Editor’s note: I’ve been mulling this post for weeks. But I’ve also been avoiding it. So, thanks to Katy for the extra push to finally sit down and write it.
Breastfeeding. It’s delicate, yet complicated subject matter. And it’s very personal.
So, as much as I wanted to avoid “labeling” breastfeeding as this or that, and possibly scare or unnerve someone else, I also wanted to share my experience, and maybe help someone else not feel so alone.
Breastfeeding is really, freakin’ hard! I mean, I knew it wouldn’t exactly be a walk in the park, and that it could present some challenges – especially with twins – but I didn’t know it would be not only physically exhausting, but mentally and emotionally taxing, too.
I knew I would breastfeed my children. It has so many benefits for mother and baby. It can be an incredible bonding experience. And it just seemed like the right and best thing to do – for us. I also knew that while I would be challenged, I would stick with it; I am too stubborn and have too much pride to give up in the face of tough times.
Our journey goes something like this…
Immediately after birth: Anna and Elise were 3 weeks early, and they were born via C-section, so we started off at a disadvantage. I had to use nipple shields to help their weak little mouths latch on to my breasts. I also had to pump after every nursing session to get every last drop of colostrum, which we then dropper-fed to the girls to ensure they were getting enough nutrition.
But, both girls latched and nursed pretty darn well, all things considered, so I was optimistic we would be successful. Breastfeeding, at that point, was tender and loving and nothing short of miraculous.
Over the first few weeks: Anna and Elise lost a lot of weight, hovering dangerously close to the 4-pound mark almost 2 weeks after they were born. We struggled to bring them back up to their birth weights (as documented here and here) on just breast milk and had to supplement with formula starting at about 3 weeks.
The girls were considered late pre-term babies, so they were not strong enough to get the nutrition they needed only from the breast and thus, they were not stimulating me enough to produce enough milk for two babies.
I remained insistent on exclusively breastfeeding, so we took on an aggressive feeding plan. I had to nurse every 2-3 hours, I had to nurse them for at least 10 minutes and I had to pump for 10 minutes after every feeding.
The girls gained some, but not enough weight, so we started to supplement with formula per our pediatrician’s recommendation, but much to my chagrin*. I nursed for as long as they would go, then we gave them supplemental bottles of formula, which made them phlegmy/mucousy and prone to congestion and spit-up. We constantly were sucking snot/mucous out of their noses and making sure they stayed upright for a bit after feedings.
Breastfeeding then still was tender, but it also was laced with stress and feelings of inadequacy.
By about 1 month old: Anna and Elise finally were gaining weight at an acceptable rate. We even kicked the nipple shields to the curb – until both girls, in mid-September, came down with thrush; I broke out the shields again to protect myself.
Over the first few months: The girls got more active and thus popped on and off the breast frequently, so the nipple shields, unfortunately, were more of a hindrance than a help; every time one of the girls would unlatch, her shield would come off, too.
I worked diligently to wean them off the shields, trying at almost every feeding to get them to latch without it. Elise kicked it first. Anna hung on for a few more weeks until, in mid-November, we visited with our lactation consultant, Kim, and the girl just nursed without it, no fussing, no nothing.
Unfortunately, I came down with thrush in my left breast in October. I dreaded nursing on that side: Whenever one of the girls would latch, it was tears-inducing painful, and then after they nursed, it would linger as a deep, burning pain. It lasted about 3 weeks.
Breastfeeding then was a true challenge and test of my patience. I hated the nipple shield – loathed it. I also dreaded feedings, at least on the left side, because it was excruciating. I wanted to continue breastfeeding, but I hated the experience so much, that I contemplated becoming an exclusive pumper.
But I knew that nothing – no machine – pulls milk from the breast better than a baby, so I knew the only option was to grin and bear it.
