Thursday, June 3, 2010

Breastfeeding: Meet the "Twins"...

When you have infants it seems everyone asks (sometimes when you barely know them!) whether or not you're breastfeeding. I think I probably get that question more since I'm a twin mom. I think it's part of the carnival freakshow they envision of a mother nursing two babies at the same time. Using my special twin nursing super powers pillow I have fed them both at the same time - and there's nothing that makes me feel more like I birthed a litter - but it's also really tricky. It might have been easier if they were better at latching (I never got to that part) but whenever I did it, it was a two person operation with someone helping me get the twins on and off the pillow, burping them, and me trying to get them latched back on since they'd continually slide off.

Me and my litter. (When Julia would breastfeed she liked it so much she looked like she was going to tear her eyes out.)

The aforementioned twin nursing pillow. (That's not me.)

Mark can feed two people at once-- as long as he is one of them

Most mothers with twins stop breastfeeding early. There are a lot of reasons - while nursing you can't take care of the non-feeding baby (who invariably needs attention). There's the lack of time to pump (something about caring for two babies). There's also the higher rate of prematurity among twins. That means a higher likelihood to bottle feed and use formula to increase birth weights the first weeks or months. Knowing the odds were against me from the start, I was determined to breastfeed for as long as possible.

Feeding formula to Julia by syringe while in the hospital

The first month I would try to nurse the babies but they would cry and wouldn't try to nurse. They already preferred the bottles they received when born at 35 1/2 weeks. Luckily I was able to pump enough so that all their bottles were 100% milk. (Currently their bottles are 50% milk, 50% formula but more on that later.) Then near the end of the month, my mom had the bright idea to give them a pacifier to calm them down until they were ready to nurse. That actually worked!

I continued to go to Kaiser's Newborn Club over the next several months to meet with Sue the lactation consultant in order to set feeding allotments. (Most babies there are in their first week. We needed more help. After going there throughout the first month, the director told me they had been worried about the babies and their weight gain at our first visit, but they weren't anymore. In Eastern European accented English she exclaimed, "James is a horse!") The nurses would weigh the babies before and after breastfeeding to measure how much they were taking in.

Turns out Boppy nursing pillows are also great for sleeping (despite the tag on them that says "Not for Sleeping!")

Unfortunately the babies were always lazy at sucking because they were premature, so even when they were at their breastfeeding best, my schedule was to nurse James 20 minutes (he would not take in significantly more after that) and give the other 2/3 of his feeding via bottle. Julia was my little "Margaret Latcher" by comparison and I would nurse her for 30 minutes and give her the other 1/3 of her feeding via bottle. That's a lot of time invested in feeding! That doesn't even touch the surface of burping either. Burping took forever with their immature systems - sometimes it would take 10 minutes for a burp and we'd burp them 3 times. Once, after I fed, burped, and changed each baby it was literally time to start all over again. I wished they could nurse for a whole feeding - it would have been much more efficient than dealing with pumping, making bottles, etc. (In fact I currently have an infection on my hand and dermatitis in three other spots due to all the hot water and soap).

What the inside of our refrigerator looks like. Bottles go in the middle, formula on the left, milk goes on the right. Chinese takeout and pickles apparently go on the far left.

Julia started rejecting the breast at the end of February (at 2 1/2 months). I tried and tried to reintroduce it to her but she was pretty set (read: she screamed) on having a bottle since that was easier for her. (The Newborn Club liked to tell us how breastfeeding for babies is so much work for them it's like running a marathon.) I cried. Even though I continued to pump I knew that meant less milk would now be produced by me and consumed by her. Studies have shown the benefits of breastfeeding including everything from lower rates of obesity to fewer allergies. Breastfed infants apparently have a gain of five IQ points, so I'm always thinking the babies are losing IQ points thanks to me. Plus, breastfeeding strengthens the mother-baby bond. Society had also brainwashed me into thinking formula was equivalent to poison so I was heartbroken when I had to start giving the babies formula.

Mark feeds formula (horrors!) to James the first week at home.

