Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Breastfeeding twins: the woes and the whys

When I was pregnant with the twins, I was incredibly anxious about nursing them and very much appreciated every post I could find about a mom's experience doing so. Now that we are in the throes, I thought I'd do a little post of my own in the hopes of helping someone else. Or maybe you are just curious, like the woman in the mall elevator the other day who asked how I do it and looked at my chest like she expected to see giant watermelons or something. (And in case you are wondering, NO, I am not sporting giant watermelons. More like reasonable-sized mangoes.)

I have a brief disclaimer: obviously this is only my experience. As with singletons, other twin moms can -- and no doubt do -- have a completely different set of challenges and rewards. Just like with all pieces of advice you get when you have a new baby, certain things will fit and others won't. In some ways, nursing twins has been easier than I expected, and in other ways more difficult. You never know until you do it!

Let's start with the woes.

- Frequent feedings. Without question, I am making enough milk for both boys, proven by their excellent measurements at the pedi recently and the obscene amount of diapers in our trash bin. But I have on my hands a couple of snackers who each nurse about 11 times a day. For those of you who aren't earning a PhD in math like my cousin, that means I am nursing 22 times per day. And seeing as there are only 24 hours in a given day... yeah, that's a lot. Fortunately, as snackers, they don't spend a lot of time at the boobie bar for each feed. Just long enough for me to hop online to stalk the woven wrap I am craving educate myself on wordly issues.

- Less sleep. If anything about breastfeeding twins has the power to break me, it's the added sleep deprivation. Wow. My milk supply tends to be pretty low in the evenings, and breastmilk is digested faster than formula, which works against me as I struggle to get more than 1-2 hours of sleep at a time. Some nights are better than others; at my worst, I was sobbing in exhaustion as I walked down the stairs in the morning, and at my best, I actually have a decent amount of energy during the day. Of course caffeine makes the twins wig out, so I am on my own in that department. But it's nothing a good moisturizer and eye cream can't fix. And as Bean has proven, it will get better. Hopefully soon. Please.

- I'm constantly on duty. It can be overwhelming to nurse one child sometimes. You just want to have some time for yourself, to finish a task you are doing around the house and let your partner or parents take the child for a while. With twins, it's two times the obligation for me to always be there to offer milk when they need it. I can't take a break for more than an hour or two around the clock, because soon it'll be time to feed again. Which falls entirely on me. Constantly. Around the clock. Phew.

- Much harder to pump a stash. This is a side effect of the first woe, the frequent feedings. And again, this is only my experience -- if you want to see a true professional in the Nursing and Pumping for Twins arena, look no further than Miss MVK. But for me, feeding so much and not having an abundant supply, I find it exceedingly difficult to pump milk so I can leave two bottles for any brave soul who would watch the boys for me, or for someone else to take a night feeding for me. This also means that in the fall, I'll probably have to leave my mom with a bottle of formula for each twin while Bean and I attend our co-op preschool on Friday mornings. Not the end of the world, but still, frownie face.

- Boobie burnout. My final goal when breastfeeding Bean was 12 months. When we hit that point, he wasn't nursing all that much anymore and we were both enjoying it so we kept going. He weaned himself at 18 months when my milk changed due to the pregnancy with the twins. I also plan to nurse Nix and Gax for 12 months. But when we hit that point this time, I'm just not sure I'll have it in me to keep going. Many women do, and maybe by then I won't be feeling as consumed with nursing. But at this rate, I anticipate being burned out and wanting to transition them to cow's milk. It makes me sad to think of weaning them before they are completely ready.

- The bottomless (stomach) pit. I have never in my entire life experienced such insatiable hunger as I have since I started nursing the twins. Oh. My. God. I can down an entire huge meal and need a snack an hour later. And every evening I have to pack myself a sandwich, drink box, and pop tarts (must have the pop tarts) to eat overnight like I'm taking a lunch to middle school. And of course I crave carbs, yummy glorious beautiful CARBS! A friend said, "Well, as long as you are eating healthy complex carbs, you're okay." But no. I like my carbs simple and straightforward, like a donut. Or licorice. Or chocolate. Which definitely ties into my next woe...

