Category Archives: Raising Twins

How to appreciate your children’s childhood

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

So often I hear people with older or grown-up children say to me “appreciate this time – it’s so precious, and over so quickly.” I tend to reply, “Oh, I do.” But what does it really mean to “appreciate” it, and how do we make sure we are? My twins are growing up so quickly I can feel time slipping through my fingers, I wish that I could slow it down. I think to myself if I can’t do that, I can at least make sure that I am appreciating every moment. This occasionally becomes an almost obsessive concern where I feel that I must cherish this time so that when they are grown up I can look back and feel that I really made the most of their childhood. And then I see the state of their bedroom, or I find the sofa covered in Lego pieces and I confess appreciation stops being at the forefront of my mind. However, when I see them fast asleep, still curled up the way they did as babies, I wish that I could hold onto every precious moment. The problem is it’s much easier to think that when they are unconscious.

Occasionally I might read a news article, or hear a terrible story about some tragedy involving children, and I find it can affect me deeply. I imagine myself in those situations, and I tell myself to be so grateful for all that I have. I hug my children a little tighter, and remind myself not to get stressed about things that don’t really matter. I certainly do appreciate what I have at those times. While I think it is a very good thing to remember how lucky we are, tragic-thinking induced appreciation (for want of a more eloquent description!) is an exhausting and anxiety-inducing state to live in. It is also very hard to hold on to day-to-day as mundanity takes over your life. I also feel that it’s a self-defeating method, as part of my brain is clearly thinking some dark and nightmarish thoughts while I am busy “appreciating” how wonderful my children are. Surely there is a better way of making the most of this time?

I don’t claim to have found the answer, but these are the thoughts and ideas I have had on the subject:

Don’t get too hung up on it

A couple of hundred years ago people probably didn’t concern themselves too much about whether they were appreciating their children’s childhood, they were just hoping the mother survived childbirth and the offspring survived infancy. It’s likely still the case in many parts of the world. Remember that “appreciating” childhood is what we get when we’re not worrying about basic survival.

Put the iphone down from time to time 

The main way I feel I end up not appreciating time fully is when I get distracted. It’s so easy when you have a smartphone to be sending a text, checking an email or just generally browsing in a dazed “I just need to zone out for a few minutes” way. The trouble is you may look at the phone to find the answer to a question the children have just asked, but then notice there’s an email or text that’s come in, and start checking that as well. Sometimes you just need to put it down and not look at it. Designate phone-free times of the day. We now have a rule of no phones at the table, so mealtimes are just for conversation. I also try to ignore any texts coming in if I’m in the middle of an activity with the kids.

Indulge in mundanity

I feel guilty sometimes that I’ve wasted my time on things that aren’t really important. But recently, I’ve started to look at it differently: you are always going to waste a certain amount of time on things you later think don’t really matter. That’s one of the perks of not being constantly aware of time ticking away in your life. If you live in a constant state of “appreciation”, you will exhaust yourself. Those who feel they can afford to waste some time on things that don’t matter too much are lucky. But…

Once in a while try to reset the clock

Occasionally just stop and reflect on how you spend your time with your children, and make tweaks accordingly. Make sure that you don’t put those things that matter to you (or to them) at the bottom of the to-do list everyday. I also find it very easy to get into bad habits, whether it’s being distracted by my phone, or getting constantly bad-tempered trying to get the kids out to school on time in the morning. Think about how you could do things differently to break whatever habits you have got into. Acknowledge that this will have to be a repeated process (unless you are more disciplined than I am) as bad habits are so much easier to keep than good ones.

Experience it all

Not all parts of parenting are enjoyable. Some of it is just plain hard work. You can’t love all of it. I know that there are whole chunks of the first year of their lives that I truly can’t say that I appreciated. Sleep deprivation is simply not something I ever cherished and I was relieved when the worst of it came to an end. Does that mean I was wishing away their childhood? Partly, but only because I am a normal human being who reacts to sleep-torture in a healthy “I want it to end” sort of way. But while I hated that aspect, I adored the first smiles, giggles, kisses and discoveries not to mention the softness of baby skin. Being a parent includes feeling exasperated, exhausted, frustrated, and irritated on a fairly regular basis. That’s a true parenting experience. But if you manage to feel all of that, and still find joy when they run up for a cuddle, or overcome a fear, or reach a new milestone, then you really are appreciating the wonder of their childhood.

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When One Twin Stops Believing in Father Christmas

There are days that you start in the morning, thinking they will be like any other day, driving in the car with your 7-year-old twins, and then your daughter asks you “Mummy, are you Father Christmas?” Bam, a seminal part of their childhood is over. What can I do? I have to answer honestly, even though every part of me wants to say “Of course not!” Seven seems so young – I just want to cry. I had recognised the death knell last month when she asked about the Tooth Fairy. The problem is, Joy isn’t really ready to hear the truth. It’s her brother who is, and it’s him that was telling her that these things didn’t exist, which propelled her to ask me outright.

