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The Supplementation Game Part Two: What About Twins?

By Lactation Counselor Lisa and Doula Jen

Breastfeeding for MultiplesAt the beginning of the month, we blogged about breastfeeding with added formula supplementation—how for whatever reason this is an increasingly popular recommendation, how it can often bring momentary relief but long-term struggle and doubt, and how it can really make or break a breastfeeding experience. What we were getting at isn’t formula feeding in general, but rather the recommendation of supplementation for women who don’t necessarily need it and further more don’t want it.

Our post got some discussion going on Facebook, particularly between the mamas of multiples, who—across the board— felt mixed emotions when they turned to supplementation. On one hand, it allowed for much needed rest and recovery. On the other, they felt  both guilt and regret. Our immediate response was that twins are a different story, a bigger commitment, often come with a special set of challenges; that any successful breastfeeding with multiples is cause for celebration.

All of this is true, but it still makes us wonder…does supplementation help or hurt a family? Surely it is needed, sometimes, but at what point is it best to make that recommendation? Is a doctor who routinely recommends formula (or even mentions it) to a new mother of twins subtly sending her the message that she cannot breastfeed two babies, or is it offering relief, permission, and a lightening of the load?

Once again, we will SHOUT that we offer 100% non-judgmental support for all families—the formula feeders, the breastfeeders who plan on continuing into the toddler years, the co-sleepers, the Ferberizers, the baby wearing, the stroller pushing, etc. etc. It is not our job to decide how to raise your baby! We’ve seen it all and truly realize that there is a broad and colorful spectrum of parenting styles. You do what works best for you. You do what fits your family’s personality. And it’s all good.

So, listen…we don’t judge when we talk you through your decision to supplement. We don’t ask questions and encourage discussion because we think that formula is poison. We’re simply well-informed of the benefits of breastfeeding and know that the decision to move away from exclusive breastfeeding is often irreversible, and therefore should be taken seriously.

Exclusive breastfeeding is ideal. We all know that. Many families (particularly those with multiples) choose to supplement with formula for a variety of reasons. We recommend that you speak with a lactation specialist before moving to formula supplementation. She will set you up with the tools you need to transition smoothly and keep up your milk supply.

If you give your babies formula, keep in mind that your milk production might begin to decrease if you breastfeed or pump less that 8 to 10 times within 24 hours. Mothers still need to pump whenever babies get bottles, so supplementation is not always the relief that moms of multiples are looking for. In fact, it is often the hassle of pumping that frustrates Mama most in the end, frequently causing her to give up nursing completely.

This decision is often layered in confusion, guilt, and regret. Again, discuss these big changes in feeding with a lactation expert. You will need the information and support! Support, support, support! As always, moms need it. Doulas, multiples groups, family members. Reach out.

The good news:  Most women are able to produce enough milk to feed twins. Yes, it’s true! Believe it.

Also true:  All mamas need help learning to feed their babies. Early help can ensure adequate supply.

Once again, formula is not poison and we fiercely beg new mothers to STOP apologizing for their decision to supplement. However, formula permanently changes the health of Baby’s gut—the ability to properly digest and process food for maximum nutritional benefits. Another reason to just think about this change and discuss it with a trained lactation professional.

Donor milk is always a great option, especially for families with premature multiples. Preemies in particular benefit from good digestive health and in the case of multiples…well, let’s just say that gassy/fussy baby x 2 = less sleep for the parents!

Many moms don’t know about using donated human milk and wrongly assume that formula is the only option. Others mistakenly see donated milk as unsafe. Sharing human milk is NOT comparable to sharing other bodily fluids. Milk sharing is not more or less dangerous than formula feeding when it comes to pathogens (see link below).

It may seem like we’re talking in circles here. And—yes—we are! We say that breastfeeding is different—more difficult—for mothers of multiples (it is). Then we say that your body can successfully feed more than one baby (it can). We say that if you choose formula, you should do so guilt-free and knowing that you have our support (that’s true). But then, we also say that exclusive breastfeeding for as long as possible is best for optimum health (yep, that too).

It’s complicated, Mamas. It’s confusing, intimidating, scary. It’s wonderful. It’s exhausting. Yes, it is many things. And you’re getting many different messages.

Our message is one of evidence-based information. Our suggestion is that—no matter what you eventually decide—you become extremely well-informed, properly supported, and eventually certain and confident in your choices. And yes, Multiples Mamas…you are up against more. You have every stress and doubt and struggle multiplied. This is harder for you, wilder too. And you will be told that you can’t possibly breastfeed. And you will be given many different options. Opinions too!

Just take your time. Think it through. Move forward.

Click here for more info on the science behind milk sharing.

Click here for information on gut health.

For more information on ALL feeding choices, please join us for Breastfeeding 101 THIS MONDAY NIGHT. 

Got twins? Check out our class schedule for our next Breastfeeding Multiples workshop. 


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