- Holding on to baby weight. You will often hear breastfeeding touted for helping moms shed baby weight quickly. Not by me. Sure, it works for many women. But I am one of the lucky few who actually hold on to 10ish pounds of extra weight while breastfeeding. When Bean stopped nursing, I dropped much of it almost instantly. I'm hoping it works double for twins, because I could easily stand to lose 20 lbs right now. Why this extra weight, you ask? I've heard it's a primitive biological thing, like if there's some sort of famine then my body can utilize the fat to still make milkies for the munchkins. Fortunately, I have an endless supply of donuts, licorice, and chocolate. Unfortunately, no one told my belly, butt, and thighs. Or wait, that sounds backwards...

- Mo' milk, mo' problems? I could be completely all wet with this one, but it seems that with double the demand, there is more room for problems to pop up. Supply for one, of course. I have been on a steady diet of fenugreek since the boys were born, so thanks to the maple-syrup scented side effect I always smell like I just finished a double shift at Denny's. I also have a recurring clogged duct. It stays away if I keep up with 1200 mg of lecithin daily, but when I run out of it, the clog returns. Then I have to send my dad to the store at 7 am to get more. *ahem*

Now the whys.

- Healthier. While the specifics of the health advantages of breastmilk over formula are hotly debated by both sides, I have not poured enough over scientific peer-reviewed studies to claim to know all the specifics. But I do believe that what I can provide naturally is the healthiest option. And let's face it, by the time they are Bean's age, they'll be clamoring for Chicken McNuggets just like their older brother. He actually walked into Taco Bell the other day, pointed to a family eating their meal, and said, "Hey, they are sitting at our table!" So for now, it makes me feel good that I can give them the best nutritional start possible.

- Bonding. This is especially important when you have twins. With three small boys, it's hard for me to get one-on-one time with each of them. But being the sole provider of mommy milk, I am assured to see each twin separately. And in addition to being online to stalk the woven wrap I am craving educate myself on wordly issues, I also spend time gazing down at them. I absolutely adore when Gax pauses to give me a big grin between gulps. Makes a mom's heart melt into goo.

- Money savings. Are you sitting down? To provide twins with formula for an entire year, you can expect to spend between $2600 and $4400. *gasp* Sure, there is some cost associated with breastfeeding. (Our insurance bought me a brand new $300 Medela Pump in Style without so much as a copay, check before you purchase one yourself!) Even with random accessories like nursing bras, a cute nursing cover, bottles for pumping, nipple soothies, etc., we are still saving loads of cash. More than enough to purchase that woven wrap I am craving. Oh come on DH, you know I'll get it eventually anyway!

- Convenience. I know, it's a strange point to end on, following all the "woes" about how much work breastfeeding twins can be. But there is a wonderful convenience built in that I don't have to clean any bottles, nor pack any formula when we go out. If a baby gets hungry, BAM! there's the milk. And no bottle prep in the middle of the night when they get hungry. Especially as they get older and nurse less frequently all around, it gets super duper easy peasy. Quick meals, instant soothing after inevitable baby boo boos, and no U-Haul necessary to tote diaper bag for all three boys when we go out. Awesome!

Obviously the woes outnumber the whys in my little list, but the weight of the whys is immeasurably greater to me. (Try saying that five times fast...) I know some women can't produce the supply necessary for twins, and my heart goes out to mamas who have not been physically able to meet their personal goals. I will forever be grateful that producing milk is one thing my body does not completely suck at (pun intended). The sacrifices that I have to make in order to give my boys breastmilk now is such a short chapter in the overall story of their lives, but has the potential to help them forever. They will wean soon enough (too soon?) and I'll be free to ask my parents to take them for a few weeks days hours so I can linger in the grocery store or escape to the mall for some retail therapy -- our nursing relationship will be just a fading memory. In the meantime, I am so proud to see them thrive on breastmilk, and I try to enjoy our snuggles every time they eat, even when it's midnight, 2 am, 4 am, and 6 am.



Kristina P. said...

Wow, 22 times a day! You are an amazing milk machine.

