Finding out that I was expecting twins was definitely the biggest (and best) surprise of my life. Those emotional weeks after the big ultrasound reveal were filled with lots of plan changes of both the birth and life variety, yet there were two constants for me: I wanted a vaginal, unmedicated birth and I wanted to breastfeed my babies as long as possible.
Preparing for Breastfeeding Twins
With lots of preparation, an amazing care team and some good luck, we welcomed our healthy, full term twins Tobias and Elena in December 2015 after a short, peaceful and drug-free labor and delivery. It was amazing to finally hold the children I had longed for in my arms, but after a bit of a snuggle they let it be known that now that they were earth side they were hungry! Thus began my 14 month journey with having both breasts out, pretty much all of the time.
Four Things I Credit for Our Successful Twin Breastfeeding Journey
Despite the constant nudity, our experience was overwhelming positive. Peering back in time through the milky, poopy, joyful, teary haze that surrounds the first year of Toby and Elly’s life, four key components contributed to our twin breastfeeding success: protection, organization, nutrition and hydration.
Protecting Our Twins Breastfeeding Space
Feeling safe seems to be a primal prerequisite for successful lactation. For me stress, anxiety or pain negatively affected my ability to produce milk for my babies. Essential to my emotional safety was establishing a strong support network early on. My mom was able to come to stay for 6 weeks postpartum and helped so much with my older son, cooking, cleaning and getting babes latched. After she left I had an inner circle of friends who I felt comfortable asking to come for a couple of hours to pass me babies or just sit with me and chat while the twins nursed.
During this time I also paid a lovely lady to help with cleaning and laundry when things got out of hand which they did, often. I view this investment as invaluable. I recommend that expecting twin mamas budget in advance for a postpartum doula or a cleaning lady for the first few weeks at least. Having this network in place prevented me from getting lost in the moments when I felt overwhelmed: of course those moments happened, but I knew who to call when they did. Accept help when it’s offered and if it’s not offered, ask.
Getting Organized for Breastfeeding Twins
Researching and consulting with my midwife during pregnancy helped me to feel prepared and to have the necessary supplies on hand for when the babies were ready to eat, most importantly: nipple protection cream, a good quality electric pump (don’t forget you should be able to get one for free through your insurance) and a large C shaped breastfeeding support pillow. We were so fortunate to be able to hold our twins skin to skin as soon as they were born. My midwife helped to get both babies latched on and nursing, and showed my partner how to support me to get babies nursing at the same time.
In the days immediately following the birth, she was also able to watch the twins nurse and to verify that they were latching well with no physical barriers to success. She encouraged me to protect my nipples with lanolin cream before and after every feeding; keeping my nipples from cracking made things more comfortable for all three of us, and helped to prevent mastitis (infection of the milk duct) from developing.
Logistics and Schedules with Breastfeeding Twins
I am naturally a pretty laid back go with the flow type of person—our kids are always teaching us and my twins got me organized! My first son breastfed on demand which worked well for us, but I didn’t think that I could keep up with two babes on two different schedules. From the beginning I chose to always feed both babies at the same time so if one baby needed to eat (usually my son) but the other was sleeping (usually my daughter) I would gently wake the sleepy one to top off as well.
This system worked well for us and at their one week appointment with the pediatrician the twins had both gained weight—putting on ounces for the win! At 4 weeks I began to pump at the same time every day. This helped to establish my supply and I felt safer knowing that I had a backup stash in the freezer if I needed to step out for a few hours—no one wins when mama feels chained to her babies.
At 8 weeks we were ready to start a feeding schedule. I consulted with my midwife to make sure we were setting appropriately timed feeds and then began to be more firm with feeding times. My partner supported us a lot in this transition—walking and soothing babies until feeding time arrived etc. In just a few days we settled into the schedule of feed, burp and into their crib, with very few complaints and more sleep for everyone. The more comfortable and relaxed I was the better things flowed.
