I apologize for typos, trying to do this with a baby on my lap!
So I want to write about my breastfeeding story, because one thing I wasn’t prepared for was how incredibly difficult, time-consuming and um, controversial, breastfeeding is. I’m going to do this in three parts, though, because I’m finding there have been two very distinct phases of breastfeeding, and I am assuming weaning them will be the final phase, which hasn’t started yet.
So part 1, let’s call it, OMG This Sucks.
As I mentioned in my birth story, I had a C-section, which means I’m doped up on all sorts of drugs, and also it takes a bit longer for the milk to come in because the hormone release is different. Oh, also, get used to EVERYONE touching your boobs. I was lying in the recovery room with my new little babes, when suddenly two nurses came at me, ramming my boobs into the babies mouths (they really wanted me to tandem nurse, I’ll get back to my feelings on that shortly…). In fact, what you should know about the hospital is that they very closely monitor the breastfeeding. Every 3-4 hours a nurse was there to either slap a baby on me, or ask me when I fed last, which baby, which side…
Here’s something else you should know: they will only let you leave the hospital if the baby has lost no more than 10% of their birth weight. Well, my guys lost more than 10%, so in the middle of the night of the third day in the hospital (we really wanted to be able to leave the next day) my husband drove to the drug store to buy soy formula – it made me cry thinking about giving my new babies cows milk – and we started plugging them full of formula so that we could leave. It was around this time that they wheeled in a giant green machine with tubes and wire and dials and said, it’s time to pump. What? So I was hooked up to the hospital grade pumping machine with images of a cow barn in my head, off we went…I didn’t do too badly, an ounce or so of colostrum (the pre-milk vital for babies). They were both good at taking the bottle, and didn’t seem to have any nipple confusion.
But they also barfed up all the formula we gave them. This was one of the first low points in breastfeeding for me. This is when it occurred to me, I have to keep them alive…
We brought the pump home with us, and for the first few weeks, I would feed the babies, then pump to keep my supply up. With the blessing of my midwife, I decided no more formula unless absolutely necessary, since they were puking it all up anyway.
Low point number two: the milk comes in. About a week after I gave birth, my milk “came in”. This means that the colostrum changes over to milk, and your hormones go haywire. I could. Not. Stop. Crying. For the whole day. At the same time, Thea was not gaining weight. She wasn’t losing weight, but she had completely plateaued. We rented a scale, and started weighing the babies two or three times a day. In between feeding the babies, I was pumping milk, and then we were bottle feeding the breast milk to Thea to make sure she was taking in enough. Also, newborn babies take about 30-45 minutes to feed each time. Since my nipples started to get really sore, I was feeding them one at a time. So here’s the time line I was dealing with for the first few weeks: Feed Thea for 45 minutes; feed Jude for 45 minutes while dad feeds Thea the bottle; pump for 15 minutes; sit on the edge of my seat knowing that Thea will be hungry again in about 15 minutes – and start all over again. All day, all night, 24/7, that was my schedule. Oh, and weighing them in between, feeling defeated if they lost an ounce. They started getting really gassy too, which just made me feel like my milk was poison. And then the pain started.
Low point number three: Breastfeeding hurts like a son of a bitch. I had angry red lines on my boobs, red spots all over and my nipples felt like they were on fire! All the googling I was doing on my phone while I was attached to babies and machines pointed me in the direction of a possible yeast infection, something I had dealt with during my pregnancy, and often goes undiagnosed. I started medicine for that, and applied gentian violet, a witchy cure that turns baby’s mouth and my nipple purple! (I have a hilarious photo, but it’s on my old phone…can’t get it off…). I saw a Lactation Consultant, who confirmed the babies latch was okay, and basically just gave me support that I was doing a good job. She tried to help me find more comfortable positions etc, and we discussed why Thea might not be gaining. But nothing seemed to be making a difference. I was in pain, the babies were gassy, and Thea was not gaining weight.
The turning point: I had been doing a lot of reading about foremilk and hindmilk. The Foremilk is the lighter stuff (lets call it, skim milk) which comes at the beginning of the feed, the hindmilk (the cream) comes at the end of the feed and is what keeps babies full, it’s really fatty. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I might have an oversupply of milk, brought on by all the pumping, and the babies were just not getting the fatty hind milk. If babies are fussy and not gaining, it is assumed that you are not producing enough milk, which is why pumping is so important. But in fact , I believe I was producing too much milk, and the babies were filling up on the lighter stuff. Also, switching them from boob to boob was not helping. Only the baby who nursed second would get the hindmilk. The first baby was only getting the lighter stuff. Also, my right boob seemed to be producing more milk, with a really fast letdown. Jude loved Righty. He loved guzzling the milk, and he would get really angry at Lefty because it was so slow. However, Thea was completely overwhelmed by Righty. She loved the long slow flow she could get off of Lefty. Do you see where this is going?
