Honestly, when I thought about having twins, breast feeding never really crossed my mind. I wasn’t a breast-fed baby. I’m not all that comfortable with my body being on display. I didn’t want the sole responsibility for feeding two babies for the next year. Even though I understood the benefits and did a lot of research, I still wasn’t sure what path I wanted to take when it came to feeding our children.
When they came three months early, my husband and I had definitely not finalized a plan for how to feed our children yet- we were lucky they even had names and we made it through that day. We had not taken a birthing class yet (it was scheduled for mid-February) and honestly didn’t even know what floor to go to when we arrived at Mass General. We thankfully found the appropriate place. We were something I never like to be- unprepared. As we sat in the recovery room after my emergency C-section, a nurse came in to ask us if we would like to try to pump. She explained the benefits again and I figured since there was not going to be much that I could do for my children over the next couple of months, this was one way I could help them and connect with them.
That first time, the nurse helped me put the pump together and attach the phalanges to my body. It felt strange but not uncomfortable. I sat there for fifteen minutes, holding these pieces of plastic to my chest (which is hard to do after a C-section) and absolutely nothing came out. The nurse reassured me that my body was in a bit of shock and would catch up to understanding that I was no longer pregnant and that my milk supply would start. She suggested that I pump for 15-20 minutes, 8 times per day (including at least once in the middle of the night when your production levels are typically higher).
From that point on, pumping was my mission in life. I made it a competition with myself and willed myself to make more and more milk. While I was in the hospital, my nurses helped us create a night time schedule and would carry my small amounts of colostrum and milk down to the NICU. Once I was discharged, my husband and I had a routine for overnight pumping at home. I’d set myself up in my daughter’s room in her chair at 10pm before we went to bed and pump for 15-20 minutes and when I would disconnect, he would take the milk downstairs, package it up, label it for the hospital and put it in the refrigerator. We’d set the alarm for 2am and pump again- same process. It made me feel a little less on my own to feed them knowing he was awake and going to handle all the packaging. I’d wake up about six and do it all again. When I was at work or in the hospital, I’d try to pump every three hours to keep my supply strong. Before heading to the hospital, I’d pack up my little cooler with all my milk bottles and proudly bring them to the NICU.
I worked really hard at being an exclusively pumping mom of multiples. I drank a ton of water and ate lactation cookies. I tried to eat healthy, take my prenatal vitamin and keep my breasts from getting irritated or sore. My NICU and SCN nurses pushed me to eat during my long visits at the hospital. I utilized soothing pads and gels to keep the pumping from becoming too painful. I constantly made sure that phalanges fit appropriately so that pumping would continue to stay comfortable. I read about the benefits of breast milk to keep myself motivated.
My volumes slowly increased until I reached a height of around 40 ounces per day. During my twin’s hospital stay, I never missed a day pumping eight times. I felt like a Rock Star. I felt like I could do this for a year. I felt strong. I felt empowered. I felt like a super mom…
And… then they came home. It rocked our world. Instead of getting up for 20 minutes in the middle of the night, it was for over an hour to set up, pump, put the milk away and get bottles mixed and heated, change dirty diapers and feed premature twins. I was exhausted, in pain, stressed and anxious. Still, I felt obsessed with pumping. For something that three months ago, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to do, I was fixated with keeping on schedule and pumping eight times per day. It was literally driving me off the ledge mentally.
After a few weeks of having them home, I started cutting back on the pumping to 7 then 6 times per day to try to allow myself more sleep and more time with my babies. It helped ease my stress level but my supply also dipped a little. I started stressing out more about not having enough for them to eat, especially as they grew and were drinking more in each of their bottles. My freezer supply started to dwindle. I became even more mentally obsessed with trying to make sure I had enough for them. As my son specifically started to drink a lot more and grow, I slowly realized that I would not make enough to feed both of them and I’d have to start supplementing with Neosure. With this realization, I would sit in the chair hooked up to this machine and just cry in the privacy of my daughter’s room. I cried because I was exhausted. I cried because it hurt. I cried because I wasn’t downstairs actually feeding my own babies. I cried because I felt like I failed as a mother. I cried because I was jealous of other mothers who could just do this easily. I cried because it felt like I was compulsive about the pumping and couldn’t stop. I cried because this was not what I wanted. I cried because it felt like the first of so many times I knew I’d let my kids down. I cried because I felt guilty.
Finally, after almost totally losing it mentally with minor panic attacks, anxiety attacks and depression, I asked one of our nurses what she would do and what she said to me was wonderful. “For the pumping- do what you can do. It will do you no good, or the babies, to stress yourself and sleep deprive yourself over pumping. I did it for around three months and then was DONE. You've already done amazing and you just need to do what is best for you and what will make you a more sane mom.” And with that final bit of reassurance, I decreased my pumping slowly and by the middle of May, I was done. I packed up my hospital grade pump, gave away all my pumping supplies and happily switched over to 100% formula.
I felt happy, guilty and judged all at once but I knew if I didn’t give up that one tiny part of being a mom, I would be losing any sense of sanity that I had. Being a pumping mother of premature twins is really, really hard. You don’t really get that sense of bonding with them that you get when breastfeeding. You still spend a lot of time making bottles and fortifying them with formula for extra calories for two babies. You still have to actually feed two babies eight times per day! You are also putting so much more stress and anxiety on your body to make enough to feed two. I felt happy to give it up and get some of my life back. I felt guilty that I wasn’t giving my babies my milks anymore. I felt judged because I saw the looks as I bought formula or the judging glances at the doctor’s office as I pulled out the Neosure can. Oh yeah, and for the record, mothers of one healthy full term baby, you NEVER get to judge a mother of premature multiples. Keep your nasty looks to yourself.
I’ve read many articles and there is no one I respect more than mothers who pump exclusively for multiples and mothers of triplets/quadruplets/etc.- you are the true rock stars and my hero!