Ernest has questioned his belief in magic for some time now. He already asked me last year whether Father Christmas was real, and at age six, I really felt he was too young to know the truth and I did what any sensitive, intuitive, thoughtful mother would do: I lied. However, it was really just the beginning of his questioning phase, and as the year progressed he often would say “I don’t believe in magic” and “I don’t believe in fairies” much to Joy’s consternation. Although I feel that age seven is still a bit young for my liking, I realise that this is a natural stage his development. Even as I mourn the passing of this particularly sweet and magical part of his childhood, I recognise that he is developing very strong reasoning skills, and is certainly far cleverer than I was (I believed for far longer than was reasonable…) If he were a singleton, that is probably where the story would end, with a stern reminder not to give away the secret to any younger siblings. But he is not a singleton, he has a twin, with whom he shares everything, including his disbelief.

Perfectly logical to some...

Perfectly logical to some…

One of the perpetual challenges of raising twins is the fact that although you have two children of the same age, they will develop at different rates. Ernest is ready to stop believing in magic, and is not particularly affected by knowing the truth. Joy, however, is very definitely still in the magical childhood phase where the line between imagination and reality is not just very thin, but at times disappears entirely. She will frequently claim that she has seen magical creatures, that her stuffed animals moved by themselves, and that she used her “magic.” When I answered her questions about the Tooth Fairy, she said “but how come I saw her carry the tooth off with her friends?” She isn’t lying; she genuinely believes it, because right now her reasoning skills haven’t quite developed to the level of her brother’s. This is why I felt it so particularly keenly when she asked me the questions about the Tooth Fairy and Father Christmas – she was expecting me to support her understanding, and tell her that they do exist, in the same way as she comes to me to arbitrate other disagreements she has with her brother.

So what happens when one twin is ready for the truth, and the other isn’t? Well, I can’t speak for other twin parents, but the result blindsided me: complete denial. To begin with, she went through the disappointment of learning the truth, and even said that she had had her doubts, as “If Father Christmas loves children so much, he wouldn’t wait until they were asleep to come. He’d want to talk to them.” (Her reasoning certainly works sometimes!) She questioned me very carefully about the different presents she had received, and where I had got them from, in the same way as she had asked to see the teeth I had collected in my role as Tooth Fairy. Each question I answered felt like another little piece of her childhood was being chipped away.

But a couple of days later, the denial kicked in, in the same way it had with the Tooth Fairy. When I had shown her her baby teeth, she had thought for a while, and then announced “I know, you help the Tooth Fairy. You collect the teeth, but she leaves the coin.” Her desire to believe was so strong, it eclipsed any logic. Something very similar has happened with Father Christmas. For Christmas we had bought her a very grown-up looking alarm clock in the shape of a pocket watch. She was sure that Father Christmas had made it himself, because she had never seen any clock like it. So she managed to work and squeeze the reality I was showing her into a shape that fitted her image of the world. It went something like this:

“I know Father Christmas gave me this clock because it doesn’t exist in any shop. So that means that Mummy is lying about Father Christmas not existing to keep Ernest happy, because she knows that he doesn’t believe in magic.”

Voilà! She can now stop being disappointed, because clearly the deception was about him not existing, not the other way around! I must say I was astounded, and to begin with a little concerned, at her ability to twist reality and evidence to suit her own vision. But right now her understanding of the world is simply not evidence-driven. Young children are able to hold opposing pieces of information and believe in both simultaneously until they get a firmer grasp on logic. The very part I was so disappointed to have taken away from her childhood, that is the belief in magic and a tenuous hold on reality, was the very thing that was actually protecting her from the truth. Ernest can’t make her stop believing, because she is just not ready yet.

I don’t know for certain if deep down she knows Father Christmas doesn’t exist, but doesn’t want to believe it, or if she simply does not give much weight to logic and evidence when drawing conclusions. She is on a fascinating cusp between asking for proof, then denying its admissibility. I know eventually she will learn to sort through the conflicting pieces of information in her head when she is ready. But for now I’m not going to push the point. All I know is that I have two happy twins – one that is satisfied to have worked out the truth, and the other who makes houses for fairies in the garden. And I am going to enjoy it while it lasts.

 

Mummy is from Mars…and also from Venus

Mars Venus

Different planets, same solar system…

I have come to the realisation that I am an annoyingly contrary parent. I could blame it on having twins with very different personalities… and so I shall. I sometimes feel that being a twin parent is an opportunity to witness a nature/nurture experiment in action. But it’s a lot more complicated than I thought. Although my twins were born on the same day to the same parents, and have had as similar an environment as it is possible to have, that doesn’t make their upbringing identical. They have one very big difference in their experience: me. Since they are both so different, I end up being different to them, while hoping that they don’t pick up on any inconsistencies!

