Breastfeeding one baby is A LOT of work! With twins, besides the obvious issue of having two newborns to feed, they are typically born earlier than singletons. On top of that, the recovery time for the mother after a twin birth is longer. There are a lot of extra factors to overcome in order to successfully breastfeed twins, especially if you want to exclusively breastfeed them.
I think it is important to tell my two very different breastfeeding experiences in order to show the stark differences between the two. This week I will concentrate on my experience with the twins. My twin girls were born 35.5 weeks into my pregnancy. They were both healthy, but needed to spend some time in the Continuing Care Nursery (CCN). One of the twins spent two days in the CCN and then was able to come home with us. The other twin was in the CCN, but then downgraded to the NICU, where she spent the next 5 days before being able to come home. It all worked out in the end and I am so thankful to now have two happy, healthy 3 year olds. When you are pregnant with twins, you expect a NICU stay could happen. There is also the possibility that one twin comes home and one still needs to stay at the hospital longer.
I spent the first week of the twins life with spinal headaches. The spinal headache was a complication from the epidural I received during their birth. This meant I would have a pounding headache unless I was lying flat on my back. This was obviously not an ideal situation for trying to establish my milk supply. Since the twins were born early and taken to the CCN they were immediately given bottles of formula when arriving there. This was fine, they need to eat and I was in no condition to attempt breastfeeding. Plus, at 35 weeks, latching would be difficult for them anyway. I was advised that since they were born early it would take until they were the equivalent of 42 weeks before they would be efficient at nursing. I decided I would pump as much as possible. Then, I would see if they would latch around 8 weeks old.
Luckily, my milk came in and I was able to pump a decent amount of breast milk. Of course I also needed to split this between 2 babies, so it didn’t always seem like that much. The first month of the twins life I had help from my wonderful family members, but after this I was alone with them all day. The reality of the situation is I did not have enough time to pump more than six times per day. On advice from my lactation consultant, I decided to not wake up at night to pump. Her thought was it would lead to more stress to wake up, which would affect my supply anyway. For the first 6-8 weeks of their life each twin received about 40% breast milk and 60% formula. After this point I was still pumping the same amount of breast milk, but their milk intake increased. This meant the breast milk in their diet decreased to about 25-30% each. Looking back now, I think that’s good and it was better than nothing, but at the time I felt like it wasn’t enough.
Feeding a mixture of breast milk and formula from a bottle is complicated. The lactation consultant advised us to feed breast milk first so none of it goes to waste and that is what we did. This means that mid-feed there would be a break to make the switch to formula. This can be tough with one baby, but when you have two eating at the same time (and one eats faster than the other), it can get pretty tricky.
Around 8-9 weeks of age, one of the girls started latching! I thought this was the start of an easier breastfeeding path, but unfortunately, it did not work out that way. What I hadn’t anticipated was the other twin just did not want to latch, she did not have the patience for this. What ended up happening was feeding got HARDER. The feeding time with the twin that latched doubled, since she was learning a new way to eat. After 8 weeks, I had mastered feeding the twins a bottle at the same time and now it felt like I was starting all over. Either I would have to figure out how to nurse them together or nurse one while I feed the other one a bottle. Figuring out how to nurse a baby is definitely a process, it takes a few weeks or longer to get the hang of it, so the idea of this was stressing me out a lot.
When the twins were 11 weeks old I decided to stop breastfeeding. Nursing took such a long time and the amount of breast milk in their diet was decreasing. Plus, as mentioned above, I was very efficient at feeding them a bottle at the same time. It was an emotional decision, but I also felt like I had been set free. I was now able to spend more time enjoying my babies and it was the right decision for me.
Whether you are a twin mom or not, I hope this story helps to give an idea of struggles you might face if you have a preterm baby. I think you will find similar stories from other twin moms who breastfed or wanted to breastfeed. And, as far as breastfeeding goes, in my opinion, it is NOT easier to have twins first. As a first time mother you do not have previous breastfeeding experience to rely on, which is so valuable. For more information on breastfeeding and breastfeeding twins check out the links below.