Stef said...

this was fun for me to read and I don't have twins! I've always wondered what's its like to nurse and care for TWO babies.
I had my own woes with nursing my first 2 kids and finally talked with midwives and lactation consultants when I was pregnant with Kara, to better educate myself. Why didn't I do that when I got pregnant with Ethan?! I have no idea. I learn the hard way, I guess.

I don't lose weight while nursing and I am jealous of women who do. I keep a tummy pooch, I keep about 5-10 pounds of fat stored in my hips, thighs and back. Its a small sacrifice to pay, but I've been discouraged before, when the super skinny ladies go on and on about how nursing just "sucks the fat right off your body!" - not my luck.

You look fabulous though! I can't get over how great you look, post pregnancy with twins!
And today you looked quite well rested at the field trip, so your creams and make up are working well :)

Katie said...

This was very interesting to read. I also hang out to the last of the baby weight while I am nursing. Ugh. But it WILL come off. And like you, my eating habits lean heavily toward the carbs, so I really can't complain too much because I'm not that eager to do anything about it.

One thing about fenugreek that I learned this last go round is that you don't have to keep taking it once it has done its job. Have you tried not taking it and seen what happens to your supply? I took it for a four days, noticed an increase in my supply (AND the lovely smell of maple syrup, then stopped taking it and haven't noticed a decrease in milk.


Mrs. Gamgee said...

I knew that bf-ing saved money, but holy crap! That's astounding! You have renewed my commitment to (trying to)breastfeed for at least 6 months.

Anonymous said...

You da hero, for realz!

I am torn between letting my baby snack or talk him into eating a bit more. Snacking does interfere with sleep (and I have no help whatsoever, except my husband, and I need to sleep a bit more than 10 minutes a day...), and when the babe focuses more on eating, he does sleep a bit longer. But he seems to enjoy snacking quite a lot. I will have to wait and see how his weight is doing and then play it by ear (because I am unable to make any decisions anyway...). Aren't you sooo glad you know all this enlightening stuff about me now? ;-)

Anyway, chapeau to you. It is really an amazing feat. ;-)

WiseGuy said...

Very enlightening indeed.

How do you take the fenugreek? Just eat it like that?

duck said...

Way to go! I think bfing is great if you have the supply (which I don't of course) so our 2 bf and bottle every meal, eat every 3 hours, except overnight where they sleep for 6-8 hours. I figure they are getting enough breast milk that they will still get the benefits (and it's all I can make so that's all I can do) and I get the benefits of formula (sleep!).
As for cost, it aint cheep (but neither was surrogacy), we buy the most expensive formula and it's $60 a week, 52 weeks in a year means $3120 for this year, provided they keep eating at the same rate. Of course we could by cheep-o formula but we feel it's worth the extra $ to buy the best we can find.

Aisha said...

when you told me three months ago that BF would get better I didn't believe you but your'e right it did get better- thanks for your encouragement back then.

I'm also relieved to hear that someone else's bebe eats an atrocious amount of times. W is constantly eating. And my doctor made me feel like a bad mom for obliging him. . . but its what he wants!

Kudos to you for sticking with it despite the difficulties. They appreciate even if they can't say it :)

(K from Waiting for Sunflower)

Nicky said...

22 times a day?! You're making me exhausted just thinking about it! LL was an 8x/day newborn, but he ate for nearly an hour every single time. At the time, I wished that he would snack more often, but now I don't know.

Aw, buy the wrap! Tell hubby that you're overworked breasts deserve a present.

Sarah said...

Georgie is starting to wean himself...it makes me so sad. I weaned Halle at 14 months and regreted it. She likely would have hung onto that one feeding for quite sometime, but I was done. For some reason, I'm not ready to have him stop. :( He grew and grew with it and I still haven't lost all my weight, but I think most of it was leftover from Halle (who I lost practically nothing with while nursing!). Need to train for another marathon! Ha! Glad you do what you do! But listen sister, enough with the wraps already!!! You are a carrier crack head!!! I'm with DH on this one - you are CUT OFF!!! How many do you have already?

Jamie said...

Nursing twins is extremely difficult in the early months. Kudos to you for sticking with it through the tough times and sharing your experience. :)

As with everything -- this will get better. My girls are down to only 3 or 4 nursings a day and we will be weaning at the one year mark. I must admit -- I'm ready!

