Tandem breastfeeding seems to be the golden standard for the twins. In theory it does make sense. Parenting books for multiples will tell you that synchronising your babies routines as soon as possible is one of the most important goals for the first few months. If one baby eats – the other must eat, even if you have to wake him (or her) up for that. Or by the time you are done with one set of feeding/changing/putting-to-sleep next baby wakes up, and this can go on for 24 hours without a break. Hence, tandem feeding is meant to save you time and simplify your life.
As I found out, in reality it does not always work that way. Just getting the hang of the process can be extremely overwhelming. Even though I found our maternity care support invaluable, the intensity of breastfeeding advocates made me nervous and feel like a failure every time that I didn’t manage to feed my babies in tandem, or decided to skip one feed and get some sleep, while a family member covered for me with a bottle.
To add to this sense of incompetence, many online tutorials will try to convince you that tandem breastfeeding really is so easy. You might see a well-groomed, super fit lady breastfeeding two bubbas hands-free, in a wrap carrier, smiling effortlessly and finishing off a few chores around the house while she feeds. Far less groomed and smiley, with dark circles under my eyes, I did experiment with my wrap carrier and never managed to breastfeed one baby that way, let alone two. The fundamental problem was that location of the baby’s mouth (which is typically somewhere just below your shoulder when the baby is in the wrap) never coincided with the right place on the breast, unless the baby is hanging somewhere really low and on a weird angle – not a position where I’d feel safe letting my hands go. In the end I decided that this exercise must only be possible for extremely slim mommies, and for anyone slightly curvier than that the force of gravity becomes a major problem.
However, I was still determined to learn, and here I was, for the first two weeks of babies’ life successfully tandem feeding on a nursing pillow. Unfortunately, being slightly premature they couldn’t quite sustain their growth just by feeding off the breast, so after each feed we had to give them a top up through a gastro-nasal tube, or later from a bottle, once they learned how to bottle feed. For the first few weeks they ate every 2.5-3 hours, and at least half of this time was taken up by the complicated feeding routine (breastfeeding first, then trying to offer a top up via bottle, then finally syringing the remaining amount through the gastric tube) and expressing milk for the following feed. Ideally the process involved two people to make it faster, and still only left me with 1-1.5 hours for sleeping, eating, washing bottles, etc. It was pretty draining to say the least.
Once we were allowed to remove the gastric tubes and learned how to tandem bottle feed twins in the bouncers the routine got a bit easier, but not for long. Only in a few more weeks the twinnies had outgrown my breastfeeding pillow. They did still fit on it together, but the position just wasn’t right for them to latch properly, so the feeds became really hard. Another problem was worsening reflux that both girls had (and they still have it now at 5 months). They couldn’t hold down breast milk or normal formula (eventually we had to switch to anti-reflux formula, which saved our sanity), and were throwing up and screaming for hours after each feed, without any sleep. Breastfeeding seemed worse than bottle – possibly because I still kept expressing after every feed (just like I was taught in the maternity ward, to have enough milk for bottle-feeding), and as a result had a huge over-supply of milk that was drowning my poor girls and making them swallow lots of air.
Eventually, we were all so tired and frustrated that I ended up fully giving up breastfeeding for a while. I started expressing and feeding via bottles only. For a while we continued in the tandem version of bottle feeding, but then realised that actually feeding one baby at a time does not take any longer, because it is much more comfortable for the girls and they have less reflux that way. At nights we now managed to get our feeding time down to 40 minutes or under for both babies, including changes and settling them back to sleep, whereas dealing with reflux and unsettled babies after tandem feeding easily stretched for over an hour. Also because they are fed so close together they don’t really get out of sync. Once first baby is fed and back in bed, we get the next one straight away. I say “we” because both my husband and I have turns at feeding, but this process only involves one person now.
After a little more time I gave breastfeeding a go again, one baby at a time this time, and discovered that feeding in bed actually works pretty well for our babies. I could not do this in tandem, yet this is the only way they can get really comfortable and not vomit afterwards. So now our feeding routine is pretty much settled on feeding twins the same way as single babies, one at a time, with a mixture of breastfeeding and bottle feeding (still on anti-reflux formula). We are having to do feeds in tandem only when both girls are hungry exactly at the same time and cannot wait until the other one is fed (which does not happen that often actually). Babies are calmer, happier and turning into good sleepers now.
So to finish off I am obviously not a huge advocate for tandem feeding. I think it is a good skill to learn for those occasions when both of your babies must eat at the same time, but as a routine for us it really did not save any time. Not to mention that feeding your baby gives a strong sense of bonding, and it is actually pretty special to spend this time individually with each of your babies.