Something worse than formula: Mark introduces James to Coke. Don't worry-- he didn't actually drink any. (But true story: The other day Mark asked if there was any reason he shouldn't let James eat a piece of a strawberry. I said, "I can think of several!")

James started rejecting the breast at the beginning of April (4 months). Right now it's been a month since he nursed for an entire 20 minutes. Several weeks ago I could get him to nurse for up to about 3 minutes if I was lucky. Lately he won't accept it at all and I don't think I'll ever get him to nurse again. I feel like I did my best and that's all I can do. The Newborn Club has been really supportive, and they just say to concentrate on pumping.

The Newborn Club told me many times that I had a good milk supply. To maintain/increase my milk supply I've started "power pumping," where I pump for 10 minutes on, 10 minutes off over the course of an hour. I aim to pump 7 times a day (ideally once every 2 1/2 hours). Each session is 20 minutes long (the power pumping one is 30 minutes) but comes to 30 once bottle washing and bottle making is figured in. That means 220 minutes of my day (nearly 4 hours!) is spent pumping. Plus, during the day that's a significant chunk of time away from the babies, so there's the trade off of making them milk but being with them less. You can see why I might not have been able to get this far without a mom here during the day.

I have sampled my own milk by the way. It wasn't like I took a swig or anything, I just got a couple drops on my hand and took a lick. For the record, it tasted sweeter than cow's milk.

Who hasn't wondered what it tastes like?


  1. It's awesome that you've breastfed this much! Every bit helps - you're doing a great job! I finally stopped pumping and am down to nursing only 2-3x/day. I really hated pumping at work and I was only doing 3 30-minute sessions. Another friend of mine at work was pumping as much as you are and can I just say that you guys are superwomen?

  2. I'm really impressed you're still pumping! I guess liking pumping at work depends on where you have to do it (the bathroom would suck). I would hate it if I didn't have a TV or a computer to distract me at home. If I hated my job and had something to read I would be very happy I'm sure. Again, unless I had to hang out in a bathroom stall.

  3. Kathy, way to go! You are amazing and have done everything you can do. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. I pumped exclusively for the first 5 weeks before A would take the boob and can relate a bit (I can't imagine with twins!). Great job, lady. Did you find yourself mungry after feeing them?

  4. Wow, that is some amazing pumping time. I totally see why you need extra help!! I have tried my own breastmilk, too. I even made a joke about serving it up at a dinner party, but Philippe made me tell everyone I was joking out of fear that they wouldn't come! I am going to serve something milky just to make them wonder!
    I have the opposite problem- no bottles. I can't leave them. I am looking forward to sippy cups and less nursing one day...

  5. Kathy!! you're doing such a great job - the babies look great - soooo beautiful! My little one never nursed, which caused me GREAT distress (read numerous tears) for the first 2 months. I was pumping but my supply was super low and I thought I'd never get there but then I slowly built up enough to give her 100% breast milk starting at 2 months up until a year (solids at 9 mo). While I have no comparison, I will tell you that not nursing has not seemed to affect the mother baby bond AT ALL. She is so sweet and cuddly and wonderful! Just give them all the love I know you're giving and they will love you right back. Pumping is a bitch but isn't it amazing what you'll endure for these little creatures! I was up at 3AM for months for the middle of the night pump... you will, if you haven't already, find your own rhythm and schedule with that damn machine... hugs and kisses to the babies!!

  6. Kathy forgot to mention how much time was involved with nursing at first. Babies were fed about every two hours and then she pumped. There was very little free time left. She started feeling like a cow. She wanted the babies to have breast milk so much. I admire her tenacity. Kathy's Mom

  7. Dawn, I was blown away by your dedication to pumping (especially in the middle of the night) on your blog. I love that the thing you're the most proud of is breastfeeding and pumping the first 6 months. Ah, mungry... :)

    Natascha, I can see how the opposite problem - no bottles - would be a pain, too. You know, there is a famous chef that made breast milk cheese if you want to go that route...

    Vivian, that's so great that you were able to give your daughter 100% milk. Your dedication to the pump (and your little one) is amazing!