I will be honest – I haven’t found breastfeeding rewarding at all. At the most, I would say I tolerate it because research has said how good it is for babies. At the worst, I would say I hate it, want to quit, and feel guilty for feeling that way. I would much rather just spend time holding my babies and not feel like I am just their milk machine. Prior to giving birth my knowledge about breastfeeding was limited. Everyone knows the million and one reasons why it is beneficial, so obviously I was planning on doing it. I did have some trepidation about breastfeeding twins, but at our baby class (labor and delivery, newborn care, and breastfeeding), a lactation consultant talked about why to breastfeed, how to breastfeed, and addressed our concerns. When asked about the need to supplement she dismissed it, saying that women make enough milk to feed their babies and if there are supply issues, there are way to increase supply. Makes it sound like a piece of cake right? I think that we are doing a huge disservice to mothers in regards to the way we discuss breastfeeding. I write this post because I think we need to be realistic about the difficulties of breastfeeding and let women know that they are not alone. Based on what I had heard and read, I thought I was just failing as a new mom. It was such a relief to hear that other women (even women with singletons!) cried with frustration, wanted to quit, felt guilty and inadequate, etc.
I was utterly unprepared for the difficulties of motherhood. I knew that it wouldn’t be easy. Everyone said the first 6 weeks were rough, and you would survive on not enough sleep. But, it is definitely harder than I thought it would be. My guilt and frustration about feeling incompetent at breastfeeding started from day 1 when the nurses said that Norah wasn’t passing the blood glucose tests and need to be given formula. I felt awful – I wasn’t giving her what she needed and now she was going to have to be given formula from a bottle. The lactation consultant at our class said not to give bottles or pacifiers until breastfeeding was well established at 4-6 weeks, and she had said that I would make enough milk. So what was wrong with me? I tried to chalk it up to babies being born a little early and with low birth weight. If this is what the nurses said was best for Norah then I would trust them. We continued to struggle with the babies getting enough to eat at the hospital, so we talked about pumping after at least half of my breastfeeding sessions to increase my supply.
By day 4 the babies had already lost 12% of their birth weights (they were down 5% and 7% when we left the hospital). Doctors don’t want babies to lose more than 15% of their weight. This usually peaks around day 10, so the pediatrician was worried about them continuing to drop weight. Thus, she recommended we breastfeed and then supplement with formula after. My left breast seemed to be frustrating the babies, so I had a phone lactation appointment which I cried through because I felt like I wasn’t providing for my babies and it was my fault that they had lost so much weight. We also had a lactation appointment at the hospital, which reiterated what the doctor and other lactation consultant had said – I now needed to be pumping after each feeding. This would increase my supply and allow us to supplement with breastmilk in addition to formula. Unfortunately having to pump was not my only frustration; Naomi was getting frustrated waiting for letdown and would unlatch repeatedly until she was screaming in frustration. Norah was getting lazy having to do the work of sucking and swallowing and just fall asleep.
As I was worried about Naomi’s latch issue, I did some research and found some helpful information from La Leche League. At this point, the babies were only sleeping in 15 minute stretches at night, and the doctor thought it might be because they were not getting enough food at each feeding, so they were overly hungry. After a week and a half (day 13), the babies had reached acceptable weights, and I seemed to be producing enough milk, so we decided to stop supplementing. I was so proud of myself, and it was so nice to not have to pump after each feeding! And then we went for a weight check with the doctor a week later, and she wasn’t happy with the 5 ounces Norah had gained and 2 ounces Naomi gained. She wanted them gaining an ounce a day, so we were back to supplementing. I was devastated and again felt like I had failed my babies. After being depressed all day and thinking about just giving up breastfeeding, I decided not to continue pumping after each feed. For my own sanity, the babies would be breastfed and then supplement with formula, so I didn’t have to continue pumping after each feed. While this would still extend the length of each feed, it would be less time than having to breastfeed, bottle feed, and pump.
I know that my emotional state regarding breastfeeding isn’t just due to hormones or societal pressures, but also due to lack of sleep. I guess when people said sleep would be an issue, I thought it was because you had to feed babies every 2-3 hours, even at night. So I (wrongly) assumed that while this wouldn’t be fun, it would be doable because there would be an end in sight. (Supposedly 6 weeks is the magic number?) Plus, it couldn’t be that bad because I would just wake up when they started crying to be fed, feed them, and then go back to sleep. It hasn’t been that simple. They often can’t be put straight into their cribs after they are fed. Both girls have had tummy troubles, and Naomi has had spit up issues, so we try to keep them upright for at least 10 minutes after each feeding. The first 3.5 weeks, they wouldn’t sleep in their cribs unless they were fully asleep. It would take at least 20 minutes to hold them, put them in the swing, or let them fall asleep in the rock ‘n play. (Supposed to go down sleepy but not asleep. Ha!) After they go into their cribs, I wait about 15 minutes to see if they will indeed sleep there and if they need pacifiers put back in. There have been nights when I can’t get them to sleep in the crib at all, and they end up sleeping in their rock ‘n plays while I sleep next to them on the couch. I know that for safety reasons they shouldn’t sleep in the rock ‘n plays, but I also know that both they and I need sleep.
Unfortunately, my struggles with breastfeeding have added to the lack of night sleep. Derek has been taking the bedtime shift around 9p-midnight, so I can grab 2-3 hours of sleep. I then wake up and pump while he feeds them a bottle of breastmilk I pumped the night before. He goes to bed, I finish feeding them bottles, and I try to get them to sleep in their cribs before I get another 2-3 hours of sleep. This process takes about an hour and a half. Around 4 or 5a, I start the 2-2.5 hour process of feeding them without help. I breastfeed one, change her diaper, then supplement with a bottle of formula. Then I repeat with the other baby before trying to get them to sleep in their cribs. If they wake up at the same time, I will tandem breastfeed, but it is harder to tandem bottle feed and impossible to tandem diaper change. The babies usually eat less at the breast because I can’t help prompt them or express into their mouths, and they are usually grumpier because they are having to wait while the other one gets a diaper change or bottle or helped to sleep. When my mom was here, I was averaging 5-6 hours a night. Since then, I have been averaging about 4-5 hours a night and then trying to take a 1-2 hour nap after I drop Derek off at the bus. The upside is that I have been reading Babywise and trying to implement some better sleep practices.
I’m not sure if it is some of our new strategies or just the babies getting older and wiser every day, but it seems like the past week has had some improvements. While it feels like 2 steps forward and 1 step back, I am hoping we have turned a corner. The babies are now sleeping in 3 hour stretches during the day and 4 hours stretches at night. They are going down in their cribs sleepy but not fully asleep for most naps and some of their overnight sleeps. We are only consistently struggling with the “witching hour” from dinnertime around 6 or 7p to their first overnight sleep around 1 or 2a. They want to be held, swing, or feel cocooned in their rock n play; they do not want to sleep in their cribs. Sometimes they have upset tummies or just don’t know what they want. Nothing seems to remedy this. However, we are hoping we have found a sanity saver in our Ergo 360. Michelle gets to eat dinner, and Norah gets held. Derek gets some time to relax, and Naomi gets held. Fingers crossed!