When my husband and I found out I was pregnant I hadn’t given breastfeeding much thought, just that it was something I would probably do, as I was aware it’s meant to be better for the baby and basically to me it seemed less faff than formula feeding.
At 8 weeks we went for a private scan and that’s when we were told we were expecting twins! Completely unexpected. Answers to the most common questions I got asked to follow; They’re not identical, twins don’t run in the family, they were ‘naturally conceived’ (I’m not a fan of this term), not IVF.
With that bombshell dropped and all our expectations as we had laid out ahead of us needed some updating, the pushchair I liked wasn’t available as tandem/twin, we needed to fit 2 cots into the nursery, in fact we needed 2 of pretty much everything! Which as you’ll know if you’ve started buying baby things, it can get pricey!
What I didn’t give much thought to again was how I was going to feed these babies when they arrived, I still felt quite nonchalant that, all being well, if I managed to feed them myself then great. Except now I had the added incentive that it would work out much cheaper for me to breastfeed them rather than have to buy formula. But I was also, I thought, being realistic when I told people “I’ll try breastfeeding but I’m not going to beat myself up if I can’t, especially now there’s 2 of them”. When I said those things that was genuinely how I felt, however at that time I didn’t know how their arrival would make me feel about it all.
I saw a twin feeding pillow for sale locally on a selling site so went ahead and bought it. Best to be prepared for all eventualities after all. So having bought this pillow I did some research about feeding positions and tried to figure out how I could make this work. I started to feel quite determined that I would be able to tandem feed, that way it wouldn’t take me any more time than women feeding a singleton, which was appealing, especially for the night feeds.
As multiple pregnancies are consultant led (at my local hospital anyway), I spoke with them and was given some syringes with the ‘advice’ to hand express the week before I was due in for a c-section. I nodded along and took a handful of syringes, what I hadn’t asked was “what the hell is hand expressing?!”, I mean I was pretty sure I could guess but I’d never even heard the term before! So again I did some of my own research. I went to a seminar to prepare for parenthood and was told there that I shouldn’t hand express before 37 weeks as it could induce labour, but I was booked in at 37 weeks, what was I supposed to do??
I was fortunate that my pregnancy yoga instructor was also a lactation consultant so at my next class I checked with her and was told as I was due to have my babies at 37 weeks it was absolutely fine to hand express from 36 weeks, phew. But I still had no real clue howto hand express and how am I supposed to get colostrum from my boobs into the tiny syringes I’d been given.
Still, I decided to give it a go. Long story short, I couldn’t do it. I didn’t know what I was doing wrong because I had been leaking colostrum involuntarily already so I had no idea why it wasn’t coming out when I wanted it to. My husband tried and he was better at hand expressing than me. But there wasn’t much at all, not enough for me to think it was worth taking to hospital. Naive perhaps but I really didn’t know how much to expect. I’d been given about a dozen syringes after all so I thought I should be able to fill them.
With hand expressing not going to plan I went in for my c section with no expressed colostrum to take with me. However I did take my feeding pillow. Seems bulky when we already had so much to carry but I was really keen to learn how to tandem feed as soon as possible and thought it would be best whilst I had midwives and healthcare professionals around to help. This decision was definitely worth it, and I would really recommend anyone hoping to tandem feed to do the same.
So my babies arrived, and as it was a c section at 37 weeks I had been warned my milk ‘might take a little longer to come in’. The midwifery assistant that looked after me in recovery straight from theatre was brilliant. She helped me latch the boys on, except one of them wouldn’t do it. She explained they could give him a little colostrum from a syringe and that would hopefully give him the little taste he needed to encourage him to latch on for more. She asked if I felt I could hand express or was I happy for her to do it for me? I told her she could do it, and I couldn’t believe it when she told me I had loads of colostrum coming out, in no time at all she had a syringe to feed to him. Which did exactly what she had described. He took it all then latched on beautifully straight after! Because of the order of events I had fed them both, but singly, which I was more than happy with. With a cannula in my hand and being numb from the waist down I just felt so lucky to have been able to feed them both so soon after delivery.
