When I found out I was having twins, one of the immediate thoughts I had was around feeding twins. Specifically, could I breastfeed twins? Was it even possible?
I did my research as all pregnant Mums do, insanely reading every forum and group possible, and realized it was possible, but that I should also have a backup plan. I purchased a twin feeding pillow, a breast pump, and as a backup, a special pillow that makes bottle-feeding easier for two babies.
In the end, the universe decided for me.
My identical twins Poppy and Layla were born at 29 weeks due to sudden late-onset twin to twin transfusion. My placenta had stopped working properly and they needed to be delivered immediately. This meant I was in my hospital room, with a midwife helping express colostrum before I had even held either of my babies. I wouldn’t get that precious ‘skin to skin’ for another five days with one twin, and seven days with another. And so began my very difficult and arduous breastfeeding journey.
Layla and Poppy were in NICU and Special Care at the hospital for 8 weeks. I went home after three days, still sore from my cesarean section, and set an alarm to pump milk every three hours for the girls. They started only needing 1ml or 2mls at a time, and I felt so triumphant that my body was producing it for them. My days consisted of pumping milk, going into the hospital, holding each baby for an hour or so, pumping more milk, repeat. However, after two weeks, the girls were drinking more and more and it started to become very clear that my milk was not even close to keeping up with their needs. I remember feeling like such a failure when one of the very kind nurses told me for the first time I had to sign a formula form as there wasn’t enough milk for them. They had already had such a tough start to life and were struggling so much, it seemed like the very least my body should have been doing for them, but I was unable to. And thus, began our mixed feeding journey.
I kept telling myself that once the girls got home from the hospital things would be easier, but I had no experience with premature babies. I didn’t know that when I took them home, they would be barely 2kgs each, tiny little things who didn’t have the energy to take to the breast yet. And that by the time they were big enough to do so, they would be so used to the bottle that they would refuse the nipple. After working with some very kind visiting midwives it was decided that the most achievable option for me was to bottle feed the girls a mixture of expressed breast milk and formula.
I turned my focus from breastfeeding to obsessing over trying to increase my milk supply. I tried everything – lactation cookies, lactation tea, prescription medication, power pumping, increasing my water intake, Gatorade, Milo, eating a high-calorie diet. No matter what I did, my supply didn’t increase even as time went on and I spent more and more time snuggling my beautiful babies now they were home. At one point, I was spending eight hours a day strapped to a hospital-grade breast pump, and making enough for two bottles each a day out of their eight feeds.
Time and time again, I would confide to my family and friends how difficult I was finding the expressing as well as caring for two babies, and time and time again, they would tell me that I had done an amazing job so far and it was okay to let it go. In hindsight, I know how right they were, but I couldn’t shake the guilt that came with the girl’s early arrival and still felt I owed it to them to give them what I could in breast milk each day, even though it was affecting my mental health. After six months, my husband said to me in passing one day, “You know, the only person who thinks you need to keep doing this is you.” Something about this sentiment changed something in me. I realized no one at all around me cared whether I switched the girls to being fully formula fed, not even their father. I was the only one holding onto this notion. The next day, I started weaning off the pump and within a week, had switched the girls to being fully formula-fed.
It’s strange to look back now and see the pressure I was putting on myself. I know if any of my friends were in the same situation as me, I wouldn’t judge them for a second for letting go of breastfeeding and moving to formula, yet I judged myself so harshly. When I did finally make that decision to fully formula feed the girls, I gained SO much. The time I got back to just enjoy my babies, who by this stage were so interactive and so much fun, was worth everything. For six months I had prioritized being strapped to a machine trying to make milk for them over enjoying them and I would be lying if I said I don’t regret that.
I can look back now and understand that I was fighting against incredible odds- I was coping with an extremely traumatic birth, had teeny tiny babies who were in the hospital, and was under a huge amount of stress. I had no control over what was going on, and I know now, that not being able to breastfeed wasn’t my fault. I feel so incredibly lucky to live in a country where we had access to a healthy, accessible, nourishing alternative to breastmilk for my babies. I also see how special bottle feeding was for my husbands’ relationship with Poppy and Layla. He often says that the fact that he was needed so much to help with feeds in those early days helped him bond with the girls so much. Such an important part of twin parenting is teamwork, and I can see the value in choosing to bottle feed with twins. Whilst I didn’t get the breastfeeding experience that I had always dreamed of, the newborn days were much easier thanks to us being able to share the load.
The girls are now 16 months old and thriving. They are strong, highly energetic, clever, and happy, and that is all I can ask for! They still love their milk, and recently we moved to the Stage 3 Little Oak Goats Milk Toddler Drink, which they are loving. I am really happy to be able to offer them a drink that is highly nutritious and gentler on their stomach than cows’ milk.