All my other babies were exclusively breastfed and I have always had an ample milk supply. A couple of times I have even pumped extra for a friend. I didn’t think I would have any trouble at all nursing twins, but I did, and I wanted to share what I did about it.
My twins were born at 37 weeks after an induction due to high blood pressure. I was able to avoid a c-section, but I did need to have an epidural. All my other children were born pretty close to 40 weeks and completely natural. My milk always came in quickly and completely, and they were always vigorous nursers. The twins being three weeks early made a big difference: they were not vigorous nursers at first. And having the epidural seemed to have a negative effect on my milk supply.
The first week of the twins’ life was extremely hard for me and each night I got little to no sleep. This put everything on a downward spiral. I was already struggling with my milk supply, and the lack of sleep just made things worse. I was so tense and full of adrenaline that I couldn’t sleep even when both babies were finally settled, and that also made nursing harder and decreased my milk supply.
I will never forget the evening when they were about five days old. I had hit the wall. I was a complete wreck and I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t sleep and I couldn’t feed my babies enough and I did not think I was going to survive. All I wanted to do was hand the babies off to someone else, along with some bottles and formula, and sleep for a week straight. But I knew that long-term I really wanted them to be breastfed for so many reasons, and so I sat and cried.
My sister in law saved the day. She is the ultimate all-natural mother and I had called her for some breastfeeding advice. When she figured out what a mess I was she volunteered to come over and stay the night and help with the babies. I warned her she would be up all night and she came anyway. When she arrived, about 9 pm, we had a long talk. She was nothing but encouraging. She helped me realize how tense I was and how that was hurting the nursing situation. She helped me relax and she kept telling me over and over, “you’re doing fine. You can do this.”
That night was a major turning point. She was up all night walking the floor with one or two fussy babies, but by the end of the night I had calmed down, the adrenaline had finally left my body, and I was finally able to sleep. Most importantly, I had hope. I really needed to hear her say “you’re doing fine” over and over again until I believed her.
But we weren’t out of the woods yet. Things began to go better and I found some things that really helped (more on that in a minute) but a week later I realized that not only were the twins not gaining any weight but they had lost a lot of weight—about a pound each. The next couple of weeks were very stressful as I did everything I could to build my milk supply, constantly hoping that at the next weight check at the doctor’s they would at least be back up to birth weight. They finally were back up to birth weight when they were a month old.
Now they are almost two months old and watching them getting round and chubby is a personal victory for me. I always took my babies’ growth for granted before, but now I feel really proud of myself when I pick up one of the babies and think, “she’s really getting heavy!”
So, here are the things that have helped me during this struggle, other than my amazing sister-in-law (but she is a perfect illustration of how vital it is to support and encourage nursing mothers as much as possible!)
Chiropractic care for both me and the twins: I like to go to the chiropractor right before I give birth just to make sure my hips and everything are lined up properly. I think this helps the delivery go more smoothly, especially with large babies. This time I also took the babies as soon as I could after they were born (it was about a week) and it made a huge difference. They had been rather fussy and had had trouble latching. Immediately after their adjustments they were calmer and had a better latch. Make sure you have a chiropractor who is experienced with babies and knows how to be gentle with them. My current chiropractor is trained in the upper cervical methodology, which is a more gentle approach.
Placenta encapsulation: I had this done for me professionally. I don’t know how much it helped with my milk supply (some), but taking these capsules has made a huge difference for me in my energy levels and mood. I remember after baby number six I felt like it took a long time to get my strength and energy and motivation back. I thought “I must be getting old.” This time, with the placenta capsules, I had a speedy recovery like the kind I had back in my 20’s. And I only had the tiniest little bit of “baby blues.”
Fenugreek and other herbal formulas: I started taking Fenugreek and it helped (though it makes you smell like maple syrup—it’s the weirdest thing!) Then my niece gave me a bottle of an herbal formula that contains Fenugreek and other things as well and that has helped a lot with my milk supply.
Coconut oil for sore nipples: my nipples are always sore for a few days whenever I have a newborn. This time around I put coconut oil on them and the soreness went away within a couple of days. This was a huge blessing as things became difficult in so many other ways during the next few days—at least I didn’t have sore nipples on top of all my other problems.
Using a supplementary nursing system: when I did have to supplement a little bit, I fed it to them through this tiny tube while they were nursing. This way they continued to stimulate me to produce more and they didn’t get nipple confusion going back and forth from breast to bottle. It was helpful to me to pump a few times to get an idea of how much I was producing… that helped me realize that I was really only producing a little bit less than they needed (half an ounce or so) so that I didn’t give them more supplement than absolutely necessary.
Nursing both twins at the same time: this was awkward for me so I tried to avoid it at first, but this may have made the biggest difference in finally getting my body to up its milk production. When both nipples are being stimulated at the same time it sends a clear signal to the brain that you need milk enough for twins. A twin nursing pillow—a generous gift from a kind family member—has been a big help for me to learn to manage nursing both of them at once.
Taking good care of myself: Eating enough, drinking upwards of a gallon of water a day, taking a high-quality whole-food vitamin, and trying to get as much rest as possible have made a big difference. Various relaxation techniques I have learned from different sources over the years have been very helpful as well. I came across this article recently and while it doesn’t work on me in under a minute like she says, it does work.
Exercise: I started going on walks every day. Getting my heart rate up increases my circulation, which makes it easier for my body to make more milk.
I have been very blessed during this process to have lots of family support. With six older children to care for, I don’t know how I would have managed if I hadn’t had the help I have had. Meals and childcare help have been wonderful. Perhaps the most helpful thing has been people who have been willing to come over and rock a baby or two so that I could get a nap.
From now on if anyone I know is having twins, especially if they are planning on breastfeeding them, I am going to do everything I can to help them. Now that I know what a lot of work it is and how overwhelming it can be, I am going to do my best to be supportive in whatever way I can. I hope that maybe someday I can be for someone else what my sister-in-law was for me during this time—if it weren’t for her I’m pretty sure we’d be bottle feeding right now—but even if I can just bring someone a loaf of bread or a pot of soup I know I will have made a difference for them.