuck inside a lot because of naps. I have never breastfed the twins together in public because it’s always been difficult for me to do it modestly. If they were hungry when we were out somewhere I would just feed one at a time while the other was in his/her carseat. It was easy if we were at the library or the park. A lot of moms keep a double breastfeeding pillow in their vehicle so they can tandem-feed while they are out. We’re lucky that we live in an area where we can walk to the park, store, or library, and get home fast if we need to. The cultural taboos against breastfeeding do make it a bit more difficult, but I’ve never had any bad experiences. I try to stay covered with a light blanket or nursing cover, but now that they are older and can rip the cover off it’s a bit of a challenge. There are a few months where your freedom is a bit restricted, but I think that’s true for singleton babies as well, and I think it’s worth it. When it comes time to wean it’s bittersweet!
Do you run into any misconceptions about breastfeeding twins?
Obviously there is the misconception that you won’t make enough milk for two babies. The vast majority of women can. Also, some people believe you have to buy an expensive pump or breastfeeding pillows. I’ve used the same $40 manual pump for all of my kids, even while working full-time. The double breastfeeding pillow was nice, but not essential. A few nursing tanks from Target worn under my regular shirts encompasses my nursing ‘wardrobe’. The only other misconception that I can think of is that a woman who exclusively breastfeeds her twins is some kind of Supermom. Not true! It’s difficult sometimes, but if I can do it, you can do it. Now if we have triplets next and I exclusively breastfeed them…I might start calling myself Supermom. My husband said he would shoot himself.
How can a husband best support his wife who is breastfeeding twins?
I can’t think of anything that would be exclusive to twins, except just doing more. For me it was the practical things like changing all the diapers when he was at home for the first month, protecting my sleep, or taking on a chore permanently. Having the dishes done every morning has made my days go so much easier!
When I found out I was pregnant with twins, I did not consider bottle feeding. I wanted to breastfeed only. I read numerous online articles for tips on breast feeding twins (e.g. babycenter.com and twins magazine.com). The biggest benefit to breast feeding twins, I believe, is the fact that breast milk is the absolute best thing for a baby hands down!! Also, you have less dishes to wash which is a big plus because you’re already short on time and you’re exhausted, especially the first couple months. It’s nice for the night feedings because you don’t have to make formula/warm a bottle/ etc.
My hardest struggle was the fact that my twins were born at 29 weeks and were too small to breastfeed for the first month and a half. It’s not uncommon for twins to be born early, so every mother of multiples needs to realize this may happen! It’s hard to pump, clean everything, and feed both babies without having to listen to at least one of them scream the whole time. When you pump, your milk doesn’t let down hardly at all when compared to breast feeding. I had to end up pumping and then supplementing with formula. Eventually, I was afraid I wasn’t producing enough milk for both twins and switched to just formula. I was so hard on myself for not giving them breast milk, but my circumstances of having to pump for so long/travel everyday to and from the hospital (an hour each way)/having premature twins that I wanted to make extra sure they were getting plenty to eat, all stressed me out and didn’t help with my milk production. My husband kept telling me, ” I’ll do everything I can to help, so you can pump and breastfeed” but then he would go work outside or find other things to do that needed done. I love him to pieces, but he rarely washed bottles and pumps for me. He didn’t help bottle feed very much. He didn’t help make meals for us, so I wasn’t getting the nutrition my body needed to produce milk. I’m sure some of this was my fault, but all these things he could’ve done would’ve helped out so much! Not to sound like I was incapable, but your whole day is spent just taking care of babies, so anything he did would help! (Laundry, dishes, cleaning, dinner prep, grocery shopping, comforting crying babies, etc.)
If I wanted to breastfeed the twins in public, I would just feed one at a time. If you try to feed both at the same time, something is bound to fall out somewhere at sometime! Breast feeding is harder than I thought it would be and if I had to do it all over again, I would’ve refused to pump once they were big enough and only breastfed. I would’ve made my husband help me more instead if saying, “if you want to” or “if you have time”.