An interesting breastfeeding issue sporadically presents itself over my desk in a variety of ways: from new breastfeeding parents (those new babies are doing the breastfeeding, not the parents….LOL), friends with multiples, and several participants in the Ottawa Twins Plus Prenatal Classes which I co-faciltate in Ottawa. Dismay and feelings of insecurity abound when family, friends and professionals, including doctors, nurses and pediatricians, offer opinions which, even inadvertently, can sabotage breastfeeding in spite of the babies growing by leaps and bounds and a satisfying breastfeeding experience.

In this day of enlightenment about the benefits of breast milk, one wouldn’t think that such would be the case but I am surprised – no, make that saddened – by how many parents share their frustration and confusion as a result of such feedback. Parents are left questioning their motives and wondering if they should stop breastfeeding. It doesn’t make sense that negativity can be attached to a successful experience, but parents are telling me that that is exactly what is happening.

Here’s an example:  Kathy’s babies were born at 25 weeks and a couple of days. Kathy, with her husband’s full support and encouragement, copious amounts of milk for her sons until they were able to go directly on the breast. At 5 months, they were round, happy, smiling, very content little boys and Mom had an appointment with her sons’ female pediatrician. At this check-up Mom was told, “Breastfeeding is going very well at the moment, but expect to have to supplement at some point.”  Mom left the appointment with many different feelings, including sad, fearful, and upset in spite of how well her babies were doing.

The doctor might as well have said, You are all doing really well, but don’t expect this success to continue.”

One doctor reportedly indicated to a Mom pregnant with twins, “You are not superwoman. Just bottle feed.”

“You can’t breast feed twins,” was my own experience from a nurse in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

Add to the mix comments from family and friends and one’s confidence can barely remain intact: To one family with 3-month old twins where breast feeding was also going very well. “When are you going to stop breastfeeding?”

A variation on this theme goes:  “Surely you are thinking of stopping [breastfeeding] shortly?”  It isn’t unusual to breastfeed a singleton child for up to two years, so why would things be different for twins, at least beyond 3 months?

Or how about, “You can’t be exclusively breastfeeding. Surely you are supplementing.”  And how about the twin Mom whom had planned all along to breastfeed her babies but was encouraged by the hospital staff to take home 2 cases of formula when they left the hospital.  Talk about frustrating, discouraging and confidence-shaking!

Twins and triplets were born and survived in the many hundreds of years before now. If there was no formula around before the last, say 55 years, just how did these babies grow and thrive if they weren’t breast fed? Many of us have multiple-birth relatives over the age of 55 years. How does anyone think they were fed? Even taking into consideration that royalty and upper classes usually hired Wet Nurses (i.e. lactating servant women hired to breast feed their babies as well as their own – rather like breastfeeding twins……), we can rest assured that many less well-off families could not afford to hire a Wet Nurse and therefore successfully breast fed their own babies, no doubt for months if not years. So why has the current view changed and the opinion prevails that breastfeeding our babies, let alone for weeks or months, cannot be done today?   It’s all quite thought provoking and in fact, this shift in thought doesn’t make a lot of sense at all.

A suggested solution is to use the situation as a teaching experience. Rather than responding angrily, or zapping back with a tricky ‘slice and dice’ phrase, how about changing tactics?

We know we are left feeling upset by such confidence-shattering remarks, and a successful breastfeeding experience doesn’t guarantee we won’t get stung, so let’s take back our power, point out the logistics, and hand back the hurtful and negative opinions. Let’s regroup and get these folks doing some serious thinking before they open their mouths with thoughtless rhetoric. Here are some ideas for consideration:

  • When the decision has been made to breastfeed, reinforce the decision when (if) necessary.  Make eye contact, perhaps hold up a hand, say,“Excuse me, but we have decided to give our babies the best beginning we can and breastfeeding is what we have chosen to do. We really appreciate your support in our decision.” and Smile!  End of story.
  • If a professional makes an unsettling remark, quietly but firmly call him/her on it. ” I’m not understanding what you are saying. You have acknowledged our breastfeeding is going well and the babies are thriving and yet you throw in that our success won’t/can’t continue. I beg to differ. It is possible to breastfeed multiples because breasts adjust to the supply and demand and I’ve got two perfect examples right here! (you can either point to your breasts or to your babies – whichever suits you)” ….and Smile!
  • A remark such as “Surely you will stop breastfeeding soon” might encourage the response, “We will stop when we are ready.” and of course….Smile!
  • And the one about not being Superwoman, how about, “I disagree. I AM Superwoman and my babies are going to have the best start possible with my Super Breast Milk.”   And everyone together now…..Smile!

Offering educational feedback and speaking up is a way to ensure change. It is so upsetting to hear from parents who not only love their children and are doing a great job breastfeeding, but to learn of their uncertainty as they begin to question their motives and ask themselves, “Am I really doing the best thing for my babies?” especially after the powers that be offer failure for the future.  You can set the record straight and perhaps give the next multiple-birth family an easier ride. Speak up, gently express your feedback, set your boundaries and let others know how you feel about their comments. As Martha would say, “That’s a good thing.”

May your breastfeeding go well and your babies grow, develop and flourish. When you are faced with the necessity of teaching others about breastfeeding multiples and how to treat you, may you rise the challenge with humour, confidence and love.

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