Breastfeeding our firstborn opened my eyes to both the rewards and the challenges of breastfeeding. When we found out that we were expecting twins, I was determined that I would give it my best effort to breastfeed them too. Before they were born, I set myself a goal of breastfeeding them for 12 months, I read as much as I could find about feeding twins, and I stocked up on some essentials. With my previous experience, I knew that it wasn’t going to be easy, but I really had no idea what I was in for. Our fraternal girl / boy twins arrived naturally at 36 weeks (+3 days), weighing in at 2.1kg and 2.6kg, respectively, and we were very fortunate that they did not need any time in special care. We were incredibly grateful to have such a great start to the breastfeeding journey ahead.
The first few days (okay, okay months) were a bit of a blur. They were spent working on the twins’ attachment (after both having had tongue ties snipped at birth), hand expressing and feeding via syringes, and waiting for my milk to come in. I also had the ‘pleasant’ reminder of those afterbirth pains, which had me gritting my teeth with every feed. I was surprised by the amount of colostrum (that liquid gold!) I initially produced, and was excited at the thought of actually having enough for both babies, and was amazed at what my body could do. This excitement was dampened a little on the second night, as I recall having fed the twins all that I seemed to be able to express, but they were both still unsettled and hungry. A midwife came to check on me and suggested that I give myself a break (after all I’d just birthed twins), and give the twins a few mls of formula to help settle them and to help me get some rest. I remember feeling disappointed that I hadn’t been able to fill their bellies, but I knew that I needed this break, both physically and mentally, to get me back on track. After a couple more days, my milk came in, and so too did my huge appetite (give me all the sushi and soft cheese please!). I was once again excited at how much I was producing for the twins, but this also came with the new challenge of getting their little mouths to attach to my very full breasts. Over the 5 days that we spent in hospital, I was very lucky to have the support of multiple midwives and lactation consultants who were all very encouraging. I used every bit of their advice and support, and was proud to be able to leave the hospital tandem breastfeeding the twins.
Once we settled in at home, I hit a bit of a stumbling block. I found the nipple pain to be excruciating (possibly the equivalent to walking on glass… as painful as I imagine that would be) when feeding one bub, let alone both at the same time, and I found that they weren’t feeding for very long before tiring. Through the hospitals support program, we were incredibly lucky to receive a visit from a very knowledgeable lactation consultant, only a few days into being home. Kate was fantastic! She educated me on breastfeeding premature bubs, and how our twins weren’t strong enough to breastfeed entirely on their own yet, and the importance of keeping them warm to conserve their energy (and she accepted me in my pyjamas!). She put together a feeding and pumping schedule, to help me establish a good supply, and reintroduced me to the nipple shield, which I continued to use for the next 6 months. The feeding schedule saw us waking and feeding the twins 3 hourly, and involved trying each twin at the breast, giving top up bottles of expressed breast milk, and then expressing in preparation for the next feed. The full process took approximately 1.5 hours to complete, plus any settling time required. It was incredibly exhausting and often had me questioning if I was still human or a dairy cow (I was just missing the moo). I persevered and we followed this schedule for approximately 6 weeks, until the twins were steadily gaining weight. I was then able to gradually reduce the expressing and top up bottles until we were exclusively breastfeeding.
The Early Months
Those first few months, especially the first 6 weeks, were incredibly hard (there is no sugar-coating it). With the pain I experienced upon coming home, I decided that tandem feeding wasn’t for us and that I was more comfortable and relaxed feeding the twins individually, giving each twin the attention needed to ensure they were attached properly. I created a schedule so I knew what needed to be done and when, and I kept a log book to remind me how long each baby had fed for, what top up they received, and who was on what side next (there was no way I could rely on my mushy brain to remember). I set my alarm throughout the night to mark the beginning of each feeding cycle, and now have heart palpitations if I hear that same alarm tone (the trauma from being woken after blocks of 1 – 1.5 hours’ sleep in the night). I tried multiple times to get the twins off the shield and onto the breast, but this would end in them gagging and choking. I continued to try, but I ultimately decided that if that’s what it took to be able to keep breastfeeding then I would continue to use it.
