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Before I had the twins – before I got pregnant, even – I was determined to breastfeed. I think it became a bit of an obsession, almost, when I found out that we would need IVF to conceive. Through all the disappointments and the ups and downs (mostly downs) of fertility treatment, I clung to the fact that breastfeeding was surely something my body would be able to do right. My grip on that belief got tighter every time something happened that made me feel like my body was letting me down. By the time I ended up with an emergency caesarean section, after planning and hoping for a vaginal delivery, I was convinced that breastfeeding was the *only* thing my body would be able to do right. And it has. Maybe a little bit too right. Because breastfeeding twins and has turned into the journey with (apparently) no end.
When we were told we were having twins, one of the first things people started saying to me was that breastfeeding twins would be too difficult, maybe even impossible. Even healthcare professionals warned me against putting too much pressure on myself to breastfeed. Looking back, that was actually pretty good advice, but at the time, it felt like they were telling me my body wasn’t good enough; that my body would fail me at this, too. It made me more determined than ever that I would breastfeed my babies.
I’ve mentioned in my previous post (When Two Became Four! Becoming a Twin Mum!) that I was quite poorly after the twins were born. That made the beginning of our breastfeeding journey a bit trickier than I expected. It was already a bit tricky, if I’m honest. The twins had terrible latches – their mouths were just so tiny and I was so scared that, if I asked for too much help, everyone would think I was failing my babies and I’d be pushed to formula feed. Yes. I’m aware of how ridiculous that sounds. I should have just asked for help. But it’s hard being a new mum, right? I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s felt extreme pressure to breastfeed. I’m probably not even the only one who put that pressure on herself, rather than getting it from other people.
Alice’s blood sugars were low the day after they were born and she wasn’t feeding enough to bring them back up. The midwives were concerned and talked about possibly needing to put her in special care if something didn’t change soon. I felt like my only option was formula and both twins ended up having top ups before they would let us go home. They ended up having formula top ups once or twice a day, for the first three weeks. They probably didn’t need them, but I’d convinced myself that my milk wouldn’t be enough and I was so tired. Not to mention the pain – my nipples were agony. I cried through every feed for the first 8 weeks. The top ups gave me a break. But every time someone suggested that I switch to formula completely, I got more stubborn about avoiding it.
I think it’s important to stress that I don’t have anything against formula feeding, nor do I judge or think badly of any mum who chooses to formula feed their baby. I do feel very strongly about mums having the support and information they need to make an informed choice, but whatever choice they make is not mine to judge. Not my baby (or my boobies), not my business. Parenting is hard enough without feeling like you have to justify every decision you make, right? I was determined to breastfeed, because it was only thing I could do for my babies without medical help and I didn’t want to give that up, not because I have a problem with anyone who formula feeds.
I continued to breastfeed through 8 weeks of poor latches, damaged nipples and thrush. I was miserable. In Being a Mum with Depression and Anxiety, I talked about how I thought I was at risk of postnatal depression. Breastfeeding was a big part of why. But still, I couldn’t quit. I wouldn’t let myself.
Eventually, breastfeeding got easier and I actually started to enjoy it. Six months turned into a year, turned into 18 months, turned into 2 years… I loved the cuddles and the closeness and the easy way to settle or comfort the twins. But I missed sleep. Jack and Alice have never been great sleepers. As we got closer to their second birthday, they were still waking every two hours (sometimes more often) for milk and I decided to night wean. I tried all the gentle weaning methods I could find. None of them worked. Jack and Alice were just really stubborn and it’s hard to be consistent when you’re surviving on so little sleep. So the week before their birthday, I decided – no more milk during the night. I talked to them about it and bought a night weaning story book and a Gro Clock. I explained that, after their bedtime feed, they wouldn’t be able to have milk until morning, when the sun came back on the clock. I set it for 4am, because that seemed to be when they had their biggest feed, so I figured it would be the most difficult to drop. The plan was to move push it back slowly, so that they were eventually sleeping until 6am or later. (As I typed that, I laughed at Past Becca a little bit, for thinking it would be that easy.)
There were tears, I won’t lie. But I stayed with them and comforted them with cuddles and reassurance and, after a couple of difficult nights, they were sleeping much better. We dropped daytime feeds pretty much at the same time. They weren’t bothered about those at all. After one day of them asking for milk and barely grumbling when I offered them water or snacks instead, they stopped asking during the day. But pushing that 4am feed back just wasn’t happening.
So by the end of February, we were down to three feeds – that stupidly early morning feed, naptime (which isn’t every day anymore) and bedtime. And that’s still where we are, 5 months later.
I have tried everything to wean the twins completely. They just don’t want to drop those last three feeds. What’s worse is that Jack seems to have gone backwards! Alice sleeps through the night now (until about 5am anyway), but Jack wakes several times and has gone back to asking for milk, despite not having night feeds for 5 months. And I’ve given in a few times, too. I just can’t bring myself to refuse him when he gets so upset. When it comes to my parenting style, I like to be as gentle as possible with the twins. I know there are people who think “gentle” is code for “too soft”, but I don’t care what those people think. I’m happy with my parenting style and choices. I wouldn’t change the way we’ve raised the twins so far, but I am beyond ready to stop breastfeeding.
Anyone who says that extended breastfeeding is for the mum’s benefit and not the child’s has clearly never breastfed a toddler. I’m proud of myself for successfully breastfeeding twins for 2 years, but it’s so restricting. The twins don’t settle well for Mr Becca, so he has a terrible night if I go out after 4pm. I recently had my first full night away and poor Mr Becca had to get up at 3am, because Jack wouldnt resettle without me. I know weaning doesn’t guarantee better sleep, but I have to believe that it might help, because nothing else has! I also want to donate eggs, to give a little bit back and help someone else get the miracle we’ve been given. But I can’t do that until the twins are fully weaned and I can’t see that happening without a bit of a battle that I don’t have the energy for.
It just feels like there’s no end in sight and I didn’t expect to feel this way about the end of our breastfeeding journey. I always wanted to breastfeed for as long as possible – the NHS and the World Health Organisation (WHO) both recommend breastfeeding for “two years and beyond” and I wanted to get to that magical 2 year mark… I just wasn’t expecting the “and beyond” to be quite so open ended for us.
Ultimately, I want what all mums want – to do what’s best for my children. For me, that means finding a way to stop breastfeeding without causing them any more upset than necessary and my mind is drawing a blank! I’m sure I can’t be the first gentle parent who has been ready to wean before their toddlers were, so if any of you are out there reading this, I’d love to hear from you!