With my babies nearing nine months of age, I think it's time to share my journey of breastfeeding multiples.
Confronted with words like c-section, epidural, pre-term, NICU, bed rest, and high risk I was entering uncharted territories with this pregnancy. I was worried about a lot of things--a lot of unknown things. However, after exclusively breastfeeding my first three children I thought that nursing was one aspect of these babies that I would be familiar with, yes even successful at.
I can't speak for all mothers of multiples, but as for myself, it has been a very different nursing relationship than what I experienced with my singletons. For one, I've never before had to say while nursing, "Stop poking your sister." "Keep your hands to yourself." "We don't hit each other." It really is quite funny, sometimes frustrating, but mainly funny to watch two babies interact while they're nursing side by side. The main difference between nursing one vs. two for me, however, stems from the notion of sharing. These two little girls have continued down that path that began in utero--that is the sharing of resources. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, I just haven't had enough milk to supply two babies.
At our first doctor's appointment at ten days old, the pediatrician confirmed my fears that the babies weren't getting enough milk despite my total dedication to and hours on end of breastfeeding. I called on friends, LLL leaders, and lactation consultants for thoughts, ideas, answers and support. I gave my best efforts with herbal supplements, prescriptions, raw milk, pumping, feeding on demand, rest and fluids. I did everything I could to try and increase my milk supply. In the meantime I gratefully accepted pumped milk from other nursing mother friends and I tried every day to walk the fine line of how much formula to give the babies. Enough to give them the calories they need but not too much so that they wouldn't want to nurse. I was so happy on days when the twins seemed content after only receiving three oz. each of formula in a 24 hour period. Some days, however, they seemed to need up to eight or nine oz. and then I worried so much about why my body wasn't producing more. At times I was so frustrated that for some reason I was given two babies to nourish and care for, but not the means to feed them.
After all of my reading, consulting with others, and various attempts to make more milk, I found a few things that helped a little. They didn't give me the miracle full breasts that I had hoped for, but they kept me going and helped us to get where we are now.
The first thing was that just before I offered them a bottle, I would put them on to nurse, even if I had just nursed them recently. Just that little bit of extra stimulation was helpful.
Another helpful practice for me was to nurse them together as often as possible. At first I really had to force myself to do this because I enjoyed our nursing time so much more when I could spend it with just one baby. I love to caress and cuddle with one baby as we nurse. With two it's much more of a function thing than a bonding thing. Many times I felt like a mama sow with her litter. It didn't help that during the summer months I was nursing two babies in 100 degree weather with no AC--one big lump of sweat. However, when I nurse them together I find that I get quicker let downs and more of them in a nursing period. And no milk gets wasted from leaking out of the breast not in use. It's really a much more efficient way to nurse and proved beneficial in keeping my milk.
The next thing I know helped a lot was co-sleeping. We are not and never have been very dedicated co-sleepers. We simply don't sleep well with a baby, or babies in our bed. But with these two, they just slept better in our arms. We kept them in bed with us for the first few months, at least for part of the night. During this time I would nurse one or the other part of the night while I slept. I felt good about the extra stimulation I was getting during these hours. Still now when one baby wakes up early in the morning, I'll bring her in bed and we'll snooze and nurse a bit longer.
One more thing that I could control when it came to my milk supply was just slowing down. The days that we were busy and had to go out somewhere, I gave the twins more bottles and my supply suffered. The days where we stayed home all day, I didn't need to give them as many bottles. For the most part it wasn't really an issue--who wants to go run errands with two babies and three other children. But it was good for me to keep it in mind when planning the week. I was fortunate enough to have good friends to take my other children for play dates so that they wouldn't feel too cooped up.
With my single babies I didn't find that nursing slowed me down much. I found that I could nurse anytime, anywhere pretty invisibly and I didn't have to carry around with me bottles and formula and all that stuff. But with two, it's pretty darn near impossible to nurse discreetly and requires a bit more support and set up to nurse comfortably.
I had really hoped that after the babies started eating solid foods that I could stop the formula altogether. It didn't work out that way. At about the same time we started solids in earnest I got a sore on one of my nipples. After two weeks of it not healing I spoke with three LLL leaders, an IBCLC and finally went to see a doctor. After two months and several creams, coconut oil, and essential oil blends, it has finally healed. But during that time I was trying to nurse two babies primarily on one breast. It was very frustrating and I thought many times that it was the beginning of the end.
We are now in a good place--different than what I expected, but good. We're doing solids, breast milk and formula. I'm a reformed breast milk snob. I've come to realize that everybody's journey is unique and personal. I've been humbled and feel more empathy for those who struggle with breastfeeding. But I am so grateful for the milk that I have been able to give my girls and the nursing hugs and snuggles that I've shared with them. A phrase spoken by a lactation consultant that has stuck with me and has become my motivation to keep going is that "every drop counts." And I will continue to give these babies all the drops I can for as long as I can. And I will continue to absolutely love watching Beatrice and Georgia hold hands over my heart while they are nourished at my breast.
I'm linking in with the "Blog about Breastfeeding" event.