I was constantly exhausted, and I barely left my feeding / expressing corner of the lounge, unless it was to set myself up in bed for the night-time feeds. The exhaustion often turned into delirium, and on one particular occasion, this led to my Mum searching through our bins at midnight because I thought my engagement ring had been thrown out with the rubbish (to find that it had fallen into a bag at the side of my bed). The constant feeding, along with the exhaustion, impacted on our relationship as husband and wife, as our communication began to centre around what needed to be done around the house and for the kids, and I began to feel a bit of resentment towards my husband for being able to get out of the house every day, even if it was to go to work. It also left me with little time and energy to spend with our 2yo boy, which I found really tough. The ‘mum guilt’ weighed heavily as I watched him be entertained by our supportive family, or when he would ask who was coming over to play with him each day.
We were incredibly lucky to have a huge amount of support behind us in those first couple of months so that I could focus my full attention on breastfeeding (it really is a full time job.. and then some). From home cooked meals and lactation cookies, to entertaining our 2yo (another full time job), washing bottles, and jobs around the house, the help was amazing! We were incredibly fortunate to have my Mum come and stay with us for the first 6 weeks as my husband had started a new job and couldn’t take any extra time off. She took care of everything – looking after our 2yo, listening to me countdown the weeks until I could stop breastfeeding, and giving me a constant supply of nursing tea, lactation cookies, food and water to satisfy my huge appetite and give me enough energy to keep feeding (and of course, the added searching through the rubbish bin at midnight). She also helped out during the night / early hours of the morning, giving top up bottles and settling the twins. She was absolutely AMAZING, and I will be forever grateful for her support and encouragement.
After those first few months, I found things got a bit easier (as easy as breastfeeding twins can get!) and I gained a bit more energy back (hooray to conversing like an adult again… well almost). At 6 months, after a lot of perseverance, the twins started attaching without the shield which made things a bit easier, and it meant one less thing to worry about. From about 8 months, I decided to give them a dedicated side each, as I felt comfortable that their necks were strong and didn’t need the rotation for development, they could regulate their own supply, and I didn’t have to think about what side each one needed to be on. I tandem fed occasionally if I found them both to be too impatient, but for the most part I continued to feed them individually, and I like to think I’ve taught them some patience by having to wait for their turn.
We went through the different phases of getting distracted by other sounds while feeding, little hands poking and smacking me in the face, mid-feed conversations, etc. I’ve been no stranger to the pain of being used as a teething toy, or the ‘joys’ of mastitis. There were certainly days where I was beyond exhausted and wanted to give up, was frustrated at being the ‘milking cow’ and the only thing that could settle the twins, or didn’t think I could continue giving so much of myself to something I didn’t entirely enjoy. It was at these times that I would need to remind myself of my goal, why I was persisting (to give the twins all the benefits of breastfeeding), and how far I’d come. After all the initial effort, and the challenges along the way, it really became completely natural and I would just feed them both without giving it a second thought (often saying ‘NEXT!’ on the occasions that hubby was there to pass the next twin to me). It wasn’t until my sister reminded me one day that 3 feeds a day for twins was really still 6 feeds a day that I stopped to give myself some credit for the hard work I had put in.
“I did it!”
To say I am proud that I was able to achieve my goal of breastfeeding our twins for their first 12 months would be an understatement. I am amazed at what our bodies can do (even my small-breasted, petite body!), to carry twins and then being able to feed them too, and I am amazed at how far my determination got me. Although I was counting down the weeks from the very beginning, and there were A LOT of testing moments, I enjoyed developing a special bond with our twins and I am thrilled that I was able to give them all the benefits of breastfeeding. Getting to 12 months, really wasn’t easy, but I have learnt a lot about myself on the journey and I can say that I am also better off for the experience. With relentless determination and excellent support, from both professionals and family, of which we are so thankful for, I proved to myself that breastfeeding twins is possible, and I that I can achieve anything that I set my mind to!
Sending positive vibes and loads of encouragement to all mums currently on their breastfeeding journeys. Keep going! You are amazing!