The mysteries and joys of breastfeeding are no doubt a unique experience for many new mothers and their families. One dreams of an instant mother-infant bond, but let’s face it, there is no exact ‘formula’ for getting it right from the get go. Add to this the challenges and demands of birthing multiples, twins in my case, and there really is no guarantee that one can be fully prepared for all that unfolds. My breastfeeding experience has been a relatively positive one, but I know from talking with other mothers, that this is not the case for some. What we assume will be a blissful and natural process, is often extremely unpredictable, demanding, and heartbreaking when things do not go as planned. As a mother of multiples, I want to share a bit of what I learned in caring for my newborns – now toddlers, as well as reach out to other parents (of multiples) for their own stories and resources that they might want to share with our reader community.
I went into labor with my twin boys in mid-October 2007, six weeks earlier than expected. I had been on bed rest since midsummer, and was doing everything possible each week to tack yet another seven days onto their estimated delivery date. Our team of high-risk specialists was over the moon when we made it successfully to week thirty. It was a fragile time, but bed rest (or rather apartment rest) offered a seemingly endless expanse of time where I was able to catch up on reading, parenting research, and also do blogging and writing projects from my laptop.
I had always envisioned a healthy pregnancy where my weeks might be organized around prenatal yoga classes, breastfeeding how-to workshops, shopping for eco maternity wear, and summer strolls in the park eating ice cream. Few of these things happened, as I was instructed by early July to limit my activity, with only Friday outings to the doctor’s office for check-ups. I mention this, as pregnancy was an introduction to letting go and losing ‘control’ over many of the things that I thought I could easily manage.
My twins were delivered via a Caesarean section at the beginning of week 32, and even though they were healthy, my babies remained in NICU for ten days. We could not have been in better hands, and after a summer of long days on bed rest, it was actually a relief to have the support of so many caring nurses to interface with each day. I was fortunate that the staff in my unit was extremely knowledgeable about breastfeeding premies. I was encouraged to try to breastfeed both babies as soon as I was able to visit NICU, something that I believe accelerated the health and growth of our small babies. This was indeed a stressful experience with tubes and sensors attached to both twins and red alarms flashing when certain vital signs were out of range, but in what might otherwise have been an impersonal hospital experience, moments of peace, serenity, and bonding occurred despite the less than private setting.
BREASTFEEDING & ATTACHMENT PARENTING
There is no doubt that the earliest stages of attachment parenting for my husband and I involved more of an audience than we had originally bargained for, with the watchful eye of NICU nurses to gauge whether we were doing everything as perfectly as possible. I mention this because the combination of trust in the process and surrender to others was a big part of relaxing into the feeding of my babies. I was also fortunate to have been able to produce a significant amount of milk for our twins, with occasional supplementation of organic formula.
There are a lot of fine details involved in identifying the ideal method for feeding twin babies — for example, whether one opts to feed simultaneously in the ‘football hold’ or at timed intervals separately. And I am surely not knowledgeable enough to advocate what sort of diet and health measures one should take when preparing to produce enough milk for multiples. The key thing that I want to share is that, with enough breast milk to feed one’s newborns adequately, it can be done!
There are a lot of naysayers who will claim that you are starving your babies, depriving them of vital nutrients, or simply discourage you from of all the work and physical gymnastics involved. But for me this was fortunately never an issue, particularly since I was so encouraged by our NICU nurses to keep trying until I experienced success and results through sheer determination. Breastfeeding is not for everyone, and I never set out to be militant about any one method in caring for my newborns. However, I do believe it is important for women to share with each other the fact that it does not always come easily, if at all, and that so much of the process is about trial and error, and not necessarily an instant bonding success story.
Here are a few ‘mothering with multiples’ tips that I want to share, now that I am further along the path of raising my twins:
1 ) If you learn that you are having multiples, line up a lactation consultant who can help you set up appropriate dietary guidelines, provide much needed support, and perhaps even make home visits in the event that you are put on bed rest prior to delivery. Contact your local La Leche League chapter for more information and area specialists.
2) Find a pediatrician who supports your desire to breastfeed your multiples and encourages you to stick with it, if this is indeed what you really hope to do. Premies can be breastfed with great success.
3) Organize your birthing center or hospital tour early on in your pregnancy, just in case you are put on bed rest or deliver early. Similarly pack your hospital bag as early as you can.
4) Research in advance support groups for parents of twins, specifically mothers who are breastfeeding twins or multiples.
5) Take advantage of the naps that are for the taking prior to your delivery. They are free and vital to your ability to transition to the next phase of motherhood.
6) Be kind to yourself and find the best combination of solutions in feeding and caring for your babies. Supplementing with organic formula or otherwise does not make you a failure. The most natural experience is one where you aim to be at ease with the process. No one can fill your role, and your babies will benefit from the peace of mind that comes from your doing your best while also caring for yourself and your personal well-being.
We encourage you to leave comments about experiences that you may have had while breastfeeding or creating a feeding plan for multiples.