Back on the ward the midwives and healthcare staff continued to be amazing, they helped with a latch if I looked like I was struggling, but they didn’t make me feel like they were interfering, just popping their heads in occasionally to ask how it was going. My husband stayed with us, sleeping in a chair next to the bed, having him there meant that we could work our way through being new parents and learning the breastfeeding thing together. Once the spinal block had worn off and I was helped into a chair by staff for a little while I knew I wanted to try our first tandem feed. Still buzzing from the adrenaline of finally meeting my 2 beautiful little boys and feeling empowered by the positive comments from the ward staff about how well I was doing to feed them I was more determined than ever, and I knew that I would make breastfeeding work for us.
That night with my husbands help positioning the babies on the pillow I did my first tandem feed. And I was so chuffed. I tandem fed them as much as possible from that point on. It worked and meant we had saved time so I could try and sleep more in between feeds. I was only in hospital 2 nights then we were sent on our way, as a family. New parents who made up in enthusiasm what we were lacking in knowledge or experience!
I continued with feeding my boys as I had been, setting alarms throughout the night.
I was seen by a community midwife once home. They diagnosed one of the boys with jaundice and he had lost 12.5% of his birth weight which meant they placed us on a care plan. I felt completely deflated and quite frankly I felt this particular midwife in her manner and actions did little to nothing to alleviate my fears and feelings of inadequacy. They recommended I use top-ups after each feed to make sure he was getting enough milk, and told me to give top-ups to both boys just to make sure. I was advised to just get a single manual pump because I could move around the house whilst doing it, apparently making my life easier. So off my dutiful husband went to buy one. It was awful. The pump was uncomfortable and ineffective, actually hand expressing worked better. After a tough couple of nights of trying to get enough milk to give each of the boys some top ups after feeds we were seen again by a (different) midwife, and whilst they had put on some weight, it wasn’t enough which meant our care plan was stepped up. A call was made to the hospital and whoever the midwife spoke to recommended I use formula. This midwife asked if I wanted to do that and I really wanted to be able to produce enough milk for the boys myself so I said I’d rather not, which she was totally supportive of.
She gave me tips about breast compressions and switch nursing to help feed a sleepy jaundice baby.
The saga continued and we were seen by another different midwife another couple of days later, this time our little one had put on enough for the care plan not to be escalated again but hadn’t put on quite enough for it to be stepped down. This was the first midwife who actually gave us a measurement of how much I should be topping up, and it was more than I had been giving. It was also more than I thought I could achieve with the manual pump or hand expressing so I ordered a double electric which arrived the next day, thanks internet.
The pump revolutionised my life at that time. I was feeding the boys 3 hourly as I’d been told to, then expressing every hour in between to get the top ups for the next feed. This included through the night, so whilst the boys slept I was still setting hourly alarms to express for the top-ups. Eventually this all worked thankfully and they were putting on sufficient weight. I didn’t have many people in my support network who had breastfed in recent years or for any length of time, if I had then perhaps I would have known about on demand feeding. Although I suspect there would still be a risk of the advice not being particularly positive. A friend of mine told a midwife and health visitor she wanted to ‘on demand’ breastfeed her twins, and was told that isn’t possible with twins!
Well, 9 months in so far I have done just that. It has involved lots of reading about current breastfeeding research and recommendations as well as joining supportive groups on social media, and attending support meets with other breastfeeding Mums.
My boys were exclusively breastfed until 6 months when we introduced solid food, and they have continued to breastfeed roughly the same amount so far.
On demand and tandem feeding is more than possible. There really is nothing special about me, I know there are an awesome amount of women breastfeeding, and with knowledge and self-belief all women can successfully breastfeed for as long as they want. Breastfeeding has been the thing in my life that has given me the most self-doubt yet also made me feel more empowered than ever!
I have no plans to end breastfeeding anytime soon, and I hope our journey will end naturally with all of us being ready for it.