I’m very excited to introduce a guest writer today – Amber Schonhaar Nickerson, my sister-in-law. Amber had twins six years ago, and I asked her to share her experience in nursing twins. Her story proves that although things may not go as we wish, we can still find a way to do the very best we can for our babies.
April 25, 2007. My husband Mark accompanies me to our weekly appointment at the High Risk Unit at the Ottawa Hospital Civic Campus. Approximately 5 hours later, I’ve delivered our precious boy/girl twins by C-section. At a day shy of 36 weeks gestation, they are relatively big and healthy. We are overjoyed and overcome with emotion. Although we knew the twins could arrive any day, we are in disbelief that they are here!
Ours wasn’t a straightforward story: nearly 5 years of dealing with infertility, rounds of medications, countless doctors’ appointments, tests, and finally a successful IVF attempt. To say that we were ready to be parents would be an understatement! There’s a reason I’m giving you this background – this story is paramount in my decision to nurse the twins.
After such a journey, I was prepared, I’d done my research, Mark and I had attended the “Breastfeeding Twins” workshops, I had practiced the football hold with two eight-pound dolls, and we had a plan. But, as any mother will tell you, no matter how much planning takes place, no one is quite prepared for the realities of first-time parenthood, and having twins adds a few extra challenges!
As soon as I’d been wheeled into my recovery room, the nurses brought the babies to me. I fumbled with them, one at a time, to see if they would latch. They attempted to, but we could see they were both struggling. Our son had to be in the NICU for about 36 hours due to some fluid in his lungs, so they kept the twins together.
It doesn’t sound like long now, but it was extremely difficult not to have them in my room right away. The nurses gave Mark bottles of formula and he fed them. Soon the twins were with me, and I attempted to nurse them every couple of hours. That football hold I practiced just did not work for me, nor did the other styles of holding them.
I fumbled with nursing pillows, regular pillows, the Lactation Consultants doing all they could to coach me. The nurses told me that at 36 weeks, our babies were probably not physically able to latch, but I didn’t give up. We went to another workshop held on my floor. We were the only parents with twins. The baby blues struck (later I read that both moms of IVF babies and moms who experience emergency C-sections are more prone to this – a double whammy for me since I had experienced both). Things weren’t going as I had pictured.
I’ll never forget the first time I used an electric, double pump. I cried and cried. In part because of those baby blues, I’m sure, but partly because it felt so unnatural, and also because of the guilt and worry I felt. Was I doing what was best for our little miracles?
I recovered in the hospital for nearly 5 days never giving up on trying to nurse the twins as well as pump as much as I could. Thankfully I didn’t have any problem with supply. The day I was discharged I was very clear to Mark – “Go down to the hospital store and buy the most expensive, best double electric breast pump there!” It would turn out to be one of the best decisions I’d made.
At home, we were troopers. Mark was off with nine months of parental leave. With Mark’s help every step of the way, I got into a great routine of nursing (they eventually did latch on occasionally and I had a handful of successful times breastfeeding them but never at the same time), pumping milk, labeling and freezing milk, and sanitizing bottles. Life felt stressful but we were incredibly happy. And just slightly sleep deprived!
I don’t remember the exact moment, but at one point, I decided that the most important thing to me was giving our babies breast milk and the way it got to them – whether it was bottle or breast – didn’t matter. A few things played into this.
We had been through weeks of attempting to nurse them. We were so fortunate to have a Lactation Consultant visit our home, as well as appointments every few days with the team at the hospital. Nursing them together was nearly impossible for me. I soon realized that I had to support my breast with my hand in order to nurse one baby at a time. They were growing fast and breastfeeding them one after the other was just not an option.
Picture it: 2am, two tired parents, two hungry crying newborns. Feed one, and then let the other twin cry for that time, hungry? Something just didn’t make sense. The answer lay in that great Medela
) pump Mark had picked up and the fact that he was off for 9 months! The perfect solution was to pump full time so we could enjoy feedings together.
This was not how I pictured it, but it worked for us for nearly 8 months. At that point, I was exhausted to say the least. It’s difficult to look back now and think about exactly what lead me to stop at that point, but it was the right decision at the time. Ultimately, I look back on those months with pride and happiness. Parenting lesson #1: sometimes things don’t turn out exactly how we plan.
If you missed our first four posts for this International Breastfeeding Week you can find them at…