The first few days and weeks can make or break your breastfeeding relationship. It feels particularly precarious when balancing the needs of not just one, but two or more babies. Here are some things that may help improve your chances of success in the early days of breastfeeding twins, gleaned from my own experiences and those of the other moms of multiples I have met over the last couple of years.
1. Keep your babies cooking for as long as possible.
While many people—doctors included—may insist that your twins may need to be born by a certain time, automatically designating twin pregnancies as high-risk and assigning a due date may not always be the best option. Some people say that twins are “full term” at 36, 37, or 38 weeks, but twins do not magically reach full-term sooner than single babies (there is some evidence that their lungs may mature sooner than singletons, but this, if true, is just one piece of the puzzle). March of Dimes states:
More and more births are being scheduled a little early for non-medical reasons. Experts are learning that this can cause problems for both mom and baby. If possible, it’s best to stay pregnant for at least 39 weeks. If your pregnancy is healthy, wait for labor to begin on its own.
Prematurity-related problems that might impact breastfeeding include an underdeveloped suck reflex; increased sleepiness; low birth weight/small size; a higher risk of jaundice, hypoglycemia, and difficulty maintaining body temperature; and anything else that requires separation of babies from their mother or supplementation. You may need to fight to be allowed to reach the point where you go into labor on your own, because the climate of hospitals is to treat twin pregnancies as high risk regardless of individual situation. However, avoiding separation and other problems associated with prematurity and late-term prematurity can make advocating for yourself and your babies extremely worthwhile.
You don’t need to take my word for it, though—here’s the science to back it up.
There are, of course, actual medical reasons you may need an induction or C-section, whether it’s the mother’s or babies’ health at risk. In those circumstances, this next item is all the more important:
2. Know where to find help before you need it.
If you end up separated from your babies or one or both babies is unable to breastfeed effectively, you will need to pump with a rental/hospital-grade pump. A rental pump will do the best job of stimulating milk production and removing milk from your breasts. These pumps can also be a significant expense and, while insurance will likely cover it, it makes sense to do the legwork on how and where to rent one beforehand. Conversely, if your babies are able to latch and are able to breastfeed effectively from the breast without supplementation, adding pumping to the mix (as some care providers will insist upon) is unnecessary at best and harmful at worst. Talk to a lactation professional you trust if you’re in this situation.
In that vein, familiarize yourself with the people who can help make your breastfeeding journey a success, such as an IBCLC, CLC, a La Leche League group, or Breastfeeding USA counselor. Hospital lactation help can be hit-or-miss, so finding your own resources to help at the hospital and at home may prove invaluable.
As far as resources you can access on your own, the book Mothering Multiples by Karen Kerkhoff Gromada is one that should be on your reading list. She provides in-depth information on how to deal with common roadblocks to breastfeeding success (in addition to a whole lot more about mothering more than one baby at a time). The Facebook group Naturally Parenting Twins is an amazing resource for moms who are breastfeeding multiples. Karen Gromada is a member, and so am I, along with a lot of others who have breastfed their multiples.
3. Get a twin-sized breastfeeding support pillow.
Some moms of twins find it difficult to tandem feed (that is, breastfeed both babies at the same time), but if you can manage this, whether it takes lots of practice or you get the hang of it immediately, it is a huge time saver. Not to mention, it saves you from having to listen to one baby cry while the other is being fed.
4. Take all the help you can get.
People will say, “Let me know what I can do to help.” Maybe they are just being polite, but take full advantage of it. (After all, they won’t look very good if they offer help and then refuse when given the opportunity!) If you have a hard time telling people what you need, keep a list on the fridge, or a whiteboard in a visible spot, with whatever you need done. Maybe that list will be household tasks like “put a load of dishes in the dishwasher” or “fold laundry and put it away.” Or maybe you want someone to sit and talk with you because you crave adult interaction, bring you snacks, or clean off the front window because you keep seeing the smudges your two-year-old left behind and it’s driving you nuts. Hiring a postpartum doula is an option, too; they help you ease into your new life as a parent to more-than-one-baby-at-a-time (if the cost seems prohibitive, ask for their services as a gift).
5. Cut yourself slack. A lot of it.
Parenting twins—whether you’re breastfeeding or not—is going to be hard work. And it sounds trite, but the dishes can wait and the laundry can pile up. Maybe you’ve prided yourself on cooking from scratch and need to give yourself permission to feed your family frozen chicken nuggets and french fries. Your priorities are for the people under your roof to be fed, reasonably clean, and alive. (And there are days you might not meet the “reasonably clean” threshold.) You automatically achieve supermom status by having two babies at the same time; anything else is like a big, fat, gold star on top of it all.