I first became aware of it when my two first started to be properly mobile. My son, who I shall call Ernest from now on, (not his real name, but appropriate nonetheless) was a very cautious toddler. We used to persuade, encourage and cajole him to climb on a climbing frame, or go down a small slide. “You can do it!” I would say. “It’s completely safe – I’ll catch you,” I would coax him. We praised every tiny step towards overcoming a fear. We would call him courageous, brave, grown-up – you name it.

And then there was my daughter, who I shall call Joy (again, not her real name.) While Ernest was trying to pluck up the courage to go down a two-foot slide, she was hurtling headfirst down helter-skelter. While Ernest was reluctantly climbing onto the first rung of a rope ladder, she would be jumping off the top level of a climbing frame with gay abandon, utterly trusting that we would catch her, whether she’d warned us or not. And was I praising these feats of bravery and courage? Not in the least. “Joy, be careful. Think before you jump. Check it’s safe first. Not so high.” We were desperately just trying to keep her alive!

And it doesn’t stop at those first days of teaching courage to one twin, and caution to the other. As they get older, and their personalities continue to develop in very different ways, I find myself constantly promoting the opposite of what they naturally want to do. Ernest loves his Lego sets, always following the instructions to the letter, never using any item for anything other than its original purpose. Joy takes a scarf and wears it like a dress and puts pencil cases on her feet as shoes. Am I congratulating Ernest on his ability to follow complex instructions and praising Joy’s out-of-the-box creativity? Well, yes, sometimes. But I’m also telling Ernest to use his imagination and make up his own constructions (thank you The Lego Movie – that helped!) and Joy to use things as they were intended otherwise they get damaged.

You try to be completely fair as a parent. As a twin parent, you are acutely aware that any inconstancies in approach are immediately recognisable, and cannot be explained away as “he/she is older/younger than you.” I realise I am often giving mixed messages to my twins. To one twin, I’m the one that’s constantly trying to get him to do things he finds scary, playing down the consequences, and teaching the value of taking a little risk. To the other I’m the one preventing her from just experiencing care-free fun, telling her to stop and think first. Their memories of me when they are grown-up may not match up entirely! But being fair with twins, or with any children, does not mean the same thing as treating them exactly the same way. Children are all born different, and you have to alter your parenting style accordingly, which becomes very obvious when your children are the same age.

Sometimes I do listen to myself when I am telling one twin they should be reading more, and the other one that they should be more active, and I wonder “why am I constantly trying to push them away from their natural inclination?” It’s not that I don’t value what they are doing naturally – I must do, because I’m always trying to get the other twin to do it. I have to remind myself to stop and marvel at the things they can do naturally, without any push from me. I just also see a value in teaching them what they wouldn’t think to do for themselves, because it will help them be more balanced and rounded (and safe, in my daughter’s case!)

So how to get around this and not have your children think that you are inconsistent or unfair? The first step is to be aware of it, and think about how your children will hear what you are saying. They may see you encourage their twin to do something you are telling them not to do. Make sure you explain why. If you know why you are doing it, your children will understand when you explain.

Make sure to praise what they are doing naturally so that they know you feel there is a value to what comes more easily to them. There are always two sides to every coin: if your child is very cautious and afraid of risk, they are likely to be very good at understanding consequences and keeping safe. If they don’t think before they act, and don’t consider safety before doing something, they may be more adaptable to change and open to new experiences. (This is also a development issue that resolves as they get older and experience more “consequences.”) If you have a child that is a bit rigid about keeping to the instructions, it means they are very good at structured, logical thinking and problem-solving. If they never want to follow the instructions or use things as they are meant to, it probably means they are very creative and independent-minded.

I may be different in what I encourage each twin to do, but the underlying message is always the same – I want to help them to be the best versions of themselves they can be. I don’t want to mould them into something they are not, but that doesn’t mean they don’t benefit from a little encouragement to develop aspects of themselves they wouldn’t think to do on their own. I just must always remember to temper it with an understanding of their underlying nature.

I think it’s impossible to ever disentangle genetics from environment. I am different to each twin because they are different to me, which starts an endless feedback-loop where you no longer know how much is genetics and how much is your response to those genetics. So what do I say when someone asks which of the twins’ traits are nature and which parts are nurture? It probably depends on who’s asking…

Twins at school – individuals but undivided

 

Friends for life

Friends for life

My twins have recently started a new, much bigger, school and as I went through the enrolment process I was faced for the first time with having to actively choose to keep them in the same class. In the UK, while parents of primary-aged twins are given a choice (school-size permitting), I think the general expectation is that twins will be kept together unless parents say otherwise. I learnt that where we are in the US it is the other way around: after Kindergarten (Reception year) the expectation is that twins will be split up, unless the parents request to the contrary. I did exactly that, but I have to admit that my heart was in my mouth until I had confirmation that they would be kept together.

