The Most Natural Thing
Davis CA USA
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 25, No. 1, January-February 2008, pp. 23-25
When my husband, James, and I decided to start a family, I already knew I would breastfeed. My mother had breastfed me in the '70s with the help of her local La Leche League Leader, and still speaks fondly of those months. Like most pregnant women, I read everything I could get my hands on about pregnancy, childbirth, and of course, breastfeeding. My plans didn't change when, at 14 weeks pregnant, an ultrasound confirmed our suspicions -- I was pregnant with twins.
I started attending La Leche League meetings during my pregnancy. I read THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING and discovered NEW BEGINNINGS magazine. Cue-based feeding, sharing a family bed, and responsive parenting just seemed to make sense to me. It was during this time, too, that I discovered the idea of breastfeeding into toddlerhood and beyond and child-led weaning. I decided even before my babies arrived that they would nurse until they were ready to wean. All the stories I read of breastfeeding twins were so positive and supportive -- I never imagined that breastfeeding could be a struggle.
The early days of breastfeeding almost derailed my plans. Fiona and Kieran were born a few days before their due date. My water broke early in the morning, and an ultrasound showed that Fiona (the lower baby) was an incomplete breech with a high risk of a prolapsed cord. I had a cesarean before my labor had truly begun. Both babies were brought to me almost immediately after the surgery, and both latched on and breastfed right away. My doula helped me correct Kieran's latch. From then on, we never had difficulties with latch or sore nipples, but that's about the only challenge we didn't face!
By the third day, both babies had lost over 10 percent of their birth weight. Our family doctor was less than supportive, wanting to give them bottles of formula without even addressing why breastfeeding wasn't working. I was still recovering from surgery and devastated because I felt like I was failing at this first, basic task of motherhood. I was so afraid that introducing bottles and formula at this early point would be the end of breastfeeding.
I learned one important thing at that time, which was to trust my instincts. As early as the first day after my babies were born, it seemed like they weren't breastfeeding well. Both were fussy and restless at the breast and wouldn't stay latched on for long. But the nurse I asked just shrugged, as if this were normal. I think I was already noticing problems at that point, and if someone had helped then, perhaps we would have avoided the worst of our challenges.
Once it was clear that my babies weren't getting enough from breastfeeding alone, one nurse showed me how to use a supplemental nurser so my babies could receive supplemental formula while I was breastfeeding. We left the hospital with two babies and several bottles of formula samples. I remember being told not to lift anything heavier than my baby, and wondering, "Which one?!" My husband and I arrived home and just sat staring at these two tiny humans, wondering why anyone had trusted us to take care of them. I felt completely overwhelmed.
I continued to breastfeed and use the supplemental nurser, waking the babies every two hours around the clock. They kept losing weight and were sleepy, so every nursing session took over an hour. I couldn't figure out how to position both of them to nurse simultaneously, so was breastfeeding them one at a time. I would finish breastfeeding one baby, just in time for the next baby to eat. Meals were eaten with a baby at my breast, if at all. I must have slept some time, but I don't remember doing it!
Thankfully, I had plenty of support during those early days. James was able to take a full month off from work. Only six days before the babies were born, my parents had moved into a new house just a mile away from us. My mother spent each day helping, making sure basic household tasks were completed. We decided that it takes at least one more adult than babies in the house to keep everyone fed, clean, and somewhat rested! My father-in-law, who also lived nearby, would come over in the evenings after work and hold a baby so I could take a shower. My mother-in-law spent several days with us and cleaned our house from top to bottom. My coworkers and our local Parents of Multiples club kept us well fed during this time, bringing meals every couple of days. These mothers shared their own breastfeeding stories and successes along with their food. I didn't have the time or energy to venture out of the house for support, but the Internet brought other mothers right into my living room.
We contacted a local international board certified lactation consultant who helped to support us through our struggles. It took a full week for my milk to come in. At first, both babies were getting several ounces of formula a day. We were so sleep-deprived, and had so many people helping us with diaper changes and preparing formula, that I kept a detailed log of each baby's feedings and diaper changes. It was a struggle to make sure Kieran breastfed at least eight times each day. He was smaller at birth, and lost a full pound. He didn't want to stay awake to nurse, often simply nursing himself back to sleep. James would sometimes finger-feed him formula to get more calories into him. Whenever he was fed this way, I tried to pump, but with another baby to nurse, it was hard to find the time. The lactation consultant suggested we give the supplemental formula in bottles instead. Bottle-feeding, even with slow-flow nipples, was so much faster than finger feeding, and we were finally able to feed both babies simultaneously, so we could actually get a couple of hours of sleep once or twice a day.
We kept up this routine for several long weeks -- using the supplementer, offering some feedings by bottle, tracking diapers, and monitoring weight gain. I started taking the herbal supplement fenugreek, which seemed to help boost my milk supply. Somewhere along the way, with the help of a huge nursing pillow, I figured out simultaneous nursing. Then, Fiona learned to nurse lying down in bed. We got four straight hours of sleep in a row, which seemed an unbelievable luxury. Gradually, the amount of formula each baby received decreased and by the time they were six weeks old, both were exclusively breastfed. It was hard to believe we'd made it to that point, but what a glorious feeling to be able to feed both my babies.
In some ways, those early struggles were a blessing in disguise. Because I was always paranoid about having enough milk, I brought my babies to the breast at every whimper. I quickly learned that nothing soothes a fussy baby faster than nursing. I would never consider delaying feedings and possibly impacting my milk supply, so nursing in public was simply a non-issue; my babies had to eat, I had to breastfeed them, and it simply didn't matter where we were. There was never any question about moving them out of our bed; both needed to nurse several times at night, my body needed the stimulation of frequent breastfeeding, and I needed whatever rest I could get.
I soon learned that everyone had advice to give, but I had to listen to my own instincts. Before I knew it, I was mothering through breastfeeding, and it seemed like the most natural thing in the world.