Feeding Station and Breastfeeding Positions with Twins
I set up a cozy feeding corner in our bed and had it stocked up with snacks, water bottles, iPod with podcasts cued up and my ever faithful C pillow. The position that worked best in the early days was for me to settle into the feeding nook with pillows propped up behind me and the C pillow wrapped around me.
Then I would have someone pass me the first baby and get him or her latched with their head in the center of the pillow and their legs in the crook of my left elbow. Then I would have someone pass me the second baby and we would latch him or her with their head also in the center and their legs in the crook of my right elbow. I marked their first initial on the hand that corresponded to the side they were feeding on so I would remember to alternate them, which is important for neck safety.
Learning to Breastfeed Twins without a Helper
As they got stronger and I gained confidence, I would place them both on the bed with enough room for me to wiggle in between them with the C pillow wrapped around me. Then I would scoop up one with my left arm, get them latched using my right hand for support, then reach down with my right arm to scoop up the other one, and get them latched using my left hand for support. It takes practice but I got to be a pro!
A supportive partner makes all the difference for the night time feeding productions. By the time the babies were sitting up independently, around 5 or 6 months, the C pillow wasn’t crucial and we could feed by side lying for one with the other draped on top, and by the time they were crawling they would just pull down my shirt and go for it on their own!
Nutrition for Mama When Breastfeeding Twins
In order to produce enough high quality milk for two growing infants it is essential to eat high quality food, regularly and lots of it! I followed the Brewers diet for twins during pregnancy, which incorporates high protein and low sugar. This eating plan is strict but for breastfeeding I made it even more so. My first son was fussy and didn’t sleep well, and some research I did indicated that gluten and lactose in breast milk can be major gas culprits causing discomfort for newborns.
I was willing to try anything to maximize my sleep and minimize the twins’ discomfort—my diet for breastfeeding was high protein, no lactose and no gluten . I stuck to it firmly for the first 6 months and my twins definitely slept better than my first baby, so it was worth it in my book! I had lots of high protein snacks ready to grab between feeds: nuts, hard boiled eggs, hummus. My sweet friends brought over lots of meals and snacks in the early months which was a life saver. I recommend setting up a meal schedule before birth and if people ask what they can do for you tell them honestly “feed me and feed my family”! Your loved ones will be glad to have a specific way to support you.
Drinking enough water when you only have to hydrate yourself can be a challenge. When you have to hydrate for three, the quantity of liquid intake needed can seem ridiculous, but it is so necessary in order to lactate efficiently. A rule that worked for me was that if the twins were drinking, I was drinking. I had a water bottle in our feeding corner and did my best to pound back a full liter at every feed. Adding lime or other flavors and drinking coconut water helped to keep it interesting. My midwife gave me a recipe for a lactation boosting oatmeal drink which I liked so much that I drank it almost every day.
Oatmeal Drink to Boost Breastmilk Supply Recipe:
- Soak a cup of whole organic oats and a dash of cinnamon in 2 liters of water overnight.
Strain in the morning and mix in a tablespoon of honey.
Eating and drinking for three takes creativity and commitment!
“Success” When Breastfeeding Twins is Different for Everyone
I define my breastfeeding relationship with my twins as successful because it was emotionally and physically safe for everyone involved. My babies got the nutrition that they needed to grow strong, and nursing was connection time for us. I certainly do not feel that breastfeeding is the only way to achieve success in nutrition and bonding. If exclusive formula, exclusive breastfeeding or a mixture of the two is what works, I encourage mamas to follow their intuition and to do what feels right for their optimum mental and physical health and that of their babies.
By the time my twins were 14 months old, I no longer felt present and joyful while breastfeeding. Resentment started to creep in, so the three of us talked about it, said goodbye to that phase of our time together and we stopped breastfeeding, ready for the next adventure. Spoiler alert—it still involved a lot of poop. If breastfeeding your twins interests you, research your options, make sure you are protected, organized, nourished and hydrated and go for it—it IS possible and can be so very beautiful.