Ask a Baby Blogger: Feeding on Demand, Twins and Your Sanity

Question: Did you keep your twins on the same schedule? I’m trying to breastfeed on demand but I am going crazy–I need more sleep!

As a mother of twins, I can tell you that EVERYONE who has twins goes through this sleep deprivation and it is hard. I can’t tell you how many mothers I’ve talked to who say, “If there were one baby I could do this. . .but two?” My first piece of advice is do whatever you have to do to get some help. Plenty of mothers of singletons have help for the first month or so. How much more so do mothers of multiples need it! However, as it specifically relates to feeding twins we took different approaches for day time and night time. I will blog more in the future on how to get the help and rest you need.

What We Did During the Day

I was able to exclusively breastfeed the twins for the most part. (The girls got one bottle in the evening for the first four weeks so that I could rest and recover from a very difficult c-section delivery.) The twins were my fourth and fifth babies and so I preferred NOT to feed them on schedule. When they were born I had three children, ages 6, 4 and 2 to also take care of. Consequently, as an experienced breastfeeding mom, it was easier for me to be constantly nursing one or the other baby (which is what you are doing if you choose to do it this way), so that I had a hand free to help toddlers. If I had fed both at the same time, I would be confined to my nursing station for as long as they were nursing while my toddlers were waiting for me. Also understand that unlike a first time mom with twins, taking a nap while the twins were sleeping (if they were on the same schedule) was not an option. Even if the twins were on the same schedule I still would have to be awake with the other kids.

What We Did at Night

Although I didn’t really want them on the same schedule during the day, night time was a different story. Many moms ask how you go about getting them on the same schedule so that you can tandem nurse and go back to sleep. We simply woke one up when the other woke up. However, I should note some special considerations.

Many moms have visions of happily tandem breastfeeding twins. The twins latch on, the mom nurses, the babies drink and voila–everyone is ready to go back to doing whatever they were doing before the nursing session. However, it generally takes a good two to three months before your twins will nurse that well. Most twins will need help latching on. If you can envision in your head trying to latch the other on while you’re nursing the first one. . .well, you get my drift. Think too about all the things that often happen after a nursing session: burping, cuddling, spit up, diaper changing etc. Now imagine burping one while you’re nursing the other and again, I think you get it. All this to say that regardless of whether or not you get them on the same schedule, you or your spouse is not likely to get a lot of sleep in the beginning.

Should I Nurse Twins on Demand?

Yes! If you want to breastfeed exclusively, you must nurse on demand. If you want them to be on similar schedules, try nursing one, and then if need be waking the other to nurse when you’re finished with the first one. Initially, you should not tandem nurse until both babies are latching well and nursing effectively.

Special Situations

As I mentioned earlier, many twins are born prematurely. If they spent time in the NICU before coming home it is likely they are already on the same schedule. In this case, the best thing to do is keep them on that schedule. If you are trying to build your milk supply or wean from formula, start out by nursing one at a time, once a day. Build your way up to nursing more frequently. I should note here too that you should definitely seek out the help of a qualified IBCLC who specializes or has experience in working with preemies and twins.

So to sum it up my advice is that keeping twins on the same schedule will not solve the sleep deprivation. It is hard to tandem nurse two floppy headed little people in the beginning. (It does get easier once both babies have good head control.) The best thing to do to help with sleep deprivation in the beginning is to get some extra help. However, there certainly is no harm in waking the other baby to nurse in order to get them on similar schedules. As they get a little older and go from sleeping all the time to one or two naps a day, this will get easier.