Sunday, October 2, 2011

My Struggle to Breastfeed My Twins

It was a Wednesday morning, the day I would meet my two new babies. I couldn't wait to hold them and snuggle. As soon as my girl and boy were born, I got to see them for just a minute before they were taken to the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit). They were born just a few days before I reached 37 weeks gestation, so I wasn't really expecting that to happen. I came prepared with signs to go in the babies' bassinets notifying nurses that they were not to receive any formula, so I asked my husband to follow the babies to the NICU and place the signs.

I got word that the babies were doing well, but I waited for about 4 hours post-delivery before someone could take me to the NICU to see, hold, and nurse my little bundles. When I finally arrived, I planned to feed baby boy (18 in and 5 pounds 5 ounces) first, simply because he came out first and that was my way of deciding who got the first drop of colostrum. I was wheeled into my boy's room because, unfortunately, the only twin room was being occupied. There, I was met with several nurses and a neonatologist who updated me on both of the babies. The neonatologist informed me that both babies' blood sugar levels were low, but baby girl's (18 in and 5 pounds) was the lowest. She asked me to feed her first, which of course made the most sense. Before I was even wheeled out of baby boy's room she then began to go on about how if the breastfeeding didn't go well, they would just use formula to get the blood sugar up.

This was the beginning of a series struggles I met throughout much of my babies' infancy. Very frustrated, I let the doctor know that I didn't see any need to introduce formula. I successfully breastfed my first son for 13 months and had enough stock-pile of frozen breast milk to last him until 15 months. I felt pretty confident that there really was no reason to even discuss formula. Further, if latching-on was a problem, I could just use a breast pump to retrieve the colostrum. The neonatologist insisted that she was very pro-breastfeeding, but I would beg to differ when she quickly jumped to the idea of using formula before even giving me a chance to breastfeed. Anyone who has ever breastfed also knows that stress doesn't exactly help the process either. After feeding baby girl, I moved on to baby boy. The bonding time was wonderful, but I regret that I was met with discouragement instead of a supportive environment. Before leaving the NICU, I was told that both babies' blood sugar levels were well within normal. I breathed a sigh of relief and said "take that" to the my head, of course.

The babies only stayed in the NICU until that evening, but I was again met with resistance when I tried to get in a wheel chair and go back to the NICU to feed three hours later. The nurses were uneasy about letting me go. I was really kind of appalled that they would even think I wouldn't try to go back so I could breastfeed. The nurse paged my doctor who, of course, told them it would be fine for me to go.

One of the on-staff lactation consultants later visited me and set me up with a breast pump in case I had any problems with latching-on. I was discharged after about 48 hours and went home with my two beautiful babies. My husband and I were happy to see that our older son was enjoying his baby brother and sister already.

Although our house was in constant chaos with three children under the age of two, feedings were smooth and the babies seemed to eat well. The first few visits to the pediatrician's office showed good weight gain and two healthy babies.

When we took the babies for their four month well-visit at the pediatrician's office, we were in total shock that the babies didn't even weight 10 pounds. Baby girl weighed in at just over 9 pounds. When baby boy got on the scale, we were blown away even more that he was only 8 pounds 15 ounces. He had gained only 3 ounces over the previous two months.

I was really devastated and felt like a total failure. I was exclusively breastfeeding, and obviously failing my babies. I wasn't sure what was happening, but I knew I would do whatever it took to get them back on the right track. To make a very long story short, we tried several different things to get the babies to gain weight; however, nothing was really working. The pediatrician wanted us to try rice cereal but I didn't want to do that because that would only take up space in their bellies that needed to be filled with the protein and fat-rich breast milk.

I began calling on friends in my profession and was finally set-up with a local lactation consultant who I worked with closely. We tried several techniques including pumping after one or two feedings and supplementing a half ounce of breast milk after a few feedings each day. When we returned to the pediatrician's office for a weight check, we were horrified that even with the supplementing, baby girl had gained absolutely nothing and baby boy had gained only a small amount.

The next step was to weigh the babies before and after each breastfeed to find out exactly how much they were drinking. The results revealed that they were all over the map drinking up to 7 ounces in the morning and sometimes only 0.7 ounces later in the day. I was to pump after each feed and supplement whatever they drank while nursing to equal a total of 4.5 ounces per feed. This was finally a success! Both babies gained more than their goal weight for the week.

Unfortunately, the babies did not ever drink more during their nursing sessions, so I ended up pumping after every feed. We were never able to determine what the cause of them not drinking sufficient amounts was. I supplemented baby boy with 1.5 ounces of breast milk after each feed and baby girl with 1 ounce. At first, I thought that I would never be able to manage breastfeeding two babies, then pumping, then bottle feeding two babies for each and every feed (every two hours) while also taking care of a 2 year old. When I first began the new "feeding system", the whole process took me an entire hour. It was pretty tough, but I eventually streamlined the system and had a lot of tricks that allowed me to complete the tasks successfully.

Not only was this time difficult for me because of the demand on my time, but it was draining emotionally. I really couldn't leave the house for more than an hour because it was really difficult to think about toting the pump along, in addition to bottles. Then there is the fact that you have to keep unused milk cold, heat up bottles, etc etc. I couldn't even make it to my grandfather's funeral because keeping up with this routine would have been next to impossible while traveling half-way across the country. I felt isolated, not only because I didn't get out of the house much, but also because not many people could relate to what I was going through. It was tough feeling like I was barely keeping up with my babies' basic needs. Some people who didn't know the situation would comment on how skinny and small the babies looked. It really stung because I was already feeling like a failure and was doing everything I could to turn things around. Lastly, I really loathed cleaning all of those bottles and the pumping supplies.

At the nine month well-visit (this actually took place when they were 9.5 months old) we had quite a victory. Both babies were now hitting their own curves on the growth chart. Although they are still below the 3rd percentile for weight, they are making their own curves, which previously was a plateau for baby boy. This was a victory I just can't describe. It was better than any test aced, any race won, any degree earned, or basically anything I ever succeeded in. Now, my beautiful, healthy babies are almost eleven months old and thriving. I am down to pumping only three times each day, baby boy is getting just one 1.5 oz supplement at night, and they are both eating baby food and some table food. Surprisingly, I have about eight gallon-sized freezer bags full of breast milk in the freezer.

Through this whole ordeal, there were many good things. 1. My babies had a problem that I was able to fix. We are so fortunate that they are so healthy and thriving. 2. I have a very supportive husband and family who were there for me. 3. My babies are so wonderful and loving that I would do anything for them! 4. I knew God was watching over us.

So why did I write this really long blog post? It really just felt kind of good to get it off of my mind. I hope that if there are other moms out there struggling with this that this will let them know that they're not alone! Call a lactation consultant and get the support you need. Support from knowledgeable professionals and loving family REALLY helps.