Having to actively request for them not to be split up felt very strange to me, as I had thought keeping them together would be the default position. I started to feel that somehow I was going against a general consensus that separating twins at six years old is for the best. I had never examined my reasons for keeping them together before, beyond the visceral feeling that my twins have always been together and would be so upset to be separated. I was, however, aware of the arguments for separation: the promotion of independence and self-reliance; the prevention of co-dependence, with each twin only developing half a set of skills; the reduction of competitiveness; the forging of independent friendship groups; and, sometimes, improved behaviour. I know all of these advantages, and understand parents making the choice to split their twins because of them, and yet in my gut I could not bear the thought of splitting them up so young. Was I just being sentimental? Could I not face the reality that eventually my twin babies were going to start leading separate lives from each other? Was I in fact hindering the development of their independence and individuality?

I realised I had to come up with more reasons than “it doesn’t feel right”. (Although, I don’t think that in itself is a bad one!) So after some serious thinking and soul-searching, here are my six advantages for keeping twins together:

  1. Keep it natural

Yes, twins will eventually go their separate ways, and go to different classes, different universities, and, eventually, lead entirely independent lives, albeit with a hopefully close relationship. This is the natural progression, and so it will happen in its own time without the need for its imposition before the twins themselves are ready for it. I don’t believe that keeping twins together makes the separation later all the harder. I think when they reach a certain stage in their development they will choose to do things separately, in the same way as children stop sucking their thumbs and give up their baby blanket; it’s heart-breaking to see them grow up, but reassuring that they are adjusting comfortably to their new stage. Separating twins when they really don’t want it will certainly have an immediate negative effect on their confidence and emotional wellbeing. A gradual transition is gentler, more natural and less traumatic.

  1. Independence starts at home

 Starting school is not the first time I have considered the issue of twins’ independence. When you are a twin parent you learn from the start that promoting self-identity for each twin is very important. You make sure that they have toys that belong to each individually, you make sure they have a bit of individual “mummy” or “daddy” time on occasion, you let them choose activities independently, the list goes on. I am always on the look-out to make sure that just because one twin can do something, it doesn’t mean the other isn’t bothering to learn it. Working the different TV remotes is a good example – my daughter always lets my son do it because it comes naturally to him. I have to remind her to do it herself sometimes, even if she finds it frustrating that it takes her longer. These are things that become so second-nature to twin parents, that I think perhaps those without twins don’t always realise that these are issues we are addressing on a daily basis. The classroom is not the only way they are learning independence.

  1. It needn’t be extreme

 Having been a teacher, I know there are many opportunities to allow children to be independent from each other while still in the same class. In time they can be in different groups within the class for certain activities, or sit at different tables, or be assigned different tasks. And they can also attend different afterschool clubs and activities. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

  1. Being a twin is a fact of life

Twins are going to be twins for life, long after they are finished with school. Their experience of life is always going to be a twin one, ie; they will always have shared experiences that go beyond that of just a ‘normal’ sibling. They share the same age, the same birthday, the same parents, the same childhood experiences, and often the same friends. And this will carry on to a lesser extent throughout their lives. Twins have to forge out their own independence in the face of such similarities and shared experience, and it is something that can be done whether or not they are also sharing a class. There is an important value in learning to be individuals while they are together, and not just when they are apart from each other.

  1. Logistics

Aside from the psychological and emotional aspects to this issue, there is also a logistical one. Schools are not set up for you to have two children in the same year but different classes, therefore every school event, parents’ evening, and school trip is going to involve clashes and difficulties, where you are supposed to be in two different places at once. There is also an advantage to the teacher knowing and understanding the dynamic between both children, as it leads to a greater understanding of them. There is continuity for the children, and the parents, where they have the same set of rules and expectations from the teacher. And, if you are lucky with your teacher, any ‘twin’ issues or co-dependence or competitiveness can be dealt with sensitively and effectively within the classroom.

  1. Enjoy the advantages

I think sometimes there is a feeling that twins should be separated at school because that is the experience that other children have. Singletons must face going to school alone, whereas twins are at an advantage because they have a ready-made friend and ally in their class. And this is absolutely true, it is an advantage, and there’s nothing wrong with that! That is an absolute perk of being a twin parent – you know that your children are not going to be lonely, that they will have someone looking out for them. Yes, they may stick together a lot at the beginning, but my two have always made friends with others, and played independently from each other once they feel settled in to a new place. The experience is just less traumatic for them, and I am deeply grateful for that. Lord knows there have been a lot of times when having twins has made life harder in the past (like no sleep for two years!), so I’m going to take the pros where I can get them!

