Breast feeding for me was super important, as it is for many moms. I had read the studies, watched the videos, talked to enough people, to decide that breastfeeding was what I was going to do when I gave birth.
When I found out I was having twins, I joined twin mom groups and met a few moms who were EBF(exclusively breast feeding) and had no issues, in fact I met a mom who had multiple sets of multiples and was still breast feeding, not only her most recent set, but the set before them. To me, this seemed like a no brainier. Simply latch them every time they made even the smallest sign they were hungry. Easy right?
Sure… Or so I thought
My mom who was a drug addict and not a very good mom, could breast feed. Women with multiple kids could breast feed, and a few of them at once. This seemed like something I could do easily. After all, I was a female and I was made to do this right!?
When my twins were born, things didn’t really go how I had imagined… No NICU time, but still, they were my first children, so my expectations weren’t really realistic or sensitive and understanding to the fact that my expectations might not happen.
I expected them to pop out and latch instantly like so many photos I’ve seen. But that wasn’t really the case. My nipples and areolas are on the larger size, and pregnancy hormones didn’t help at all. They were big and round and both my boys at first, had a very hard time getting latched on. With some struggle and determination and a few hours with the lactation specialist, we got them on, but found that grew tired fast. Regardless, this was something I could deal with. At least I thought.
However, one baby seemed to hate breastfeeding. He wanted nothing to do with it. I’d get him latched and then he’d get mad, I think at how strong my letdown was. I’d be desperately trying to re-latch him while he was screaming and being sprayed by an uncontrollable stream of milk. All while trying to keep his brother focused and latched. Still we pushed forward.
I expected cluster feedings, I had heard they were a thing, and while sometimes time consuming, was something doable. Multiply cluster feeding one baby by two, and now make those babies huge consumers, and things can really start to wear you down. I was producing enough to make one baby happy but not two. It was heart breaking, I was nursing for about half an hour to an hour, then pumping for about half an hour to an hour. Then I’d basically get up to pee and eat, do some things and back down I’d go to nurse and pump. My entire life was nursing and pumping.
By the time they were three months, I was so tired and miserable. I had a baby stuck to me at all times, and still after every feeding they were obviously still hungry. All the classic signs were there and if I would latch them on they would eat again, and again, and again, and again… So I finally gave in and started pumping exclusively and bottle feeding. This was great, but I soon realized the issue.
My boys were consuming ten ounces every two-three hours. After we started bottle feedings, they would sleep basically through the night, what was great, but they were literally out eating me. They were eating about 120 ounces a day between the two of them. Their doctor said that was fine, but everyone including myself, thought it was ridiculous. Still we kept going, until we were up to about 200 ounces a day, which I couldn’t produce. I was attached all day long for the most part, pumping.
It became miserable, I was so focused on pumping. I was constantly strapped in, my breasts hurt deep inside, I had scabs, there was some bleeding and what I liked to call, ‘strawberry milk’. I was spending so much time pumping and watching to see how much I was producing, that I wasn’t focusing on my boys as much. I started missing them do things because I was adjusting a pump, dumping bottles into bags, cleaning parts, eating to produce more.
It took meeting another twin mom to make me realize that what I was doing was having such a huge and negative impact on me. My postpartum depression was so affects by my obsession with breastfeeding. My partner would scoop me into his arms every time I broke into sobs, hitting my boobs, and cursing my body. She told me that it’s ok to not EBF, hell, that it was ok to exclusively formula feed. That fed babies are best.
Why miss out on time with my boys, enjoying them, and watching them grow, just to attempt to EBF? Why drive myself into depression and misery just to EBF? It wasn’t worth it at all. She made me realize that I was mom shaming myself so hard and that was ridiculous. Why, when we get enough shame from others, should I be shaming myself!? I shouldn’t! I should be proud that I carried my babies to term, producing 14lbs of twin, twins that needed no NICU time. Twins that are healthy and happy.
That night, I went home and I packed up my pump, and I pulled out the frozen milk and tubs of formula and it was like the world lifted off my shoulders. I felt like I could breathe again. I spent so much less time feeding the boys and so much more time playing with them and loving them. Feedings became regular and we started getting ten hours of solid sleep through the night and a set scheduled where naps aren’t an issue (until recently when teething happened).
For me life has been better in every way since I stopped breastfeeding and I’m ok with that. Sure, for awhile I still kinda felt some guilt, but then I’d get a solid two hours of time with my boys and it would be all about them and I realized this was so much better than struggling to enjoy them while struggling to feed them. 7 months into this motherhood adventure though, I know I made the best choice for myself and my boys and I am not afraid to tell others.
When new moms in my twin mom groups post heartbreaking posts about their breastfeeding journeys begging for someone to tell them the magical secret that will make their boobs produce and make their mommy guilt go away, I always come in, first with advice that I found helpful on my journey, but I follow with the truth. That it is OK to not EBF or breastfeed at all. That it is ok to formula feed, and that a fed baby is in fact the best. I relay a shorter version of my story, highlighting the endless stream of tears and the emotional destress that came with endless time spent attempting to EBF my children. I remind them that they are not failures or bad moms by not EBF.
I try to be honest and say, while I know we all know the benefits of breastfeed, there are no benefits to a child when a mother is exhausted, emotionally drained, and depressed. I also try to be honest with the fact that, while some women do breastfeed without issue, producing enough to donate large quantities even after feeding their own, that comparing your body to them isn’t fair to your own. You are your own individual and you cannot shame yourself because you can’t do everything someone else can.
I always remind them to look at themselves and how hard they are trying. They have so much love for their children, there is no way that not EBF could make them bad mothers when they have in fact put themselves through so much already for the sake of their little ones.
So to anyone out there struggling to feed their twins, heck, even their singletons. Do not beat yourself up, be kind to yourself. Pick up your babies and love them while they are little before they grow much faster than you expect, right before your eyes. Do not beat yourself up, you just created life, respect yourself and how amazing you are. Enjoy your time with your babies. Do what you need to do, but know. It is OK to not exclusively breastfeed. It is ok to not breast feed at all. But, whatever you choose to do, STOP mom shaming yourself. Breathe. It will be ok.