I hope you find this letter encouraging. I'm going to be completely transparent and vulnerable with you here. I want to share with you my story because maybe it will resonate with your experience or help you avoid some of the things I struggled with.
Can I just start by saying that having twins has made me put many of my ideals and thoughts of what I would and wouldn’t ever do out the window in the name of exhaustion and survival…this is my breast feeding story….
At 7.5 months pregnant with twins I had my hospital bag packed (just in case – I’d read so much about twins coming early), I’d wrapped up things at work (I walked to work every day and was on my feet a lot as a preschool teacher and I just couldn’t anymore so I got a medical waiver to start my leave early). I’d read everything I THOUGHT I’d need to know about breastfeeding. Not necessarily breastfeeding twins but the basics of breastfeeding. I had heard that breast was best and I was determined that I’d have nothing but the best for my babies. I was also surrounded by a community of breastfeeding moms. I couldn’t wait to join in. How hard could it be? I thought. In hindsight I may have been too casual in my thoughts about how "natural" and "easy" it should be...
You can read about my birth story here. But let’s get straight to my breastfeeding journey. Well, I’d had the twins by c-section and it was evening by the time I was in my room and the girls were brought to me again. My mom and husband were there and it was a joyful time. They had me attempt to breastfeed right away. I was still hooked up to an IV and a catheter and needed lots of help. The babies were sleepy but did some half-hearted sucking on my breast. It was a sweet time. We got some beautiful videos and I was so happy. Then reality started to set in.
Friend, dear friend, remember – I lived in Hong Kong at the time and gave birth to my twins there. They have strict policies about husbands not spending the night in the maternity (read female) ward. Besides – there would have been nowhere for him to even be. And I was to stay “hooked-up” to stuff overnight. So the nurses kept my girls in the nursery and would bring them to me to feed through the night because I couldn’t move. I never would have thought I’d be okay with that. My babies were going to stay with me! But things change and it sounded good after such a long day and surgery and medication. My mom and husband left and I drifted peacefully off to sleep.
Then….it started. The sound of the cart wheeling down the hall. At first I was sooooo happy to be reunited with my sweet babies – one by one. I attempted to feed them the best that I could by myself in the wee hours of the night/morning. I was so in love with them but also a little scared of them too. So one would wake and then they’d bring them to me – I’d feed them – at least it seemed I was. Then I’d just drift off to sleep and they’d bring the next one. Again a mix of joy and fear and I was sooo tired! My girls were 5.5 and 6.5 lbs – so big enough to not need the NICU or anything but small enough to need to eat frequently which is hard with one but with two….but the first night passed all right as I was still euphoric and excited and feeling no pain.
The next day my husband and mom were back and I got disconnected from all my stuff. I was told that I should try to go to the bathroom when I was ready. THAT was fun. Again – you can read about that in my birth story here.
As the day progressed I was told to drink lots of water and milk and eat. A kind nurse who had grown twins befriended me and gave me advice. Then – a very surly and “in charge” nurse – the head nurse actually – came in to see me. She said I needed to drink more and grabbed my breasts and massaged them very roughly. I can remember the stunned looks of horror on my mom and husband’s face that I’m sure matched my own. She was “stimulating milk flow” or something! I continued to persevere throughout the day but I was surrounded by friends and family and it was a happy blur. The girls ate, peed, pooped and all seemed well.
But then I noticed it was getting a little uncomfortable to nurse them. I tried to nurse them on different breasts every time but in my sleep deprived state I wasn’t sure. I tried to make sure their latches were appropriate and I sent pictures to two friends for advice. Even though it was a pro-breastfeeding hospital they didn’t seem to know much. My friends made a few suggestions but basically it seemed to be going fine.
I was still slow getting up and down and I was actually a little scared to be alone with the girls all night. Just my luck that they were doing construction in the nursery across the hall and Nurse Rachet (not really her name - the head nurse) told me that I couldn’t keep the babies in the space they had – they had to save that for the moms fresh out of delivery. I was in tears. But the kind nurse with the grown twins said – “Don’t you worry, I’ll take them and you just eat and rest.” To be shown a kindness in a country that is not your own and a language not your own means just that much more. By that night though – the pain in my raw nipples!!! The lack of sleep! I was a wreck. I could hear that cart coming down the hall and I wanted to cry. I knew it would hurt. I wasn’t sure I was doing it right. I was alone. At one point I tried to tell the orderly that wheeled them in “Please can’t you just give them a bottle!” She just gestured that she didn’t understand me and left. I would grit my teeth, inhale, latch them, try not to cry and then when they would get eating I would finally slowly exhale. I was applying lanolin nipple cream in between feedings and trying to do my best. It was so hard.
I had my girls on a Monday afternoon. By Wednesday evening I was up and moving around fine, I was feeding the girls (although very painfully), I was keeping the girls with me and I was ready to go home. We got dismissed to go home on that Thursday morning as long as we brought them back for a check-up the next day. That was fine with me!!
The afternoon that we got home I had a slight fever but nothing wrong – I didn’t have an infection or anything. I think it was all the trauma to my body. A dear friend came by to visit – I’d asked her to bring me some formula just in case. I was feeling worried.