Being a twin is a unique experience, both at school and far beyond that. To try to make their experience in line with everybody else is futile, as it never will nor should it be. Eventually they will grow up and lead separate lives, but in the meantime they are creating precious shared memories that will last a lifetime.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Combination-feeding twins: Top Ten Tips

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They’re cute. And oh-so-hungry.

I struggled with breastfeeding my twins when they were born. I had really wanted to breastfeed them exclusively as I knew this was what was best for them. But, as with many aspects of parenting, reality is very different from the theory. With a combination of babies with tongue-tie, dehydration and weight-loss, not to mention very painful breastfeeding for me and a shortage of milk, I ended up having to introduce formula on medical advice. I was worried that this meant no more breast milk for my babies, and therefore no more of its wonderful benefits. But introducing formula does NOT need to mean the end of breastfeeding. It is perfectly possible to combine the two, as I did in the end for seven months.  Combination feeding is little talked about, but it can create a more sustainable solution to breastfeeding twins. Without it I certainly would not have been able to continue breastfeeding mine for as long as I did.

Here are my Top Tips on how to go about it:

  1. Breastfeed one baby and bottle-feed the other at each feed 

    This was the perfect solution for me. If you top up with formula after a breastfeed it is difficult to work out how much to give, and is incredibly time-consuming. You also risk over-feeding your babies (which I did) and end up being far more acquainted with the term “possetting” than anyone should, not to mention exacerbating any colic. This way is perfect if you have help, manageable if you are alone, and enables you to measure more accurately how much your baby has fed.

  2. Start with the bottle feed 

    It takes less time than a breastfeed, so the second baby doesn’t have to wait so long to be fed.

  3. Alternate which baby receives breast milk at each feed

    This means the baby who had the formula at the last feed will receive breast milk at the next feed. The breast-fed baby will most likely get hungry sooner than the bottle-fed one, and so can be fed first with the bottle at the next feed. Making a note of which baby had which feed can help a sleep-deprived brain keep track of whose turn it is.

  4. Be prepared to be flexible

    Don’t feel that you have to stick to any rules, including mine! Each baby is different, each parent is different, and you need to find what works for you. It’s impossible, and very stressful, to be completely structured and follow recommendations to the letter. That’s true for any newborn, and doubly so for twins.

  5. Don’t feel guilty

    For a long time I felt guilty with every bottle I gave my babies. I thought I was failing them as a mother by not providing them with the best start. Breastfeeding is not a test of maternal aptitude. Yes, breast milk is ideal, but try to get used to the fact that it is impossible to be ideal in everything you do for your child. Babies don’t drink milk forever; before you know it you’ll have the headache of weaning and potty-training, and the breast/bottle question will feel like a distant memory.

  6. When giving a bottle, pretend it’s a breast

    Sounds weird. What I mean is, allow your baby to latch on to it like a nipple, rather than shoving the teat in his or her mouth. This may help prevent nipple rejection, as babies can easily get lazy and not open their mouths to latch on to your nipple if they are used to the ease of the bottle. (I did sometime lapse with this when I was trying to save time. See point 4.)

  7. Give breast milk if your baby needs a top up between feeds

    It will keep your milk supplies up, it shouldn’t over-fill one baby making their feeds too out of synch with the other. I even started giving two breast-feeds in the mornings as I had enough milk for both.

  8. Bouncy chairs are a godsend

    They can help a hungry baby wait a little more patiently while their sibling finishes a feed. You will probably still get the odd screaming-session though.

  9. Take each day as it comes

    Don’t look too far ahead. If you are struggling with breastfeeding, imagining the next few months living this way can seem nightmarishly daunting. Don’t plan how long you will breastfeed for. Think about what you can manage: “I can do one more day/week” then reassess again at that stage. Just remember, if your twins have received any breast milk at all, you are doing amazingly well.

  10. Keeping your sanity IS important

    Raising twins is a lot about logistics; trying to keep two babies with different personalities, appetites, needs, likes and dislikes on the same schedule is one of the hardest parts of being a twin parent. In the beginning this feels like an impossible task, and you may feel like you are losing your mind and your sense of self. You need to do whatever you can, cut whatever non-essential corners there are, in order to cope. That is ok. As long as your babies are being fed, burped, changed, with an occasional cuddle, you are doing brilliantly. Everything else is a bonus, including breast milk.

 


 

Read my full experience of combination feeding twins here.

