Can You Breastfeed Twins?: YES!
So all of a sudden you have these two babies out of your womb and you are responsible for their nourishment. Sure you tried to prepare, but you really can’t ever be ready for the craziness that now is your life. Can you even breastfeed them? Will your body produce enough? Will you be able to keep up physically and mentally? Will you ever sleep again? The feedings are constant, you are exhausted and you are feeling completely isolated. But you aren’t alone. You can do it. I know it can be done, because I did it too.
When my babies were tiny, I looked online for photos of moms holding their multiple babies in nursing positions. It helped a lot to actually see how it could work and as my twin girls grew, I used many of those positions. I also was encouraged by reading other stories of successes and challenges. This is my story.
You Mean There’s More Than One Baby?: The Preparation
I always planned to breastfeed. My mom did, even in the days when it wasn’t as common in the States. When I learned we were actually having twins, that plan didn’t change. If anything, it made more sense to breastfeed because of the money we would save on formula for two and potentially on future medical expenses. However, I was apprehensive since a lot of the twin moms I talked to, for one reason or another, weren’t able to breastfeed long—if at all—so I felt I was in new territory.
I feel really lucky that we made it through the challenges, because there WERE times when I was just so tired and frustrated and wanted to give up. However, I was determined and knew if we could just push through, it would work out. I did have support, which makes a big difference and lining that up is crucial. My husband was on board from the beginning, our extended family helped with the process (my parents and in-laws all had turns washing the pump), friends were supportive and the Moms of Multiples group I joined was a great resource as well as other online groups. Dr. Barbara Luke’s book When You’re Expecting Twins, Triplets or Quads was excellent during pregnancy, but the chapter on feeding the babies after they are born was much too short.
The multiples birthing class we took didn’t prepare us in the way I would have liked. I think practicing positions with dolls would have been a useful exercise. It covered breastfeeding, but no one REALLY gives you the scoop on how to manage two babies and the physicality of it all. While it’s different for all women, no one really tells you that it feels like knives down your breasts during let-down for the first month or two and that your nipples will get stretched to the point that they would shock everyone in a wet t-shirt contest, or that you might get bitten, or that you will probably squirt milk everywhere as you fumble to feed your babies, or that you get stimulated by other babies crying, or that you might still leak for up to a year or more after weaning, or that sleep deprivation is a form of torture.
Still, our bodies are amazing that they do prepare for this natural and wonderful process of providing everything your baby, or babies, needs. I remember dried colostrum when I was only a few months pregnant as well as the tenderness in my breasts as they prepared for the adjustment to an experience that can be described as a piranha attack by my voracious eaters.
My body may have been getting ready, but mentally I could never have imagined how exhausting it would be. And I could have given up, but I didn’t. For that, I am proud.
C-Section and Breastfeeding Twins: Football Hold
I wanted a vaginal birth. However, at 37 weeks, we had to induce labor. After 22 hours of labor, I had developed a fever and the doctor recommended taking them out the way many multiples are delivered, via C-section.
The nurses gave the babies to me for their first feeding in the combination hold (one cradle and one football hold). One baby latched immediately and with force and the other, while she took a minute, figured it out pretty quickly. I definitely was relieved that there were no immediate issues with nursing, as I know this isn’t always the case.
In post-partum, we had the babies go to the nursery so we could rest but had them brought back for feedings because I did have colostrum. After a few days, however, my colostrum wasn’t enough and the babies got really hungry so I ended up having to give them formula per the suggestion of a nurse. I was pretty upset about that as I didn’t want them to have a bottle yet, but it was either that or they starve, so I was told. I wish I knew before that incident that I could request a nurse change. While the formula did give the babies more energy, I felt incompetent that I couldn’t provide everything for my kids. I kept pumping at the hospital, though, to give them what I could and to help encourage my milk to come in. The babies transitioned pretty easily between the breast and the bottle and, in the end, we only needed to supplement with formula for about a week.
With a C-section, we were able to stay in the hospital longer and get help from the nurses, which we wouldn’t have had otherwise, and my milk did come in so we were able to get support from the lactation consultant there as well. Once at home, I called a lactation consultant for a visit and was reassured that I was doing okay. I highly recommend utilizing the resources available to you early on as there is a learning curve for mommy and baby/babies.