Fast forward to the last several weeks: Anna and Elise hit the phase of nursing where everything around them is a distraction, including each other. They are really fussy and almost never eat together for more than 5-7 minutes at a time (except some overnights, when they are sleepy and often eat in tandem for the whole 18-20-minute feeding). We almost always start them together, but usually end up feeding them separately. Feedings take as long as an hour and are extremely frustrating. There often is a lot of crying – both from the babies and from me.
The girls still eat really frequently, in my opinion – like every 2 1/2 hours during the day. Maybe it’s because we’re sort of programmed that when their clocks near 2:30, and if they are a little ornery around that time, we should feed them, rather than letting them tell us when they are hungry.
Breastfeeding still is difficult. It stresses me out and takes a huge toll on the mood in the house. I question many times my decision to breastfeed my girls. I think how much easier it would be to pump – or, easier yet, to formula feed them. But I remain steadfast because I firmly believe it has to get easier as they get older, eat more solids and nurse less often.
And in the last week: The girls seem to be in the midst of a big developmental growth spurt because this fussy (at least while they eat) period will not end. But,
they we have made some progress.
First, I stopped watching the clock; if Anna only nurses for 9 minutes, then she only nurses for 9 minutes. I no longer am going to fret about her brief feeding. And I am no longer going to force her (and myself) to last until the clock hits 20 minutes; I aim for 12-15 minutes at minimum. Second, I am taking the distractibility in stride; if Elise looks up and me and wants to coo or giggle, then I am going to play along because she’ll go back on the boob within a minute or so and she’ll still get the nutrition she needs. And last, I am taking the fussiness in stride, too; if possible, I’ll feed them one at a time, but if not, then I’ll feed them in tandem as long as they’ll go, then feed them separately.
Also, all of a sudden, the girls now eat closer to every 3 to 3 1/2 hours during the day.
Breastfeeding, just in the last week, is better – and thus, my mood is better, which in turn, makes nursing easier and less stressful. It’s all connected. Sure, I still have moments of weakness, when I get frustrated and I want to throw in the towel. But then, I have moments of immense satisfaction, when the girls look up and me and smile so wide, my heart struggles to stay within the confines of my chest, and I remember that I have almost exclusively nursed not one, but two babies for almost 6 months.
What has gotten me through: We would be lost without Kim, our nurse/lactation consultant at the Birthing Center, who has an open-door policy and has visited with us frequently when we were (and even when we weren’t) struggling with breastfeeding, to offer pointers, praises and pick-me-ups.
I would not be able to stay sane without my mom or my friend, Amy, who always are there to listen and, when possible, offer advice.
And I would be nothing without my incredible husband, Christopher, who is supportive of me and just as committed to breastfeeding the girls as me. He is the biggest and best helper and cheerleader.
Where do we go from here? I am hopeful that as the girls exit this developmental growth spurt (just in time for the 6-month growth spurt and teething!), breastfeeding continues to get better. I am hopeful that their feedings continue to space out a bit more, closer to every 4 hours, especially as we continue to introduce solids a couple of times a day.
And I am hopeful that I can breastfeed them until they are 1 year old. I know I’ll make it to 6 months (just 2 weeks away!), which is a noble goal for any breastfeeding mother. But I don’t know that I’ll make it to a year…so I’m setting my sights on August.
“Final” thoughts: Breastfeeding really is incredible. Despite our struggles early on to bring the girls back up to their birth weights; despite our issues with the nipple shields and thrush in both the girls and in me; and despite our frustrations with distractibility and fussiness, I still enjoy nursing – because the tender, peaceful moments far outweigh the stressful times.
I marvel at the miracle that is breastfeeding. And I carry an intense amount of pride in my accomplishment.
*It goes without saying that breastfeeding vs. formula feeding is a personal decision and that there are benefits and drawbacks to both. I wanted to breastfeed, and I wanted to exclusively breastfeed, so I really struggled with the idea of introducing formula. I felt like a failure, like less of a mother. But I, of course, would do anything necessary to ensure the health of my children. All that said, we’ve really struck a nice balance. The girls get the vast majority of their nutrition from breast milk, but we have the flexibility of formula, which is handy on the road or during growth spurts.