The third option: Combining breast and bottle for twins

1526989_538866736209850_352082975_nThis is a piece I wrote a few years ago when my twins were three. I thought it might be useful for anyone who is about to, or has just had twins and is contemplating the difficult issue of breast- or bottle-feeding. It doesn’t have to be either/or, and after a lot of muddling through, I managed to combine the two with my twins for seven months. It is quite a long piece, but I feel it covers a lot of issues you don’t find in twins books. A shortened form of it appeared in the Tamba magazine in 2011.


My twins are now three years old – life is so much easier now than it was a year ago! The first few months after their birth were the hardest of my life, despite being over the moon to have my “instant family”. Part of what made the time immediately after the birth so difficult (apart from the sleep deprivation and getting over a twin delivery!) was the anxiety and guilt over the decision not to exclusively breast feed my babies. I can look back now and feel happy that I managed to mix breast and bottle-feeding for seven months, but it wasn’t plain sailing partly due the fact that there is almost no information on how to successfully combine breast- and bottle-feeding twins. I muddled through and found a way that worked for me and my babies, but I felt that I wanted to share my experience with twins-mums-to-be in case it can be of any help.

Great expectations

I was always certain that I would exclusively breastfeed any baby I had, and when I discovered I was expecting twins, it never occurred to me that I would treat them any differently than if I had had them as singletons. After reading a couple of books about twins, plus the tiny sections on twins in other baby books, I felt confident that that was not only possible, but straightforward. I’ve since realised it was just the first of many situations where I had to let go of the idea that I could approach raising twins in the same way as raising a singleton.

There is a lot of information available on the benefits of breastfeeding, but next to nothing about bottle-feeding. This is to encourage mothers to breastfeed, and rightly so, however what happens if you find you are unable to? Where is the information on how to choose formula, how to ensure you don’t over-feed your baby, what to look for in a baby bottle? And what about if you don’t want it to be either/or – where is the information on combining the two? This is particularly important when it comes to twins.

No matter how many books you read or advice you listen to, nothing prepares you for the reality of caring for and feeding two newborns. My daughter fed within a few hours of delivery, but my son wasn’t interested. I felt so exhausted from the birth that I probably didn’t persist with feeding them as frequently as I should have within the first 24 hours of birth. This may be a contributing factor to the fact that I simply did not have enough milk to feed my two exclusively, and I never experienced the milk let-down. They lost a lot of weight in their first week, which is common, however they lost up to the maximum that is considered “normal” and were dehydrated.

I tried pretty much everything to build up my milk supply – I ate and drank as much as I could (my hips regretted it later!) I fed the babies frequently – sometimes every hour or hour and a half – which meant I sometimes had no gaps between feeds, because as soon as I finished feeding one baby, the first one was hungry again. I felt that my breasts never had the time to “reload. I then started to feed them simultaneously to save time, but I found breastfeeding very painful at the beginning, partially due to both twins being tongue-tied. Having pain in both breasts at the same time was hard to bear. Also, as a novice at breastfeeding, it was hard to latch one on and then latch on the other – the first one always seemed to slip off, which increased the pain.

Bottle guilt

After a week of this, and my babies still being dehydrated, unhappy and losing weight, the community midwife told me to top them up with a bottle. I was initially reluctant, but I really had no choice as they were not thriving, and they were not receiving enough nourishment from breast milk alone. In a way, it was a relief that I no longer had a choice, but I felt like I had failed at my first task as a mother. I felt guilty that I dreaded each breastfeed because of the pain, and that maybe this had contributed to their failure to get enough nourishment; I felt guilty with every top-up bottle I gave because I felt they weren’t receiving all the benefits of breast milk; I felt like a failure as a mother and as a woman because I alone couldn’t provide the most basic of needs to my newborns. I thought to myself “How would I have cared for them in the wild?” All I can say is sleep deprivation, first-time-mother panic and the guilt of not keeping to the letter of what is recommended is a potent combination for feeling depressed and anxious.

I certainly don’t mean this as doom and gloom, and “look how hard I had it” – all parents of multiples have it hard to start with, and I was very lucky in other ways – mine weren’t premature and I had a lot of support from my husband and my family. I did manage to muddle through and continued to combine breast and bottle until mine were seven months old. Here’s what ended up working for me:

Practical guide to combination feeding

I started out breastfeeding each baby in turn, then passing each to my husband to top them up with a bottle. This didn’t work for me. The whole process used to take about two hours from start to finish, even with two people. I also never knew how much to top up with, and in fact we ended up overfeeding the twins (yes, it is possible with bottles) and they vomited frequently, had bad wind and tummy aches, which didn’t help the colic. I realised at the end of my husband’s four-week paternity leave that this wasn’t sustainable, even with support. I woke up one morning (or night – it’s hard to tell in the early stages!) and realised I had to change the routine if I was going to be able to continue to breastfeed at all.

