It’s National Breastfeeding Week at the moment which, if I’m honest, has probably made me more scared about breastfeeding than excited. I don’t think that’s the desired outcome of the week of campaigning but there we are. Put it this way: if you think you’ve seen women rip each other to shreds in Daily Mail comment sections and blogger bashing forums, just you wait til you stumble upon a breastfeeding vs formula feeding debate on Facebook. That stuff is SCARY.
I’ve always wanted to breastfeed (my mum doesn’t need any excuse to tell all and sundry that three-year-old me used to publicly yank up my top and “breastfeed” my Tiny Tears doll whenever she was feeding my baby sister) and as I’ve gotten older and wiser the desire to breastfeed hasn’t gone away, but it has been joined by a real fear of just how hard it will be.
Part of me thinks this fear is a good thing; I’m not expecting it to be a “natural” process where the babies and I just magically find our way and therefore I’m preparing myself for the realities as much as possible. I would have thought one of the worst things you could do is not expect it to be difficult, because then when it inevitably is difficult it will come as a massive shock…just as you’re also dealing with crashes and surges of hormones and generally trying to get your head around keeping a newborn baby (or babies) alive and well.
Finding out I was pregnant with twins didn’t dull my desire to breastfeed, it made me more concerned for the difficulties I could face but if anything it made me more determined to make breastfeeding work. The practicalities of formula feeding two babies (let alone the cost!) just seems hard-going to me. I can’t forget to take my boobs with me when I go out. I don’t think.
But I’m very aware of how hard it’s likely to be, especially in the beginning. Even if one baby is a great feeder, having another who isn’t is going to throw everything out of whack. From the twin forums I’ve joined, it doesn’t seem massively uncommon for one baby to be breastfed and another formula fed because of complications. Having to deal with the pitfalls of breastfeeding AND formula feeding all at once sounds particularly hard-going, though of course you do what you have to do to get those bubbas fed. You have to.
My worries are the usual ones for anyone planning to breastfeed: pain, latch issues, poor weight gain, not being able to “share” the feeding workload. But I’m also worried about lack of postnatal support and my own dogmatic attitude.
Let’s start with the lack of support, as this seems to be a key issue that I’ve read a lot about during National Breastfeeding Week. The vast majority of women in the UK *want* to breastfeed – all the stats say so. Clearly something is going very wrong between this desire to do it and following through to whichever magical figure we’re looking at – still breastfeeding at six weeks, six months, one year and so on. I’ve had the luxury of a lot of time to research my options for postnatal support and I can tell you now that it is NOT easy to find the relevant info – and that’s without the distraction of babies, postpartum hormones and a very immediate need to get a baby fed RIGHT NOW. If I’m struggling to find the right info now – with internet access, determination, all the time in the world and no crying babies to attend to – I can’t even begin to imagine how difficult it is when you’re in that newborn fog and it really is an urgent situation.
I assumed, naively, that living in our great capital would mean I would have more options than anyone. Not the case. My local NCT branches, which had merged, have now closed down “permanently” due to lack of support. My local La Leche League meetings? Also suspended until mid 2018. Other groups I have found meet monthly, but what use is it to tell a woman who can’t feed her child that she has to wait three weeks to see someone? I can walk to an antenatal class within five minutes of my flat, the closest breastfeeding support group I have found that meets weekly is a 50 minute journey away. 50 MINUTES. The idea of doing multiple buses or trains and tubes with newborn twins doesn’t exactly sound massively appealing. I’ve found a handful of lactation consultants who would come to me if I needed a consultation, but that would be a cool £250 for a couple of hours support. I know I live in an expensive part of the country but bloody hell, that is not a viable offer of support for the majority of new mums. (I should add that I have now been recommended a consultant who would come to me if needsbe for closer to £100, but I didn’t find her through my own research and £100 is still a lot of money for a lot of people).
One thing I have realised through my trial and error of researching support options is that the internet is perhaps not the best place to look for answers. It’s 2017, but it still seems that pin-boards in hospitals and GP surgeries are where we’re supposed to go to find up to date support information. Have we really not moved past pieces of coloured paper blue-tacked in waiting rooms? It shouldn’t be the case that every option I find online seems to have outdated info, sometimes by years.
Women deserve better. Babies deserve better.
And then there’s the case of my attitude. Ahhhh. I’m really worried about this one. One of the main pieces of advice I’ve received is to just go with the flow and do whatever works and not beat yourself up about changing your plans, but I know I will be devastated if I can’t make breastfeeding work. I just will be. I would LOVE to be able to adopt a relaxed attitude to breastfeeding and maybe I just naturally will once the day-to-day realities of caring for two babies hits home, but I know my personality and I suspect I’ll be very hard on myself no matter how rationally I know this type of self-criticism is a very bad thing. Again though, acknowledging that my attitude could be a problem is the first step to being able to address it. It would be harder if I wasn’t aware of how self-critical I can be. People can help me if I’m honest about these shortcomings. I do know that at the end of the day, a happy mum is more important than any of the nutritional benefits of breastmilk.
