Breastfeeding is hard.
I wrote an article HERE on Medium about how much breastfeeding sucks. Because at the time…it sucked.
Since writing that, I also started working on a piece about how amazing breastfeeding is. Because it is, even when it sometimes sucks. There are also beautiful, incredibly precious moments. And sometimes those moments are never so clear as they are when you think they’re going to be taken away from you.
Let me explain:
From day one, my twins were mostly breastfed. I say “mostly” because they were born 6 weeks early and spent the first 2 weeks of their life in the NICU where they were fed a combination of donor milk, my pumped milk, formula, and of course I also breastfed when I was there with them. For the first bit, they were fed via tube when not nursing, then eventually went on to bottle feeds during the end of their NICU stay.
We were really lucky, I have to admit, because the girls both breastfed amazingly straight away. Twin B latched within 30 minutes of being delivered and remained that way for nearly an hour, while her sister had to get whisked off to the NICU straight away and didn’t get a chance to try until a few hours later after I got some rest. But once she got her chance, we had almost no problems at all.
I did struggle a bit with learning how to position both babies on my own to tandem feed, especially while they were so new and small and fragile, but we eventually figured it out. At home, before they were able to join us, I was pumping as much as possible and was actually getting a decent amount each session. I brought most of it to the NICU for immediate use and began building a freezer stash for when they got home. I was optimistic that I’d be able to exclusively breastfeed both babies once they came home.
And for a while, I did.
As time went on, I battled a couple rounds of mastitis and developed an aversion to tandem feeding. I grew to hate the sensation of having 2 people attached to my body at once. The fact that I was struggling with some PPD/PPA at the time didn’t exactly help, and I felt smothered and uncomfortable. I wanted to quit breastfeeding.
We burned through my pumped milk stash in the freezer in a matter of days. I was never adding to it because pumping when you’re constantly holding babies (in the early days they would only contact nap, but that’s another story) is basically impossible.
I bought product after product, in hopes that it would help in some way. Some did. Others were a waste of money. Scratch that, most were a waste of money.
I started giving the twins formula, which I had given my first daughter and which I have nothing against AT ALL, yet I felt like a failure anyways.
Then the boob strikes started.
The babies decided they hated being nursed at the same time. They would scream and cry any time I tried to position them in the traditional “football hold” position for tandem feeding.
If one baby was already in position and contentedly nursing, her sister’s crying would inevitably disturb her and make her stop eating and join in the crying as well. I switched to nursing one at a time while trying to keep the other content long enough so her sister could finish. It was draining in more ways than one.
Part of the problem was that I “stupidly” decided to forgo a twin nursing pillow and just purchased a regular one. For me, this was a huge mistake. Other twin moms I’ve spoken to said they didn’t use a nursing pillow at all and to them, I say: “HOW you magical, glorious woman?! Teach me your ways!”
Sometimes my milk would come out too forcefully, causing them to choke and gag (and then cry of course,) sometimes they’d be so fussy I’d be convinced they weren’t getting anything, so I’d hand express to check and multiple streams would shoot across the room. Poor babies.
Later, they became too easily distracted to breastfeed efficiently. Even when being fed one at a time, the twin I was trying to nurse would latch on, suck for 15 seconds, then unlatch and look around, then require help relatching, another 15-second snack, look around. Repeat. Or she’d latch, then try to turn her head the entire other direction to stare at something else. My poor, sad, abused nipples.
Sometimes they wouldn’t even breastfeed at all, and would instead immediately scream with horror at the mere sight of my boob. That does wonders for your self-esteem, as you might imagine.
The more breastfeeding frustrated me, the more I turned to bottles. I decided I’d exclusively pump and just bottle feed them. That way they were still getting my milk but without the hassle of breastfeeding when they clearly didn’t want to.
The problem with that is, as I mentioned, we depleted the freezer stash. So in order to feed both babies, I was stuck in a constant stressful loop of trying to stay on top of pumping enough for their needs. At any given time there was no more than 4 ounces of pumped milk in the fridge. Around this time the babies also decided they hated the formula I had. They would literally gag if I tried to give it to them. So it was expressed milk or nothing.
(I should add, that through all of this they would still breastfeed overnight so I don’t understand their daytime aversion to breastfeeding.)
I felt like I was drowning. I’d be struggling to entertain and feed 2 babies during every wake window, then after getting them down for their naps I’d rush to set up to pump so I’d have something to feed them when they woke up. I never had a single moment to just catch my breath. My mental health was suffering, big time.
For most pumping sessions I’d get anywhere from 3-5 ounces. Not terrible but also not ideal for feeding two hungry babies.
Then one day I sat down to pump and could only get an ounce. I panicked. My supply seemed to be dropping and I knew my days of being able to feed my babies breastmilk were numbered.
I tried power pumping (more information on that can be found here) to try to boost my supply and it helped a little bit. But I still knew I had to do something to save our breastfeeding experience.
How I changed everything
Something had to change or I was going to lose my mind.
First of all, I had to make some decisions.
I decided the girls would be exclusively formula-fed, that I would continue to pump to build a freezer stash, and that I’d continue to offer to breastfeed if they showed signs they wanted to. I was hoping that the frequent pumping plus infrequent breastfeeding would maintain my supply at least somewhat and that if I knew they had the formula to eat it might take some of the pressure off me to pump more than I was able to.
I bought new formula. The girls clearly hated the formula we had, so I tossed it and bought something new. Well, actually I rebought a formula they had tried previously and had consumed with no problems. They accepted it again with no issues, and so that’s what I fed them.
Gradually my supply did increase. I was able to start building my freezer stash and added a couple dozen ounces in a few days. That was a huge weight off my mind. And a funny thing happened, both twins started wanting to breastfeed more. Often they’d shove their bottle away and reach for me instead, even if the bottle contained breastmilk, which made me feel pretty amazing.
The biggest change I made however was my own attitude. I had to make myself let go of the idea that I was failing if I stopped breastfeeding, in order to continue breastfeeding. I know that might not make sense to anyone but me but when I shifted my mindset and stopped letting myself feel defeated by my struggles I was able to see the process in a new light and that helped me discover new ways to make it more successful for us.
It’s not perfect and it will change
The twins will be 6 months old soon, so we’re currently half a year into our breastfeeding journey. When I was feeling extremely frustrated with the whole thing I told myself to try to just make it to 6 months and then I would/could quit. But now that it’s approaching I don’t want to stop.
We’re still figuring it out. Some days one baby will refuse to breastfeed while her sister refuses a specific bottle.
It’s frustrating sometimes, it’s beautiful sometimes.