Not unlike many other twin parent experiences, we got off to a bumpy start. At 34 weeks and 5 days (yes, I count each of those 5 days!), our little boys made their surprise entrance into the world via emergency C-section. They hadn’t yet developed their suck/swallow/breathe reflex, so they were sent for a stay in the NICU. And so our journey to breastfeed began.
As a first time mother, I didn’t have any strong opinions towards breastfeeding. I wanted to try to nurse them, but if I was unable to, that was fine as well. I had one girlfriend who breastfed her children and offered to help with any questions I had. She knew a twin mom who breastfed her twins and that mom gave her the book, “Oh Yes You Can Breastfeed Twins!” to give to me. I only got to read a couple of chapters before the arrival of our boys, but I got the idea that it would take maintaining increased caloric and water intake, lots of pumping and some effort to make it work.
Once the effects of the anesthesia lifted, I was able to finally hold my babies for the first time. I’m not sure whether it was the hormones or the feeling of helplessness as my babies lay unable to survive on their own, or a combination of both, but a determination to do the only thing I could imagine doing to help them set in; I was going to breastfeed them!
A pump was rolled in to my room and I was lucky enough to have the extended stay that came with a C-section, so there was enough time to get the hang of pumping prior to leaving. The necessity of a support system cannot be underestimated. My husband did all he could to make sure the babies and I were thriving. He took pictures of the babies for me to look at while pumping, made sure that I was eating, checked on the babies, labeled and ran the milk to the NICU if I was resting and took turns with me washing out all of the (million) pump parts in the little hospital room sink. The lactation consultants made sure I was pumping correctly. The NICU nurses were largely supportive and congratulated every milliliter (and eventually every ounce) that was pumped. When my milk finally came in, my husband, family, girlfriends and I celebrated! Every 2 hours (3 hours at night), I was attached to the pump, making what the NICU nurses called “liquid gold” and hobbling to and from the NICU.
From what I know now, the bottle feeding of formula and receipt of pacifiers probably made our breastfeeding journey slightly more difficult. But at least once a day (I wish it were more), I held the babies to my breast and attempted to get them to latch. One of the nurses suggested the usage of nipple shields as the boys may have been suffering from nipple confusion. This ended up being the key to them being able to nurse in their brief periods of wakefulness. After 11 days, we were able to take our babies home with us where they would eat both formula and breast milk without being weighed before and after eating. I obsessed over how much they were eating, spitting up, waking, sleeping, their temperature, every little thing. I never wanted to be forced to be away from them again.
And so the pumping continued, on top of the night feedings, formula supplementation, and nursing with nipple shields. A couple of months in, we received approval from our pediatrician to decrease the formula supplements and try to primarily breastfeed. I would always pump after every nursing/feeding session to increase my supply, constantly concerned I would not be able to make enough for them. It was painful and exhausting while being incredibly rewarding.
Finally, at 5 months old, both of them had learned how to nurse without the nipple shields and didn’t need any formula supplementation anymore. I had returned to work part-time, so with them nursing so well, I only had to pump a couple of times a day. After the difficult beginning, this seemed so easy! I got good at hoisting both babies onto my “Brest Friend Twins Plus” nursing pillow and getting them off safely when they were done. My initial goal of nursing them for 6 months seemed entirely achievable. Upon watching my breastfeeding advocate girlfriend interact very lovingly with one of her children, I asked her for advice on pages to “like” on Facebook which would help to reinforce the nurturing type of parent I would like to be. And so I was introduced to the ideals of “Attachment Parenting” around the time my babies turned one. I wish I embraced more of these ideals sooner, but I learned about the benefits of extended breastfeeding. I had already grown to love breastfeeding and all of the benefits that came along with it. When my babies were sick (and usually I was as well), I knew I could pass on my immunities and antibodies to them. I loved the cuddles with my super active boys and my heart grew each time they would caress each other while tandem nursing. I was proud that I could help them grow naturally. I understand the necessity for formula and certainly do not judge anyone who uses formula, but I am proud of being able to nurse my little ones.
Now they are toddlers and the beneficial properties of breast milk are still present. Every time I get sick, I am happy to be passing on my immunities to them. Every time they need comfort, I am happy to hold them to my breast and feel their discomfort melt away. Every time they decide they don’t want to eat for whatever reason, I am happy their nutritional needs for healthy development are met with breast milk. I know that breastfeeding decreases their chances of obesity and type-2 diabetes as they get older. I also know that adolescents who were breastfed perform better in intelligence tests. I am hoping to give them the best possible start in life, even if they weren’t able to grow in the womb for as long as I would have preferred. And selfishly, my risk for breast and ovarian cancers later in life are decreased due to breastfeeding.
We only nurse a few times a day now, sometimes while one baby is upside down and sometimes while both babies are cuddled angelically in my arms, but I am almost always glad that we’ve made it through this journey together. The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for up to two years or more and they are almost two. I’m not sure how long we will all be interested in continuing our breastfeeding relationship, but for right now, I am happy to maintain this special bond with my little guys.
– Article By Lindsey Blender