I decided literally to half breastfeed, half bottle-feed. I would breastfeed one baby and bottle-feed the other for one feed, and then swap over at the next feed. Alternating feeds worked really well for me. It meant if I was on my own, the process of feeding two babies didn’t take so long because bottles went down a lot faster than a breastfeed. I could monitor, at least half of the time, exactly how much the babies were taking, and I knew I would have enough breast milk for a feed now that I wasn’t trying to split each feed between two babies. Also, it meant that if I did have someone else around, they could give the bottle at the same time as I breastfed, which saved a lot of time, especially if we were out and about (the few times we were at the beginning!) It also meant that over-feeding was not such an issue, since I could more or less follow the guidance on the formula packet, without trying to guess how much breast milk they had taken.

I always used to start the feeding cycle with the bottle feed for a few reasons: Firstly, because formula takes longer to digest than breast milk. By starting with a bottle, it meant that it was always the baby who had last had breast milk who would go first, and the one who had taken a bottle would have a longer gap before their feed.  That way, I tried to reduce the number of times I had to sit through one baby crying with hunger while I was feeding the other. It’s not fool-proof! It also meant that the baby that was going second didn’t have to sit through a whole breast-feed (which takes a long time at the beginning) until they got fed. Bouncy chairs were a God-send at that time, and can pacify a peckish baby until his/her sibling has finished (also not fool-proof!)

If either looked like they needed a top-up between feeds, I used to offer the breast, so that I kept my milk supply up and they didn’t start getting more bottle than breast, and then start to reject the breast. It also meant that they weren’t too over-full for the next feed and get out of step with their sibling. My milk supply easily coped with what was the equivalent of feeding one baby. In fact, once my two started to go a little longer between feeds at night, I started to have enough milk in the mornings to breastfeed both (one after the other. I confess I never mastered the art of breastfeeding in tandem). Then at the 11pm (ish) feed, my husband gave two bottles so that I could have some extra sleep.

If it happened that I was giving an odd number of feeds in a day, for example seven, I would alternate daily which baby got four breast feeds in a day so that I didn’t end up with one having more breast than the other. After a while, I actually did end up giving more bottles to my son than to my daughter because he was the hungrier baby, and she was a very windy baby and was more comfortable after a breast feed.

Nights didn’t follow too much of a pattern. I just tried anything to get them to sleep – sometimes just offering the breast so there wasn’t the hassle of preparing bottles, sometimes just giving bottles in the hope that formula would keep them fuller for longer.

Finding a routine

I did have to stick to a feeding routine in order for this to work. I only started doing that when they were a few weeks old – I don’t think newborns are really capable of any routine to start with, and I think muddling through as best you can is probably the only way, until you find something that suits you and your babies. I eventually worked out (with the help of my health visitor) how many feeds the babies needed in a 24-hour period, and tried sticking to a 3- to 4-hourly cycle once they were a few weeks old. Again, this was an adjustment as I never thought I would impose a rigid routine to newborns, however I needed to get the twins in synch somehow, otherwise I really would have lost my mind! I was as flexible as I could be, and did offer top-ups of breast-milk if they were hungry.

It was always a bit of a juggle when the babies grew out of one routine and needed a new one, for example, when they were ready to drop a feed. It’s difficult to tell if they are ready to drop a feed if you have them in a routine and not feeding on demand. You end up being afraid of changing the routine in case it messes everything up and your babies end up cranky, and you more tired. Again, I had a good health visitor who helped me with that.

Concerns over nipple rejection

I am very lucky that my babies took so easily to combining breast and bottle, because I know that some won’t take to bottles at all, and some won’t go back to the breast once they have had the quick and easy flow of a bottle teat. I don’t know if I had particularly easy babies in that respect, or if I by chance introduced the bottle at the right time for them to accept both. I can only tell you what worked for my babies.

I introduced the bottle after they had been exclusively breastfed for one week. I thought that would be too soon, but it worked fine. If you introduce the bottle very late (say, a month or two down the line) they apparently may not take to it at all, however I obviously personally don’t have any experience to say that authoritatively. The type of bottle I used may be significant – there are a few on the market that say they are suitable for combination feeding. I personally used the Tommee Tippee “Closer to Nature” bottles, which to me looked the most like a breast(!) These served me very well.

I also tried to replicate the latching-on to a breast when I bottle-fed. I would rub the teat by their lips, and wait for the babies to open their mouths for the bottle, rather than shoving it in so that they didn’t get out of the habit of opening their mouths to latch on to the breast. I didn’t do that all the time, because sometimes you just want to take advantage of the faster bottle and get it done quickly. This is probably the only problem I did have with combination feeding – my babies sometimes didn’t try to latch on properly to the breast. This problem did resolve itself, and eventually they did swap between the two as if it were second nature to them.