I assigned them their own boob. When I made this decision I felt an incredible weight lift off my shoulders. This was the first time I used my “mother” instinct, and made a decision that worked for us, because it is really contrary to what people tell you to do with twins. I also stopped trying to feed them at the same time, because that made the flow way too fast, and they would both end up choking and sputtering.
(My thoughts on tandem nursing: everyone wants to know if I tandem nurse, and I start to feel like a bit of a circus freak. Like everyone’s picturing this giant octopus of nursing, arms and legs flailing around a naked-from-the-waist-up mama. I gave up on tandem nursing because not one of us enjoyed it. It takes a bit longer, but what was I doing anyway? Now I’m glad we get the one-on-one time.)
Here’s my reasoning for assigning breasts: breastmilk adjusts to the baby. If your baby is a newborn, the milk is composed of exactly what a newborn needs. As the baby grows, the milk changes to give the baby the correct amount of nutrients for the stage the baby is at. Also, the milk gives the individual child what he/she needs. Baby needs extra B6, milk makes more B6 etc. So I started wondering…if I keep switching my babies from one boob to the other, how will my breasts ever adjust to the individual baby? It just makes sense to me to keep them on the same boob. Jude got his fast flow Righty (although I continued to express a bit before each feed to make sure he got enough hind milk – and I still have to take him off sometimes when it lets down), and Thea got her slow flow Lefty, and I trusted my instincts. And it works. It works so well. Thea started gaining weight, the milk adjusted to her needs. I stopped pumping so that my production would calm down, and so that I would have more down time. I also didn’t have to keep track of who had what last. I felt relief.
Assigning a boob to each twin is really unconventional, so I’m just going to outline my thoughts and my arguments against what is normally said about it, in case anyone else is struggling with this.
The strongest argument against assigning each twin a boob is that a babies position needs to be changed when they breastfeed because one eye will focus differently than the other, hindering brain development.
Answer: I alternate between cradle hold and football hold. Mostly I cradle hold, but once a day or so I football hold them so that they get a different perspective. Um, that’s not hard to do.
The second biggest argument I’ve encountered is that with each breast producing a different amount of milk, your boobs will be lopsided.
Answer: Well, most women’s boobs are not equal in size to begin with, but okay. The answer is, no they won’t. I could post a picture, but that might be weird. My boobs are not lopsided.
And the third and strangest argument is that if there is a baby who has a weaker suck, your milk production may go down. My question is, what if you only had one baby with a weak suck? Would you rent a baby with a stronger suck to “help out”? Erm, no. You work on the latch, you massage the breast, you help the baby suck. Thea was the weaker breastfeeder, and now she sucks like a champ. And my production is fine. She is growing, she is healthy, and she loves her Righty boob.
You may notice a tone of defence in what I’m saying. That’s because this was NEVER offered as an option to my breastfeeding problems. Not by the midwives, not by the nurses, not by the Lactation Consultant, not by my La Leche League leader. So I’m going to say it here: Breastfeeding twins is different from breastfeeding one baby, it is twice the work, it is hard, and ANYTHING you can do to make it easier is better for you and the babies. Assigning a breast to each twin should be offered as a viable option, and not frowned upon or mentioned as an after thought and with lots of warnings. (Seriously, if you come across this as an option, you will be warned about doing it…).
So there you have it. I made it work for me, I trusted my instincts and we’re going on six months of breastfeeding. I did try to give them formula once, about 2 months ago, when I was feeling low and wondering when I would ever be able to leave the house by myself for more than two hours at a time…but it did not feel right, or easier. They didn’t drink much, and I decided it wasn’t worth it. Now that they are six months old, they are eating some solids, so if I can’t be home, at least dad has an option (not that it ever happens, I have no life.)
One last thing, I assigned them their own boob at 2 months, and it wasn’t until 3 months that everything stopped hurting. So I guess my advice is stick with it, it WILL get better. But that’s the twin motto: IGB. It gets better.
Now if you’ve made it this far, here’s some gratuitous cuteness for your trouble: