Finding the Balance
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 18 No. 5, September-October 2001, p. 185
We provide articles from our publications from previous years for reference for our Leaders and members. Readers are cautioned to remember that research and medical information change over time.
"Toddler Tips" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents of toddlers. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's lifestyle. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.
I have four children—ages five, three, and six-month-old twins. I nursed my older children until I became pregnant and then weaned due to sore nipples. I dreamed of letting my last baby take the lead with a natural weaning. I had no idea I would have twins! Now I am almost literally breastfeeding constantly and the thought of continuing to breastfeed so much when they are active toddlers is overwhelming to me! I am so tempted to wean my boys shortly after their first birthday. I would like to hear from other mothers of multiples who have successfully nursed beyond the first year. What was it like for you? What can I do to ease my way into mothering and breastfeeding twin toddlers?
I salute you for caring for your children and giving them all the gift of breastfeeding. I nursed my twin daughters (my only children at the time) for 31 months and there were many moments when I thought that I had just about had enough. My husband and I reminded ourselves, however, to take the challenges as they came. Attending La Leche League meetings helped me keep a positive attitude.
The biggest breastfeeding issue came up at 16 months. Because our family had been coping with extra stress a few months earlier I had continued to nurse the girls on demand rather than making any changes as they moved into toddlerhood. This worked for a time, but at 16 months I felt as though they were constantly asking me to nurse. Each girl would ask to nurse when she felt the need and she'd ask to nurse when she saw her sister nursing. Nursing had changed from being a pleasure to being an unwelcome obligation.
At 18 months the family situation had settled down, and I was ready to make some changes. With ideas and support from La Ieche League friends, I decided to gently impose some limits. I gradually eliminated the indiscriminate nursing, just by spending time playing outdoors or not sitting down or re-directing them if they did ask. The girls accepted the substitutions and didn't exhibit extra neediness or crankiness, so I felt that they were ready for the change. After just a few weeks we were nursing in the morning, naptime, evening, and bedtime. Nursing was rewarding again and I was happy to continue.
Over the next year we dropped the evening and naptime nursing, and I began to limit the length of the bedtime nursing. Rather than nurse the girls to sleep, I let them nurse for a short while, and then we all would lie down together in their double bed and I would tell stories or sing songs until they fell asleep. Finally, we nursed only once a day until I weaned them in connection with a new pregnancy.
I am so glad that we were able to make adjustments in our nursing relationship to make it satisfactory to all of us. Good luck to you!
South Burlington VT USA
Only one thing is certain: mothering twins is not the same as mothering singletons! Just as it was a surprise to learn that you were having twins, there will be other unexpected events in your life. I remember crying when I was told that twins were easier when they were babies than when they were toddlers. I had slow-gaining babies and lots of breastfeeding challenges, and I dreaded what "harder" would be like! As it turned out, I found that my twins were a pleasure to breastfeed when they were toddlers.
Because they were usually busy, our nursing moments were really a nice time to reconnect and slow down. One of them was usually happy playing or having a snack while I nursed the other one, so I got to have private time with each one in turn. By that time, they had very different nursing patterns. That made it even more special, because I knew that I was meeting each one's needs fully. Their needs were not as intense as they were in the early months, and I was not as tired, either.
Mothers of twin toddlers who are breastfeeding have double the joy to share, as well as special stories. Elisabeth not only decided which breast was hers and which one was for Gabriel, but even told him when to stop and go to sleep! Today they are eight and she just has to remind him what homework he has. Your babies are so lucky to have you!
Fredericton New Brunswick Canada
I have two-year-old twin daughters. They weaned about a month ago. We had a wonderful and challenging nursing relationship. The key is getting support when it is hard, especially if you have older children. I found that when I was not getting enough help and trying to do everything on my own I resented all the demands on me.
My girls were two months premature and nursing was a challenge from the beginning. We dealt with all the issues related to the babies being premature, as well as trying to nurse two babies. I got support from my sister (mother of four, all breastfed), my mother, my friends, and La Leche League. This support kept me going through the hard times. The babies and I bonded in such an amazing way when they were at the breast. I saw their relationship blossom when they would hold hands and cuddle with
each other while they nursed. I found this to be particularly true between 18 and 28 months. I found this nursing period to be the most rewarding because it was less demanding physically, but more rewarding emotionally. At this age, they were able to talk about nursing, they adored me, and they were very loving with each other while they nursed. I saw just how much they loved to breastfeed and how much it helped them. So, hang in there if you can, and get yourself some good support. It is really important to take care of yourself through all this!
Eugene OR USA
I want to congratulate you on breastfeeding your twins! Nursing one can be difficult, but nursing multiples is a feat few mothers can say they've accomplished. I nursed my twin girls for 17 months. Right around 12 months I got a lot of comments from well-meaning friends and family asking when I was going to wean them. Those comments do nothing to bolster a mother's resolve to do what's best for her and her children!
I had a very hard time nursing both of my girls in public after they were a year old. They would want to nurse at the same time, so being discreet was impossible. So I cut out public nursing. I would nurse them in private places like a dressing room if we were shopping or in our truck if we were out and about. I would bring a sippy cup with water or diluted juice, healthy snacks and fruit and offer those if the request for nursing came because they were thirsty or hungry. We cut our outings short if necessary.
I opted for a "don't offer" approach. If the girls asked to nurse, I breastfed them, but I didn't offer the breast at other times. We settled into a routine that the girls really thrived on and were comfortable with. This helped me feel as though I wasn't nursing all day, and yet was meeting the needs of my toddlers. For example, we would nurse first thing in the morning, before naptime, and at bedtime. I tried to keep these times sacred and predictable. They would know they would have those special times with Mommy. Of course, with special situations, sickness or a hard day, they would ask to nurse more than that. I did actively wean them from the morning nursing because it turned into a three-person struggle. We weren't enjoying that nursing anymore because the girls were poking each other and becoming too active to lie still and quietly nurse themselves awake. I went for a morning walk when I woke up, and my husband got the girls up and dressed. So by the time I got home from my walk, they were finished with breakfast and ready to start our day.
My suggestions are to look at various options, try different approaches, and do what works for you and your family. Don't be too hard on yourself! Raising a family with older children and then your youngest as twins is challenging! I would also like to add that before you wean them, make sure that they and you are ready for it. In some ways, it may make life easier with your multiples, in other ways, you'll miss those special times together, just the three of you!
St. Francis MN USA
I am the mother of four older sons, all breastfed, and I am breastfeeding toddler twins so I can fully understand your feelings. It is very different nursing twins, as I am sure you have experienced.
The birth of my twins sent me into a tailspin and you would have thought I had never breastfed before! I had lots of difficulties nursing two. Nursing two at the same time was especially helpful, efficient, and helped with milk production. I lived on the couch inside my double nursing pillow.
Naps and nighttime were frustrating. When my older children were babies, I had enjoyed cozy naps with them, curling up together and nursing until we both dozed off. This does not
usually happen with multiples. At naptime, I would lay in bed with one on my left side and the other twin on top of my right side and I would stare at the ceiling wondering how much longer I could do this. Then, when they fell asleep, I would concentrate real hard on levitating! I wished that I could float upwards and escape, because if I moved they would waken. So, most times I stayed put while they slept. Just as twin one finished nursing, twin two woke up and so I'd start the whole process over again. When they were just under two years old, I decided to stop nursing them at night. This made for a few hard nights for my husband and me, but I am so glad I made this choice. All four of us continue to sleep together; but now, we actually sleep instead of nursing all night. With my older sons, I was always a very discreet, nurse-anywhere mother, but that was not the case with twins. There is nothing discreet about nursing two toddlers. We talked a lot about where we would nurse and where we would not. At first, I felt upset about the changes in my mothering, but twins are such a different experience that I have accepted the changes as necessary for my family's sanity.
So, after all that, why am I currently nursing almost three-year-old twins? Oh, how could I have missed it! For one thing, they are as healthy as can be. They are huge, smart, and hysterically funny. They each have their own side and never switch. They love me, my breasts, and milk almost as much as life itself Most of all, though, I feel that my Sam and Will did not ask to come into this world as a team. I believe they might have even preferred to have come singly, as my other boys did. But I can't change the fact that they are twins, and they don't deserve any less than their brothers. I felt I had to step up to the task and simply adjust my life to nurture them.
Raleigh NC USA
I have five children, ages eight, four, twin boys who are three, and a two-month-old. I nursed the twins until they were about two when they weaned themselves, probably due to the fact that I was six months pregnant. The twins were the first children I breastfed longer than six months, so this was a new experience for me in more ways than one. I have to say that breastfeeding has probably been the easiest thing about having toddler twins! It can definitely be overwhelming sometimes, but then again most everything about twins or higher-order multiples is overwhelming.
I would urge you to take one day at a time. Don't make any decisions right now about weaning. They may be nursing nonstop now, but they will eventually ease up and give you some breaks in the future. It does get easier, although there may be periods over the next couple years when things will be rough for a week or two, such as when one or both is sick or teething. I think we all go have some moments when we wonder if they will always need to nurse, but these times too shall pass. I really think the hardest part about breastfeeding is the first couple months when your relationship gets established. After that it is just a matter of adjustments here and there as your babies grow. For example, I found I had to adjust my position for feeding the boys together a few times as they got bigger and bigger.
Finally, give yourself a pat on the back for successfully nursing twins this long! You are doing something wonderful for your babies. Good luck!
Camp Lejeune NC USA
I am the mother of five: an 11-year-old boy, twin boys who are now eight, a girl who is three, and a 13 month-old girl. I nursed my twins until they were a few weeks short of their second birthday. Being a stay-at-home mother with a three-year-old at the time they were born, it was a real necessity. There was no way I was going to pay double the cost of formula if I could avoid it.
I only nursed our first baby for six months. When the twins came, I knew I wanted to nurse longer than six months. I quickly found a La Leche League meeting. It was the biggest help and support I had. Once the twins were getting mobile and active, nursing was the way I kept sane. It was literally the only time I got to sit down! Even if I tried to nurse them one at a time the other one would come crawling or running from wherever he was. Nursing both at the same time was the only way I got a break and had a chance to rest! I would lie down on a couch, floor, bed, or grass; while they nursed and napped, I would get some rest.
Murrysville PA USA
As you already know, mothering your twins through breastfeeding makes taking care of two babies at one time so much easier. I think you will find the same thing as your twins grow. I know I have.
Once my girls hit that magical year-old mark, I knew that I was not ready to wean them completely. They weren't ready to wean either. Establishing a good support system was essential to my continuing to nurse into toddlerhood. I would encourage you to seek out other mothers of twins to connect with and to share common goals. I actually found another mother in a La Leche League Group who had twins just a few months older than mine, and I connected with other experienced nursing mothers of twins through my local chapter of Mother of Multiples Club. As I live in a rural area and do not get to see these women often, I formed a friendship over the Internet with another mother who has twin girls almost exactly the same age as mine. We're still email pals today, sharing the joys and frustrations of nursing and raising twins. Just knowing that others out there are nursing twins past the age of one is really empowering.
When my girls started solids around six months of age, I started to get some relief from frequent nursing. You may find this to be true soon as well. Then, as they approached a year old, I found that they would be happy with a snack instead of nursing at their normal time or a cup of diluted fruit juice in the morning instead of staying in bed to nurse.
Lisa L. Holcombe
Heathsville VA USA
My first children are twin boys, now seven years old. I really enjoyed nursing them when they were toddlers because for me, that was the only way I could get a little relaxing time with them. If I didn't have that built-in down time, they would have just kept going. Depending on the situation and their needs, sometimes I nursed them together (like right before bed) and sometimes I nursed them individually (if one of them got hurt, upset, or was ill). Of course, they benefited from this closeness too, often stroking each other's heads while they were nursing. I felt frequently overwhelmed caring for twins; however, if anything, nursing my twins was the least overwhelming and most pleasant part of my day. At least I could be assured that while they were nursing, and for a brief period after, there was a much-needed air of calm and quiet around them. It was truly the easiest thing to do, and I that feel that it tapped my energy, but actually gave me the space and quiet to re-energize. Best of luck!
Maria J. Walker
Philadelphia PA USA
What an amazing mama you are! Breastfeeding is a wonderful gift for twin babies, who often start out a little smaller and a little younger. You mentioned that nursing constantly is overwhelming. This will certainly pass, as solids become a growning part of your twin's diet. I found that nursing my twins at the same time made those intense days much calmer. MOTHERING MULTIPLES by Karen Kerkhoff Gromada (available from the LLLI Online Store) has some excellent photos of twin nursing positions.
Toddlers nurse for so many reasons, some of which can be satisfied by alternatives. When hunger is their only need, they can have a snack. I offer a variety of finger foods throughout the day. When thirst is their only need, they can always reach for a filled, cool sippy cup. When boredom is their complaint, a CD of toddler music or an outing to the park can make the whole day more pleasant.
My experience nursing one-year-old twins has been wonderful. My sixteen-month-olds are easy to soothe to sleep or when hurt: just 30 seconds on the breast and they're ready to conquer the next mountain. Another benefit of nursing your toddler twins is that the day just goes easier when you can say "yes" often. Weaning reluctant twins on top of all your other responsibilities as a mother of four might just be too much. Finally, I never have to worry about their eating; I know that if they balk at solids they're still getting that wonderful mommy milk! As our nursing sessions become less frequent, I appreciate each rare opportunity to reconnect with my on-the-go toddlers. I love mothering and nursing my toddler twins and I wouldn't have it any other way. Whatever you decide about breastfeeding when your twins celebrate their first birthday, your familys experience will grow out of the healthy and loving foundation that you are building now. Enjoy!
Thousand Oaks CA USA
I too have four children, ages 8, 5, and 20-month twins. We found out there were two babies five minutes after our son was born; 30 minutes later our daughter was born. They are still nursing five to seven times a day (including a fair amount of nighttime nursing, especially after the one day a week that I work). While the thought of nursing two active toddlers was overwhelming, I have found my concerns were unnecessary. Don't get me wrong—I still feel like I nurse all the time, but they are so different than the older two. Michael and Rebekah play together, entertain each other, and much more easily accept the idea of waiting for Mom. I said from the start I would nurse only until it didn't work any more for them or me. I think that is a good place to start. To ease your way into toddlerhood I would say nurse both together when possible and make sure they respect each other's space and yours. My lap gets quite full at times, but everyone seems to know there is enough room and love to go around. I especially like when all four climb in together, it confirms we are making it work. As Michael and Rebekah get older, they interact with each other during nursing. They'll hold hands, stop to sing the other a song, or agree to switch sides (this makes me laugh). I am so thankful I have experienced this gift of nursing twins through toddlerhood., I hope you can enjoy it too!
Kathleen C Snellings
White Plains MD USA
I have 23-month-old twins who are still breastfeeding. My initial goal was to breastfeed them for three to six months, but now at almost two years I'm wondering when (or if) they'll stop. They still nurse three to four times a clay and at least once at night. The benefits are still many for all of us, but I know the emotional attachment is very important to them. While they don't need to nurse for every bump or hurt feeling, right now they depend on their nursing routine during the day. They were 17 months old when both came down with a nasty stomach virus while we were on vacation. Nursing not only comforted them, but it probably kept them out of the hospital for dehydration.
I think if you are successfully managing to nurse the twins as infants while giving attention to your other children, then it should be even easier during their second year of life. You are providing nutrition, comfort, down time, and routine to your children. And if they love to nurse, then you always have a way to calm them down and bring them together as they develop their unique personalities.
Glen Allen VA USA
You sound ready to throw in the towel, but the good news is that you are in the home stretch! I am the mother of a son who is now three and 11-month-old twins. Breastfeeding my twins as they head toward toddlerhood has been a privilege and a lifesaver. The first six months mothering twins is enormously challenging, to say the least! During the first six months, I spent nearly all of my time holding and nursing my babies. As my babies moved to sitting up, crawling, and now walking, I have finally found myself with moments to myself I still spend a lot of time holding and nursing my babies, but I have a little time for me, and I have the joy of watching my children play together and discover the world around them. In addition, I am sustained by the knowledge that this time would be challenging no matter how I decide to parent my children. I take pleasure in every moment that I have to nurse them. I have recently had the pleasure of watching them take their first steps. I know that this special time of babyhood will pass soon enough and I don't want to miss any of it.
Gales Ferry CT USA