Pen Pal: Breastfeeding Twins An Extreme Sport
Kate is a Birth & Postpartum Doula, Childbirth Educator, Infant Sleep Educator, Yoga Instructor, and Breastfeeding Educator (in training). After spending years living in London, England, she migrated back to Toronto, Canada, where she lives with her partner and two year old twins. Kate loves sunny days at the park, lavender flavoured komboucha, and chilling out in downward dog. Kate reminded us that aspirations don't always match achievements but that's alright. A mama's strength is her ability to adapt.
Breastfeeding twins is like playing a competitive sport. We missed goals but also achieved goals that surpassed my expectations. There were tears and injuries, coaches guiding us towards success and those leading us astray. There were positions that worked – the double football/rugby holds – and plays that didn’t. Overall, we’ve ‘won’, with some ‘losses’ along the way. But ultimately, I’m a stronger player, parent and person.
When I became pregnant, there was no doubt I’d breastfeed. Yet admittedly, I thought breastfeeding would just come to us without any issue. I scoffed at the giant purple breastfeeding pillow given to us - I don’t think I’ll be using this hideous thing!
Don’t get me wrong, I was very aware of issues that could arise. I just naively didn’t think they’d happen to us: looking back I shake my head – really Kate? I had limited prenatal breastfeeding support. And I probably wasn’t very open to it, I had made my choice - Formula!? No way is that ever coming into my house!
Now I am a Doula, Childbirth Educator, and Breastfeeding Educator, I know how vital prenatal education can be. Oh hindsight, if only I’d known: despite following the rules, strong players, and natural abilities, you don’t win every game.
Our season started off strong with everyone feeling positive. I was able to nurse my babies and even got tandem feeding down during the first couple of weeks. I felt like a top notch athlete! Then my daughter started to refuse the breast….
I had so many unanswered questions as to why we were experiencing the nursing aversions? And recurring mastitis? What had we done wrong? Was it our medicated, induced birth - another dose of guilt. Was it the early introduction of formula? The tongue tie we’d had snipped but never followed through with the exercise because they felt too traumatic? Did I have enough milk? Were my breasts and nipples too small? The guilt was enough to make the strongest all-star crumble.
My anxiety around breastfeeding was equally difficult. It was awkward having visitors and needing to nurse both my babies. And painful to watch someone else bottle feed my baby when my daughter wouldn’t latch. Another game altogether, getting us all to appointments, coordinating all the newborn care of feeding, sleeping and changing. I was tied to my sofa; strapped in by my ugly purple breastfeeding pillow! In retrospect, I was saying yes too much; I needed time to rest, to be in bed and getting to know my babies.
I faced the deepest guilt and seeing others dive into breastfeeding with no issues didn’t help. Whilst I had an awesome team, I still felt incredibly alone. With all that stress, it’s no wonder that back on the pitch, the game got even tougher.
As eager and loving parents, we sought out coaches early, in attempts to fix the latch and the recurrent mastitis. We went to lactation consultants and breast specialists, and NO ONE had a solution. They all cried “latch”, which perhaps it was. But the tactics didn’t work and our game plan was ever evolving. All I could feel was guilt, gluing myself to the breast pump and/or filling up another formula bottle, the latch remaining an issue.
Added to this, my babies also had very different nursing personalities. They both needed my attention, but in different ways. They got hungry at the same time, so tandem nursing was paramount. When both did end up (finally!) latching and feeding well, this turned into a blessing, as it gave more time for myself. But in the early days, comparing it to an ultra-triathlon is not far fetched. We were forced to juggle these primal needs but with no preseason warm up.
In the end, through my own research and trusting my instinct I found a partial answer; nipple blebs or blocked nipple pores. Through a daily routine, I kept the blebs under control until they finally disappeared as the twins turned two. Having persistent blocked nipple pores was excruciating. Taking back control of my body and learning to trust myself again was the silver-lining. I knew myself better than any specialist. From this I have developed a deep empathy for the families I work with, who are facing their own breastfeeding struggles.
This learning curve has taught me a few things:
(a) Prenatal education and awareness is key. We don’t expect athletes to jump into a game without any training, and we shouldn’t expect parents to either.
(b) We as mothers need to trust that we are doing the best by our babies, as do those on the sidelines watching.
(c) Parents need more time getting to know their babies and less time entertaining guests and getting back to pre-baby life.
(d) Solid postpartum support is essential. Of course, it is all about finding the right coaches for YOU.
Finally, don’t feel pressure to do it someone else’s way. As a practitioner, I strive for a trusting, non-judgmental environment, guiding families towards their goals with realistic expectations, in-depth knowledge, and a high dose of empathy.
Both my kids turned into champion nursers, surpassing every single goal. Initially, day-by-day, then month-to-month, and to my disbelief, we nursed passed their second birthday. We still face challenges along the way – it’s a relationship. But thankfully we escaped those depths of pain and I am grateful I’ve been able to bond and nourish my kids through our breastfeeding experience.