Happily ever after

I managed to keep going like this for six months, and then I gradually weaned them off the breast when I felt ready, and when I felt my babies were ready. After a while, I looked forward to breastfeeding my babies, because it no longer became a source of guilt, stress or pain. It did become a lovely feeling of closeness between the babies and me that no one else can feel.

I hope that this opens up a third option to twin-mums that isn’t discussed in many books. I’m sure there are a lot of different ways of combining breast and bottle, and if that is what you want to do you will find your own way that works. I only wanted to show that it doesn’t have to be an either/or situation, and share the practicalities of how I went about it. I also hope to prevent other twins-mums who may not be able to breastfeed exclusively, from feeling the guilt that I went through. If your babies have received any breast milk at all, you are doing really well, because it is far from simple with more than one baby, and, I believe, practically impossible if you are not receiving support from others. In any event, your babies are not going to remember whether you breast-fed or bottle-fed them, but whether you provide comfort and love. There is so much more to being a mother. I hope my experiences are helpful to you, but do whatever is right for you and your babies.


 

In a nutshell

  • Breastfeed one baby and bottle feed the other at each feed.
  • Alternate which baby gets the bottle or breast at each feed.
  • Start with the bottle feed since formula takes longer to digest than breast milk.
  • Try to get your baby to latch on to the bottle as if it were a breast.
  • Don’t feel guilty about not following the guidelines to the letter.

 

Twindividuals

There is a line in The Sunscreen Song by Baz Luhrmann which goes “Don’t congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either.” I often think of that in reference to bringing up children. It’s easy to view any positive behaviour your child displays as being evidence that you did something right, and any negative behaviour to be a testament to your failure. I think having twins is a trial by fire which teaches you very quickly that the influence you have as a parent is limited. That first year may be gruelling for the lack of sleep and colic in stereo, but you learn very quickly that what works for one baby does not necessarily work for another, something that may take longer to learn if you have just the one.

I remember at the few baby groups I managed to get out of the house for, a major topic of conversation among new mothers was how long their baby slept. There was always some mother there who claimed her newborn slept seven-to-seven, which seemed to be the Holy Grail of newborn sleep. There was a certain false modesty to how they would say it that showed they thought they had cracked the secret to baby sleep. It left the other mothers (who were the majority) asking her to reveal her secrets, and feeling that they had missed something. I personally believe those mothers of fantastic baby sleepers probably were doing the sorts of things any of the mothers were doing, but had babies who were naturally good sleepers. I also have a sneaky suspicion they had babies who weren’t very hungry and could bring up burps like little troopers. You feel so lost, sleep-deprived and out of your depth when you first have a baby that you keep looking for the miracle answer to having a contented baby. Of course the truth is, there is no one right answer.

From the moment my twins were born they had different personalities and needs. My son wanted to be held all the time, and would cry if left alone. My daughter was more laid back, as long as she wasn’t suffering from colic. My son would get cold very easily, my daughter too hot. My son was ravenous every 2 hours, my daughter had to be coaxed to feed. And as for sleeping, well they did have that in common: they didn’t like it at all, and certainly not at the same time. Here I was performing my own psychological experiment of nature versus nurture, and nature was by far the big winner.

I’m not saying that as parents we don’t have influence over our children. Of course we do. It’s just that the form that influence takes is dependent on the individual baby. I’m sure you could take a naturally good sleeper and manage to create an environment that would make it very difficult for he or she to sleep. But on the whole, if you’re not doing anything drastically detrimental, whether your baby sleeps when you want them to will be down to their own physiology and personality. Likewise with how well they feed, how well they take to weaning, how easily they are potty trained, how sociable they are… the list goes on.

Each one of the milestones I went through with my twins showed me how a person’s approach to any situation is completely dependent on the individual. I still remember my twins’ first taste of carrot – my son gave me this wide-eyed appalled look that something other than milk had been unceremoniously put in his mouth. He then burst into tears when we laughed at his funny expression. My daughter opened her mouth, swallowed the carrot, looked faintly bored, and opened her mouth for another mouthful. Their two reactions demonstrate very effectively their two very different approaches to new situations, which persists even now. It was programmed into them at birth.

I need to make sure I cater my parenting to my twins’ individual needs, recognising that each one has their own likes, dislikes, abilities and weaknesses that are entirely unique to each of them. My aim is not to mould them into my own idea of what they should be. My job is to encourage their best traits to blossom, and help them mitigate traits that are obstacles to their wellbeing, whatever those traits may be. So next time someone congratulates me on how well my children have behaved in public, I mean it genuinely when I say it is all them, not me.