It’s World Breastfeeding week, and while I know breastfeeding is not an option, or a choice that is right for everyone, I wanted to share a little about my journey breastfeeding twins.
My girls self -weaned about 3 months ago now. It was a happy mutual decision to stop feeding that sort of just slowly happened until one day I realised I hadn’t got my boobs out for a whole week and that was that. I was ready for them to wean and they were obviously ready to wean, but I still miss my super milk making power.
We had a very rocky start to breastfeeding. Our twins were born 11 weeks premature and spent weeks in hospital, so my first breastfeeding experience was with the ‘mean green milking machine’ at about 3 days post partum.
Having babies 11weeks before I was supposed to have them, and not having any actual babies to look at, or hold, let alone to feed made the milk making game a bit hard for me. Initially we tried hand expressing to get colostrum to send down to NICU, and it was a disaster! Everyone could get milk to come out of my boobs except me and the thought of having to call for a midwife every three hours over night was too much to contemplate. That’s when I met the ‘mean green milking machine’ (MGMM)!
I mastered the MGMM and took it home with me. I set my alarm to wake me up every three hours over night to express, and eventually I even mastered the art of double pumping hands free while playing computer games. I even got the hang of doing two milk runs a day into the hospital and expressing in the ‘milking sheds’ outside of the NICU while I was there.
I still wasn’t producing a lot of milk, but I had a bit of time up my sleeve as tiny babies only need tiny amounts of milk. The girls started milk feeds at 3 and 5 days old and were only taking 2mls four hourly vai and NG tube to begin with. At once stage I had stacks of milk in the fridge at the NICU and I felt very smug, but that didn’t last. The bigger the girls got the more milk they needed which was great, but I struggled to keep up.
Thankfully I had a great OB and the girls had an awesome paediatrician, and we had already discussed and made plans for breastfeeding before the girls were born so I had lots of support, and I started on my steady diet of things that would help me make milk. I ate oats till they came out my ears, took a concoction of herbs till I stunk like a curry house and drank water until I was a fountain, it helped but not enough.
By the time the girls were ready to attempt sucking feeds I felt I at least had milk there for them to suck, and then I discovered that I have totally flat nipples. Combine that with two babies who were still tiny and who were exhausted just by breathing on their own and those first few attempts at actual breastfeeding did not go well.Thankfully a lovely midwife in special care got my ‘disabled nipples’ some prosthetics (ie nipple shields) which meant that at least my ‘lazy suckers’ had something easy to latch on to, and we slowly slowly managed more and more breastfeeds.
The girls were poor suckers, they took forever to feed and it tired Zoe so much she’d be back on her O2 after every feed. We started bottle feeds for when I couldn’t be there to breastfeed them and to alternate between breastfeeds so they didn’t get too tired and they still struggled. It seemed like they would never get rid of the NG tubes and come home, but finally they did and we came home on alternate breast and bottle feeds of expressed breastmilk fortified with formula to add extra calories.
Then came the rounds of feeding and expressing, and feeding and expressing, and feeding and expressing. We got the twin feeding (feeding both babies at once) going and that made life a little easier, but then the reflux hit and that meant little sleep for the girls, so little time for me to express. It also meant two very fussy feeders who refused to twin feed initially then refused to feed at all.
We battled the reflux and breast refusal and then bottle refusal on and off for weeks until we finally found the right drug in the right dose and got it all under control. But by that time breastfeeding was a fight and they were not gaining weight and things seemed very glum. I saw two terrible lactation consultants who wanted to know why on earth I’d want to twin feed and just told me that the breast refusal was probably weaning. The girls were only at 6 months old, which was not even 4 months corrected. I wasn’t ok with them ‘weaning; that early.
Thank goodness for our paediatrician who had taught me how to bottle feed a breastfed baby back in the very beginning, and who sent me to a wonderful lactation consultant, and we finally got them both back on the breast. We comped them with fortified expressed breast milk after a feed to help them gain some weight and to get the meds into them and we tried to get them back to twin feeding and off the shields. Sadly they never did go back to twin feeding until they were much much older, and we never ever kicked the nipple shields, and with the time it took to feed them both separately expressing time lessened and they had more formula than EBM in their bottles.
I’d always read that you shouldn’t (couldn’t) bottle feed a breastfed baby. It would cause nipple confusion and the baby would stop taking the breast. That could not have been further from the truth for us. Bottle feeding our twins with formula was what allowed us to keep breastfeeding, and what allowed them to thrive.
Their first birthday rolled around and somehow I had been breastfeeding for a year! Not long after their birthday we weaned them off the bottle feeds and just kept breastfeeding a few times a day (as well as eating solids and drinking from a cup).
I’d initially made the goal of breastfeeding my twins for a year, and I’d told myself whatever happened after that happened. They both had a few more rounds of refusal during that year, and we dropped back feeds a lot quicker than I had expected, but I tried to just follow their lead.
When 2 years rolled around we were just feeding morning and night and it was a comfortable routine. Then slowly the morning feeds disappeared and we just held onto that quick night feeds as part of the bed time routine. But there I was, still breastfeeding two year old twins. Who would have thought it!
My girls were never comfort suckers, as babies they were so small and tired I had to wake them to feed them often in those first few months at home. And with all the issues we faced along the way, I never expected we’d make it past two years. When I was first pregnant I didn’t even think I was comfortable with breastfeeding after 12 months, yet there I was.
Even though our breastfeeding journey was not ‘picture perfect’, or ‘by the book’, and even though they were not exclusively breastfed, I am convinced that the amount of breastmilk they did have helped keep them healthy. And it was important for us in other ways too. After a difficult birth and I struggled to bond with my twins, and the breastfeeding connection was so important.
I am very proud of what I achieved. I was a very determined (stubborn) milk maker!
I couldn’t carry my babies to term, I couldn’t even be the first to hold or touch them, but I could do something no one else could. I could make breastmilk just for them.
I miss my super power, now it’s gone, but I am so glad to have had it.
So celebrate your breastfeeding journey if you can. Even if you struggled more than we did with breastfeeding, even if you only fed for one month, or one week, or one day, be proud! You gave your child something no one else could and for that time., you had a super power too.