Jingle said...

amazing job...
what a diligent mother.

Jingle said...


visit three friends,
get three awards...
Would you help please?

lisawitt said...

girl, you are a nursing rock star! totally envious and totally proud of you too! :) updates on the parents house and move?

Anonymous said...

you're doing a great job. i'm glad to hear that you dropped the weight after stopping with your first baby, though. i've been holding on to the last of my baby weight, too and wondering when it might go away.

....but those carbs....maybe that's the reason the weight is still on me? lol.

Coffeegrljp said...

Go Mama!!

WiseGuy said...

Hey Sunny, thanks for the fenugreek link!

Sarah said...

Okay DH, my new virtual BFF, Sunny made a compelling argument. As she is selling the wraps she's not using to get new ones, nursing 22 times a day and doesn't have a collection of strollers, I think I may give her one more to keep her happy...BUT because she serious still is a wrap crackhead, I would BLOCK the site in case she tries to return and gets tempted to purchase the latest model. ;) You deserve happiness and a little pleasure in this rough phase of babyhood, Sunny! (btw, I got my strollers on clearance or on Craigslist...so your wraps probably equal ;) ) Here's a web site for you though, DH, www.drimmeltools.com You deserve a little hobby too, don't you? Love you guys!

Furrow said...

My SIL now EPs for her twins, and in case you're wondering how much milk you're making for them, she pumps 70 ounces per day. Wow! That's about 1400 calories burned making milk, so don't begrudge yourself those constant snacks. Your body is doing some miraculous work ( but I'm sure you know that).

Ludicrous Mama said...

Fenugreek made me have flu-like symptoms (plus I smelled like pancakes 24/7) and made Z super fussy. It was not a fun 4th of July party, with me having to yank her off the nip to run to the bathroom every 15 minutes! Then the next day the fun continued, only I WAS able to nurse her through, since this time all I needed was a bowl or small garbage can to lean over. Bleah.
So the LC told me to get a prescription for metoclopramide, which worked amazingly well, except that you're not supposed to still need it after you taper off. And I had to take double the normal dose to even get it to work.
All this fun experimenting had me nursing-on-demand, to increase my supply too. Unfortunately, 'on demand' was 45 minutes of every hour. Or more. She never got used to the crib, since it wasn't worth getting up and setting her down for her 10-15 minute snooze before she'd need to eat again. So it was just me, the Boppy, baby Z and online World of Warcraft all day. :) An unfortunate side-effect was that we were both used to me having to hold her all day, and she didn't learn how to fall asleep, except on the boob. I went back to work after 3 months, just part time, but it dried me up completely, even though I was trying to pump. I was getting 1 ounce per 8-hour shift by the time I stopped working a month later (I quit on my first day back!)
I did another round of the metoclopramide, and supplemented with formula (my sister ran out of my 'stockpile' by day 2. I could never keep up after that.) On the plus side, a formula feeding some nights gave me a blissful 1 hour of peace to get to know my husband again. Even though certain areas were still off limits! Looky-no-touchy!
Next time, I'm going to have to ask about a daily dose of the prescription, rather than the 3-week dose-up and taper down that's normally used. There's no way I can have one attached at the nip and another attached at the hip all day!
She's now 2+, and we still nurse at nap and bedtime (she still can't sleep without it. Ugh.) She calls them 'nummy boobies' so there's SOMETHING there. But I made the doc give me a breast exam last physical since he had refused the year before, even though there was no chance of squirtage!

Jen said...

You are a breastfeeding champ. I seriously can't give you enough gold stars. I'm impressed at your dedication and self sacrifice, but if it were me I would have thrown in the towel long ago.

Hollyween said...

C!! I must admit that this entry is the only one I've read of the last few. My stupid computer has been down for three weeks and actually I've barely noticed because of the demands of my own newborn. I can check blocs through my itouch (like I'm doing now), but it's pretty much a pain in the butt.

My heart goes out to you with the double duty of nursing. I love nursing with all my heart and figure with all that we did to get this baby here, what's one year of nursing and trying to suck all the baby time in I can get?

Email me because your email address is gone forever in my old computer. I can still check it from my itouch.

You. Are. Amazing. I don't know how you do it!!