So we’re now 1110 words into this post and having done a quick read through to this point I’ve realised I’ve been pretty damn negative. SEE! I told you National Breastfeeding Week was bringing out all the fear! But let’s end with some positive stuff.
I have been overwhelmed by the kindness of strangers on forums and social media. Really overwhelmed. Yes, I’ve also stumbled across some of the worst people in the world on feeding threads but in the main, once you find the right groups/platforms for you, you CAN find the most amazing advice. For free. Day and night.
There’s a closed Facebook group called Breastfeeding Twins and Triplets UK and the women on there are literally superheroes. I have never seen anything quite like it to be honest, endless dedication to helping other women navigate the minefield that is breastfeeding multiples. Multiples in NICU, multiples with additional needs, first-time-mums, mums with PND – it’s just amazing to see the support that IS there. Women helping women out of the goodness of their hearts because even just one more breastfed baby is a very good thing.
TAMBA, the multiples charity, has loads of info on breastfeeding twins (and triplets! It can be done!) and I have found this really useful. I remember watching some of their tandem feeding videos early on and thinking “OH MY GOD THAT LOOKS LIKE COMPLETE AND UTTER CHAOS” but then feeling really pleased I’d watched them. Again, for me it’s all about having realistic expectations about what the twins journey will be like.
I’ve signed up to do various antenatal breastfeeding classes, including one of TAMBA’s webinars, and whilst I know that classroom based learning isn’t quite the same as dealing with a screaming baby, it will help a lot. Knowing these are in the diary make me feel more confident, as does reading all the tips and recommendations on the twin FB groups so that I have a better understanding of likely complications and how best to address them.
I’ve got my “supplies” ready too. I bought a second-hand Peanut&Piglet tandem feeding cushion on Facebook and then I also have my bbhugme as another option. I was lucky enough to be sent a box of essentials by Medela (think breast pads, nip cream, milk bags) and while I haven’t decided what to do about a pump yet, I’m going to either hire a hospital grade one or buy a double pump. I was going to buy shields “just in case” but I’m trying to remember that I don’t need a whole arsenal of equipment on standby, I can wait to see how things get on and whilst in hospital I can use their stuff and buy my own on next-day-delivery. Speaking of being in hospital, I’m trying to remind myself to not beg to go home asap and to wait until I’ve had a few successful milky feeds with the luxury of staff on hand to help (am I being unrealistic in expecting staff to help?!) as my c-section is likely to delay my milk coming in. And of course this is all just assuming I get to term and don’t have all the complications that come with preemie feeding!
I’ve also made sure ST is aware of how much I want to make breastfeeding work and how he can help make that happen, whether that’s advocating for me whilst we’re still in hospital or just generally backing me when we come across problems. If I have to sit on the sofa for three months having “topless telly time”, that’s all good with me. (Reading that sentence back has made me LOL, topless telly time being for cluster feeding the babies in a relaxed environment, not for ST’s entertainment. Hah!).
Our families are based in Suffolk and Manchester so everyone is hours away, but both mothers are on standby to come down and help once the twins arrive and this is a real comfort to know. I’ve also been able to watch my sister-in-law breastfeed her son over the past few months which has really helped prepare me. (Honestly, if you can convince someone close to you to have a baby six months ahead of you then this is pretty much the best way to learn it all – I’m sure you can find someone to oblige?!). My cousin (a twin!) goes to uni not too far away from us too and she is also on standby to help with shovelling cake into my gob and providing pints of squash. Every little helps right?!
And lastly, I just love that women are talking about breastfeeding. I love seeing women breastfeed on Instagram Stories. I love seeing women admit that it can be hard. I love that a lot of the conversations and news articles I’ve seen this week haven’t been about breast vs bottle, it’s been about saying “hang on, lots of women do actually WANT to breastfeed but we need more support”. It’s such a waste of energy to bash women for their feeding choices, especially when that energy could be used to actually help the women who do want to breastfeed but are struggling.
I know I’m going to be pretty busy once the twins arrive (!) but I am adamant that I’ll report back here, warts and all, with how I get on. Who knows, I might be Apatmil’s biggest customer and be coming online in November to laugh at this ridiculous post and my “oh I’m obviously going to breastfeed” notions. Or, even better, I may just get on with breastfeeding ok and not have much to report at all! I like that I never seem to see that as a possible outcome: that it might just genuinely go well.
The conversations are what’s important though. The admitting that breastfeeding is a skill to be learnt and not necessarily some easy and natural process that “just happens” is really really key.
Let’s all keep talking, let’s not look at the horrible threads full of nasty trolls on either side of the feeding debate, and let’s support one another when we can. This week, next week, and always.
Here’s to happy babies…and happy mums.