You’ve got your hands full. A phrase that has been heard so many times in the last seven months that every time I here “You‘ve got...” my face automatically cracks out a fake smile, a completely effortful grin, and I mutter on autopilot, "I sure do.” Anyone juggling a new infant can imagine the work that goes into raising twins: double the diapers, double the energy, half the sleep, half the time to yourself. But all of that seems relatively doable when you consider the energy expended making enough milk for the twins and hunching over so that two warm little bodies can tug away at your nipples.
But what makes nursing twins so different and actually so hard is the lack of support from the surroundings. When you have a baby, everyone is so gung-ho about you nursing. People buy you nursing covers, they ask you which pump you are getting, they get you books about nursing and everyone has a story about their friend who has a toddler who can walk and talk and nurse at the same time.
With twins, it is the total opposite. From the very beginning, you are told about bottle holders that you can get, the twins books will tell you all about little fridges you can get so the bottles are right next to your room and before your baby comes even close to you, bottles are shoved down their throats.
As a pregnant mom, I heard it over and over: You are going to have to do bottles. Are you sure you want to breastfeed? I prepared myself mentally for the bottle feeding, as I knew it would be par for the course. I remember getting the twins a breastfeeding pillow known as “My Brest Friend” and showing it to the friends who came to jump on my bed and comfort me while confined to bed rest. We googled images of moms breastfeeding twins like it was one big freak show, a large tree with two monkeys hanging on each side. It didn’t matter that I breastfed my oldest 18 months, I mentally prepared myself that I might not be able to nurse the twins.
Then I gave birth to two babies, 5 pounds and a bit, four weeks premature. I asked to nurse them from the beginning and even though the milk hadn’t come in yet, I got to snuggle those cuddlies between my arm pits, head against head, three hearts beating in unison. Many if not most babies born before 37 weeks will have some kind of issues with latching on or nursing. Bottles were shoved into their mouths from the minute they could; they had low blood sugar and jaundice and only formula could fill them with what they needed. Luckily a nurse looked at me, noticing my teary eyes, and said, “You really want to breastfeed them — let’s get you on a schedule."
So the schedule went like this: Breastfeed them for seven minutes, bottle-feed them formula, and then pump for 20 minutes at every feeding. I did this eight to ten times in a 24-hour period. I had a vaginal birth and was healing fine, a silver lining in a pond of exhaustion. I became a milk-making machine.
I kept this up for around a month until I started pumping a little less, I was even making enough milk to give milk instead of formula. Those first two months were a blur and I didn’t want any visitors except for family. How do you explain to people that there is no point in them coming over because every couple of hours, you will be ransacking your breasts for a little bit of that liquid gold?
Eventually, I was able to switch to only breast milk and the pumping would happen less and less. Not without hurdles to say the least: tongue-tie incisions, physical therapists examining the shapes of their heads, lactation support groups and consultants, lots of help from close girlfriends as my personal baby assistants and a whole lot of crying and extreme fatigue on my part.
I was able to overcome the difficulties, but I had help in the beginning, a nanny who would bring the babies to me and take them when they were done. My body was producing enough for two and I could continue this way. It felt empowering.
But I was fortunate. What about those who had no help? What about those whose twins were born eight weeks early? What about those who didn’t have the experience of nursing a singleton and had no idea that things would be okay and they would latch on eventually? What about those who had to deal with double the crying for the first time in their life and really could not find an ounce of energy to call a lactation consultant? And of course what about those who could not afford any form of help?
The pressure was on from the surroundings. Peer pressure not to breastfeed. And here is what people don’t tell you about twins.
Everywhere you go, the bottle is encouraged. Doctors will tell you to add a few bottles because they are underweight. They will tell you that you will be worn out and you should add a couple of bottles a day. Going out with the twins becomes a nursing session for hours. If you end up doing one at a time, by the minute you leave the house, 40 minutes will be spent sitting in some room nursing. Why do you need this, people will ask? Are you sure you have enough? Are you starving them? If anyone happens to see you tandem nursing them, people will stare and make National Geographic comparisons.
And if you hear these things when you are really tired — I mean so utterly exhausted that you haven’t slept in days, so exhausted that you can hardly remember the last time you felt like a person and your breasts feel like some social experiment gone wrong — it might pull you down. And it happens.
I will continue to nurse my twins, even though they are eating solids three to four times a day. Now that they can sit up, it is even more of a freak show as they can each sit and drink from the water fountain of life. But not without bumps along the way. At our last appointment, the doctor said that we should supplement a little, as their weight has not been going up as fast as they want it to. They are more active and need at least five to eight ounces each per feeding. And my body has trouble catching up with that amount. So we are adding a bottle a day of formula or breast milk and that means I am breaking out the rusty old pump. But at least I know they had breast milk for the first six months and they are still nursing six to nine times a day at least — and that is each baby. We don’t have a schedule and we do it on demand. As crazy as it sounds, I feel good knowing that I get to savor these last few months of babyhood. I am sure I could just nurse them more and more until my body catches up and produces more milk but at this point this feels right. They are eating solids anyway. The way I see it is that any nursing is helpful, so whether I nursed a bit or a lot, it all feels right. And people should know that it is not all or nothing. Any breast milk will benefit those babies, so moms just have to do what they can.
I really wish people would offer more support to nursing moms of twins. I feel that if people were honest about the hardships but encouraged it and explained, it would be easier. More information on pumping is needed. The nurses need to be educated on nursing twins. If you have a friend with twins who is trying to nurse, don’t worry about gifts — offer your time. Clean up their kitchen, fold their laundry and hold a baby, the absolute best gift you can give a mom of multiples, nursing or not. Bringing over food is just as helpful, but if you really want to make a difference, just leave it at the door. The tiniest amount of entertaining for a new mom of twins might be too much work. More doctors have to be encouraging about tandem nursing and society has to stop laughing at the image of a mom cradling two infants. It is not funny or weird or freaky. It is absolutely natural in every perfect way. And double perfect to say the least.
Keren Brown is the mother of a 3-year-old boy and 7-month-old boy/girl twins. She recently started her blog raisingdouble.wordpress.com to chronicle her journey raising twins. Brown is author of the Food Lovers Guide to Seattle (Globe Pequot Press) and the blog franticfoodie.com, as well as the founder of Foodportunity, networking events for Seattle and Portland's food communities. She spends her days balancing parenthood, food and her passion for connecting people. Brown was named “Doer of the Week” by MarthaStewart.com and has been featured inPuget Sound Business Journal, Portland Business Journal, Sunset Magazine, Seattle Times, Chicago Tribune and Edible Seattle.