At home at the very beginning, I was simultaneously feeding most of the time as it is generally recommended to try to get both babies on the same schedule so you can get longer stretches of rest. I favored the double football hold as there was no pressure on the incision as I healed, but later nursed in a variety of positions. Using boppies and a bunch of pillows helped protect the incision and support the babies. The first few months especially are about survival for all of you, so if feeding on a schedule doesn’t work for you, then do whatever makes you more sane. Once you figure out how to nurse lying down, you can snooze and it might be easier to feed on demand at night this way and then feed at the same time during the day. If your breast is too full and big to comfortably nurse lying down, you can try putting a small pillow under your infant’s head to raise it up to the same level. This nursing position might save your life, so do what you can to make it work.
Some parents of twins do shifts where one parent responds to the kids for the first part of the night (or alternate nights) and if it’s the dad, gives a bottle of pumped milk. Some wake the dad up to do burping or to bottle feed one, but then everyone is miserable. Some hire a night nanny (if you can afford it, it totally is worth it). The nights at the beginning are so hard and time blurs together in one long repetitive routine, but it will get easier. Just hang in there.
My Thoughts on Pumping: Do It
And start right away. It encourages your milk to come in and helps establish a strong supply at the beginning. Plus, it lets other people help you out! Once you are home, you can take a break and get out, though you still need to pump so you don’t really get a break. And, if your twins are born early, pumping still provides them with the best nutrition, your breastmilk, and you can still work on establishing breastfeeding when possible. It’s hard work to pump and keep up with it, but in the scheme of things, a year—while the first one feels like forever—is short in the life of your child.
Nursing At Home: Boppies are your friend
I didn’t want to buy the twin breastfeeding pillow because, come on, what was I going to do with a U shaped pillow? Two boppies, however, and other pillows around worked great! At home, a big pillow supported my back and smaller pillows supported the boppies underneath and I would wear the boppies almost like a hula hoop with a baby on each. It took many weeks for me to be able to nurse without help and the girls had to be given to me one at a time for a while, but by about 6 weeks, I was able to get them on and off by myself, which I’ll describe in Part Two.
Nursing one at a time with a boppy allows you do have some time to feel like a person, which is really important to an overtired mama. I could nurse one while at the computer using a boppy. I could nurse one while eating dinner on a boppy. I took my boppy on the airplane and that was so helpful (we traveled a lot, so I would nurse one and my husband would bottle feed pumped milk for the other and we would rotate who got a turn with the real deal). The boppy was multipurpose for tummy time and games and bottle feedings and reading books to the kids. Absolutely a great investment to get two boppies for your two babies.
Getting Out: What’s That?!
Note that I don’t have a full section on getting help. Well, that’s my own issue, but it is important to get help and let others take care of the housework, or meals, or watch the babies so you can at least get a shower. Even some alone time with one of the babies instead of both will change your perspective.
There is getting out with the family, getting out with the babies, getting out with just one baby, getting out alone, and getting out for date nights. That’s a lot to juggle, so it’s no wonder the last three probably don’t happen very often.
If you are out in public with both babies, you can still breastfeed them. It’s easier to feed one at a time. I used a shawl with one baby at a time, while distracting the other baby with a book or toy or daddy. Sometimes, though, I got to use a private room and could whip out both breasts at the same time to be more efficient. There were times when I brought bottles of expressed milk too and I know some moms prefer to feed that way in public. There are many solutions, but the important thing is to get out of the house.
Somehow, we were able to go out for dinner for our anniversary one month after the girls were born since I left pumped milk for my amazing dad who managed to feed hungry, screaming babies propped on boppies.
I didn’t get out much by myself at first, but I recommend at least getting outside with the babies for a walk. It will do you all a lot of good. It is important for mama to get alone time too for a haircut, a girls movie night, even grocery shopping by yourself will seem like a welcome break! I was able to get away for a couple hours here and there (feed kids before I left and when I got back with milk in the fridge for emergencies), but it wasn’t until the girls were weaned that I could go away overnight and have that much needed and deserved break.
Don’t have any expectations of yourself for the first 3-6 months. After that, you will start to see the light of day, unless, of course, you have to go back to work (or choose to) and you absolutely have to get on some kind of schedule sooner. I hate to say 18 months is when it gets better, since that seems like such a long time away for a mom of newborn twins, but there are milestones along the way. The first year really is a blur, but looking back, it goes by fast. Now, it is so much easier since the kids have each other to play with and well, it’s just fun to have twins. There are always new challenges and even still, there are struggles.
Going crazy happens. And, when you are at the bottom, all you have to do is ask for help. Make a call to a help hotline or call a friend to give you a break or take a walk. We’ve all been there. Some of us just admit it more than others. But, no matter what, be proud of yourself for doing what you are doing. You are trying to do the best you can for your babies and that’s all you can do. Congratulations on being a twin mama!
Amanda S. is a SAHM mom of twin girls in Chicago.