The next day we took the girls to their check-up. They had lost some weight but were still in the acceptable range. We were doing it right so far. But I was so tired feeding all the time and taking them to appointments (so many appointments to check this and that!! )And boy could they cry!!
Then, in my tired and overwhelmed state, I decided to pump and supplement with the bottle so I could have some help. I was trying to do everything on my own and it was killing me. And they started to be awake and HUNGRY! I started pumping but it was hard. And here is one of the mistakes that I feel like I made - I let them have a bottle.
They found that they could get the milk or formula out of the bottle so much easier. They took to those bottles like nobody’s business. Nipple confusion – yeah…it’s a real thing. So then I’m trying to still nurse them too and they are screaming bloody murder at the breast. Like hard. And it’s devastating me. On so many levels. First, I can’t bear to see them so upset. Second, they are hungry. Third, I want to nurse them so badly. And there was some possible solutions but I wasn't aware enough in my sleep deprived state.
I didn’t put it all together though until a few years later helping my friend through the same thing. And she had success. You see, someone had gotten me these little feeding cups. It’s what you can use when a baby has a breastfeeding strike. You can kind of pour it in their mouths. I was helping my friend and let her borrow them and it worked to get her through. But then again, I’m not sure in the end how that would have worked out for us either. You see it took 45 minutes to feed each one every hour and a half in the beginning.
But I resigned myself to pumping. Here’s where I made my next few mistakes. I pumped every 2-3 hours in the day but at night if they were sleeping I was sleeping. If they were awake I was feeding them and not doing that 3am pump that is so important. You have to pump every few hours overnight too to be successful. And I wasn’t drinking enough fluids to keep my supply up. I was beyond tired. I couldn’t tell day from night (see the post - the The newborn twin time warp here) and we had a lot of friends bring meals and wanting to see the babies those first 20 days. It was hard to develop a routine. The times that they would latch were getting fewer and fewer. And my milk was getting less and less. I started supplementing more and more with formula. In a way it was great because they were eating and feeling full and that was a good feeling. But inside I was devastated. That along with being unimaginably tired made it even harder to deal with. Out of all my friends (we were numbers 15 and 16 born to the staff that year) I seemed to be the only one not breastfeeding. I felt like a failure.
We had a lot of check-ups and clinic appointments too in those early days. It was scary just going out with the babies on the train in the stroller or if it was just one then with a sling or carrier. Then they told me my one girl had high jaundice levels. We ended up having to leave her in a light box type thing overnight in the hospital. My mom stayed home with my other baby while we brought “Twin A” in. It had to be the overwhelming hormones in my body and my lack of sleep but I was a hot mess leaving my baby in the hospital overnight. They made us wear masks in the special care unit and I can remember crying the ugly cry and the snot was just running out and into my mask. It was awful. So then she was left to spend the night there and most of the next day and was fed a bottle. I was losing my battle…then the icing on the cake.
Remember – I lived in Hong Kong where things are …different. I made an appointment with a lactation consultant. She was a Chinese lady in the public hospital. She showed me how to manually express milk with my hands and said I didn’t have much supply and to give up. In my extremely sleep deprived and stressed out state I didn’t think it through much more than that. I had failed. I was too beaten down to realize there were options. Now there are so many great facebook groups that can help and make recommendations etc. It wasn’t the same in 2013.
I made one last ditch effort when the girls were a few months old. I bought (and I had to really track this down in HK) one of those tubes you tape next to your breast where the formula comes through that but they are still activating your supply by sucking on your breast and the tube. But after more frustrated screaming from my babies I gave up completely.
I carried that grief and sense of failure until they were toddlers. One day, when the girls were about 1.5, a friend I’d met who had recently had twins finally took me up on my offer to join us at our mom’s group. She waltzed in there with her twin babies – tiny tiny and she looked so put together and she managed to breastfeed both of them effortlessly during our meeting time. I’d been leaning on the fact that I had twins and it made breastfeeding just too challenging. And then she comes in and makes it all look so easy (they weren’t her first kids either so she was experienced at breastfeeding as well). I’m not gonna lie – that was super hard.
Looking back – I see things so differently. My twins are 5 now. They are healthy and happy girls. They’ve never had an infection or been on antibiotics. They are smart and wonderful. The take-away’s here are: I needed someone with know-how and some extra help to get breastfeeding established with twins. I assumed it would just happen naturally and it didn’t and I didn’t have a Plan B for succeeding. I would have had a lactation consultant lined up before-hand to help me through it.
You can’t underestimate the kind of tired you will be in the beginning and how it affects all your decisions and your ability to know if you’re doing the right thing. Sometimes breastfeeding doesn’t work out and it’s okay. It does not make you a bad mom. Breast may be best (and a whole lot cheaper especially when feeding twins). But if it doesn’t work out for whatever reason you are still an amazing, wonderful mom. You grew two babies! And in a few years it will be but a blip, a tiny bump in the road of your twin mom journey. I’ve also heard the saying “fed is best” and to be honest – I agree with that one wholeheartedly.
I hope my story has been an encouragement to you dear friend. Until next time.
Hi! I'm a mom of 5 year-old fraternal twin girls. While I'm by no means an expert - I do have stories to tell and ideas to share.