Thanks to IVF treatment and conception medications being more readily available for women today, the number of multiples has skyrocketed by 200%. In fact, in 2009, one out of every 30 infants born was a twin. So with that in mind, and considering that the benefits of breastfeeding are well known, why are there not more resources to help breastfeeding mothers feed their multiples?
I’m a mom to two sets of twins, and twin moms (as well as other moms with multiples) need better support to feed their babies.
My first set of twins were one among 60% of twins born premature and likely to wind up in the NICU. Whenever a baby — multiple or not — is born early, that in itself can raise certain nursing issues as well as feeding concerns.
My twins were in separate rooms of the NICU, so I never had the chance to experience or practice tandem nursing for the whole six and nine days that they were in there, wrecking havoc on not only my emotional state, but my ability to effectively nurse them as well. And once we returned home, I was completely in the dark when it came to tandem nursing and ultimately ended my breastfeeding experience early due to lack of support and education.
Lactation consultant (LLC), Wendy Wisner, says that this lack of education is one of the many reasons mothers of multiples frequently quit breastfeeding sooner than they might have intended.
“I think misinformation coupled with lack of support — both emotional and physical support — can result in twin moms ending breastfeeding before they might be ready,” Wisner tells Scary Mommy. “Twin moms need so much support, with breastfeeding and everything else.”
With my first twin breastfeeding experience, I felt that lack of support. Everyone, except my lactation consultant, almost gave me the go-ahead to ultimately quit nursing all together. There was no encouragement to try to meet my breastfeeding goals.
And while I admire their acceptance of fed is best, that is not what I personally desired. But I felt hopeless, overwhelmed and finally busted open the sample can of formula because “nobody expected me to nurse twins.”
So when my second set of twins were born, needing only 12 hours in the NICU, I was elated to be able to nurse them the very first day that they were born. They were pros at it in the newborn days, and their small bodies made it rather simple for me to tandem nurse.
But even that breastfeeding experience came with certain hurdles and obstacles I felt completely unprepared for once we busted out of those hospital doors.
When my milk really started to come in, I would nurse both babies and still produce enough milk afterwards to fill two, nine ounce Dr. Brown’s bottles to the rim. According to Wisner, that overproduction of milk is due to the added breastmilk tissue that twin mothers grow during pregnancy.
My milk supply was overwhelming. And while some women might do anything to have that struggle, I literally felt like I was drowning in my own liquid gold. Not to mention, I didn’t know how to stop the mass-production without completely ruining my supply. After feeding them less than an hour before waking in the middle of the night, I would wake up completely soaked from my chest clear down to the top of my pants.
Even with nursing pads, I was drenched. So what did I resort to? I taped numerous diapers to the inside of a t-shirt just so I wouldn’t wake up freezing cold and soaking wet in the middle of the night. (Genius and super absorbent, if I do say so myself.)
Of course, I treasured the experience of those days when I wasn’t too drained (or drenched) to do so, but it felt like my day revolved around nothing more than producing milk.
When one of my babies had a good latch, that was normally the perfect time for the other baby to come unlatched… leaving me to begin from start to finish once more. And sometimes, disrupting the natural flow of my let-down.
I tried nursing my babes separately, but that ultimately ended in many days of non-stop, cluster feeding and no sleep. Both babies began finding their way onto completely different schedules. (And if you’re a mom of multiples, you already know the sheer hell of having multiples on two different schedules.)
To put it bluntly, nursing multiples is nothing like nursing a singleton. With a singleton, you can lay on your side and nurse peacefully once you and your baby have gotten the hang of it. But nursing multiples is uncomfortable. While they are infants, you can’t lay down to safely nurse the both of them (believe me, I’ve been exhausted enough to try, and the closest you’ll get to it is a subtle recline.)
If you’re out in public, you will do nothing but nurse in the early days while the other baby cries in a family member’s arms, and then repeat. Forever. And. Ever. And. Ever. And if you find the rare occasion of being able to nurse both babies while you’re out and about, you might as well wear a huge sign that says, “MOOOOO. MAMA COW FEEDING A DAMN LITTER. PISS OFF.”
It’s exhausting. So much so that I personally started to shorten my kids’ feeds, because I was compromising my own mental stability by sticking to breastfeeding.
“If it is taking a toll on a mom’s mental health, that’s a good time to reevaluate,” Wisner told Scary Mommy. “Every case is different and moms should know that every drop counts. It’s also possible to combine breastfeeding with formula, or cut back on nursing without full weaning.”
Of course, I didn’t allow them to go hungry, but I began supplementing with stored breastmilk instead of giving it to them straight from the source from time to time. That, and my negligence to continue a full pumping session as they got older, resulted in a drastic (and quick) reduction in my milk production.
There are thousands of breastfeeding support groups around America with face-to-face consultation, but breastfeeding support groups designed specifically for the twin mother in mind are nearly non-existent in states like mine. On the internet, there are countless pages of nursing pillows for singleton babies to choose from. Whereas there are three products (not pages) for moms of multiples. Hell, the hospital I gave birth in wasn’t even prepared for a mother to nurse twins effectively. They set me up for failure from day one.
I know that if I would’ve been properly informed, fully supported and somewhat prepared on the art that is nursing twins, things would have been easier. Not easy, but easier. But I feel like I was doomed to fail my own nursing expectations (to keep it up for one year) right from the get-go with both sets of my twins.
Twins are not the norm, I know, but they are continuing to increase with birth rates each and every year. And if breast is best is truly what we should strive toward, then we’ve got to make some accommodations so moms of multiples have a chance of reaching that achievement.