I created this blog post as a paid ambassador with Philips Avent and PTPA. All opinions expressed are my own.
You’d think being a third- and fourth-time mom I wouldn’t have much to learn. The basics of baby care, regardless of how many, ought to be pretty much the same, right?
Well, the curveball of twins threw me the curveball of learning to bottle-feed when my only experience is with breastfeeding.
I tried to get my first two babies to take bottles, but they wanted nothing to do with it. I didn’t really expect my twins to be mainly bottle-fed, but it turns out I am so glad they are! With one baby, breastfeeding came easily to me. Even when I was caring for a toddler, I became adept at nursing while accomplishing a multitude of other tasks.
The thing is, you cannot wander around your house with two babies attached to your boobs. And you cannot hand one of your boobs to your partner so he can feed a baby. And you cannot leave your boobs at home so you can go out for a girls’ night.
Since exclusively breastfeeding was a thoroughly positive experience for me, I thought I would hate feeding my twins with bottles. I will grant that pumping my milk every three to four hours is arduous, but for now I am choosing to continue with that. (To make it sustainable, we offer formula for two to three feeds so I don’t have to get up to pump overnight.)
It seems I did have more to learn after all:
1- Sharing the workload is phenomenal.
My husband is now, like me, a parent of FOUR children. But fatherhood with the twins has been completely different for him. He had zero role in the feeding of our first two. With our first, his work schedule had me assuming almost all of the parenting tasks. With our second, he took care of the toddler while I cared for the newborn. And regardless of his presence, it was my breasts that fed both of them. (Often while he peacefully slept, of course!)
With the twins, he has for the first time taken an extended parental leave, and for the first time he has had an equal share of newborn care, including feeding. It’s been a real eye-opener for him and an enormous change for me too.
When one of the babies is hungry, either one of us can take care of him, depending on what we’re doing. And if both of them are hungry at the same time, which happens often, we can put on Netflix and feed one apiece.
As any breastfeeding mama knows, the cluster feeding and the comfort nursing and the latching on and latching off are exhausting. Beautiful and wonderful and miraculous, yes. But exhausting. And that’s when breastfeeding is going well! This time around I’ve been able to conserve more energy because the workload of feeding twins can be shared.
Besides offering me some relief, feeding our boys with my expressed milk or formula in bottles has meant my husband and my mom have been able to experience that unique bond that only I shared with our first two children. The way a baby looks up at the person feeding them is so special, and those little eyes say the same thing whether that milk is coming from the breast or a bottle.
2- Having more freedom is both bizarre and amazing.
With my first two newborns, until they were at least a year old, I really couldn’t leave them with anyone for more than two hours. Once they got hungry and wanted to nurse, there was absolutely nothing any other caregiver, no matter how well-intentioned, could do. My husband wanted me to be able to go out for a few hours with a friend or to have an uninterrupted nap, but if baby decided it was time to nurse, at a certain point he had to give up and call me home or wake me.
It is both bizarre and amazing to me that because they are bottle-fed, aside from me providing the milk at some point using my pump, my boys don’t need me the way my first two did. They are just as happy getting their meals from my mom or my husband or, I’m sure, any willing set of hands as they are from me!
I went out for dinner with two girlfriends and was gone for FIVE hours! I received no panicked phone calls punctuated with the screams of inconsolable, starving babies. Yes, it was a frantic and hectic five hours for Papa Wolf, but he had everything necessary (bottles, milk, diapers) to care for the boys. My boobs left, and everyone was fine. And I was free!
Sometimes I just want to be the one doing the dishes or giving the big kids a bath or cooking dinner instead of feeding the babies. It switches things up. It gives me some space. I’ll be doing 90% of their feeds once my husband is back at work and my helper-visitors leave, so I’m taking advantage of the extra hands while I can.
3- Washing and sterilizing bottles is a huge time-suck.
I still love breastfeeding for its sheer convenience. If I can get the twins to take full-feeds at the breast as they grow, I will be thrilled, but it’s not the primary focus of my energy at this point either.
No one can deny that your boobs don’t need to be disassembled and washed after every feed. So if you’re using bottles for formula or breastmilk or both, having bottles that are easy to clean is a MUST.
Avent’s new anti-colic bottles with AirFree vents have fewer components than other brands I’ve tried, and the wide neck makes it easier to clean them quickly. (I just use the same bottle brush I use for our family’s water bottles.)
The AirFree vent is a single piece that easily clips into the bottle, and it’s the only “extra” piece compared to a standard baby bottle. The AirFree vent itself is a smooth piece that is easy to clean without the use of a special brush—there are no nooks and crannies where bacteria can hide!
Besides choosing easy-to-clean bottles, having enough bottles for multiple feeds and using either a microwave or countertop sterilizer will really help ease the burden.
4- Burping is CRITICAL.
I can’t say I focused too much on burping my breastfed babies. I could dream-feed lying down and not need to sit up to burp them once they finished … they just went back to sleep (if they were even fully awake in the first place).
The mechanics of bottle-feeding mean baby swallows some air while they chow down. Choosing a bottle that helps reduce how much air baby ingests is a way to reduce gas and reduce the time you need to spend burping. That’s what Avent’s AirFree vent is for: it draws air away from the nipple so the nipple is full of milk, even when the bottle is horizontal. Swallowing less air helps reduce common feeding issues like colic, reflux and gas.
Compared to the non-vented bottles we were provided in the NICU, the boys have less gas and need less burping using our vented bottles.
5- Watching how much they actually eat is mind-boggling.
Breastfeeding can be stressful for new moms because it’s hard to know if baby is eating enough. If baby is gaining well and not fussing, most breastfeeding moms keep calm and carry on, never knowing and never really needing to know the volume of milk their babe is ingesting.
Well, from the first time I expressed a teaspoon of colostrum to the 120 ml per breast I’m expressing now, I am shocked by what my body produces and what my boys can eat! At some feeds they take up to 150 ml, and on the average day they’re drinking 700–800 ml of breastmilk and formula. With my breastfed singletons, I kept track of nothing with regard to their feeds. They fed on demand and the demand was different day-to-day.
The Cub Twins typically feed every two to three hours, but the stretches between feeds are getting longer. I am so unaccustomed to tracking feed intervals and to seeing how much my baby drinks. Sure, you feel your breast empty while you nurse, and some moms track the time spent on each breast, but your boobs don’t have little ounce and millilitre markings on them!
6- Both are beautiful.
Fundamentally what I have learned since from bottle-feeding my twins is that breast and bottle are different, but both are beautiful in their own unique way.
I used to think I would hate everything about feeding from a bottle, but I don’t. The bond I felt looking into my nursling’s eyes is the same bond I feel looking into the (oddly blueish) eyes of each of my twins while I give them a bottle. There’s certainly beauty to the very natural and instinctual process of breastfeeding that I experienced (but I’m very aware not all mothers feel this way about nursing, and that’s okay). But there’s also beauty to seeing my husband and my mother meet my boys’ most fundamental need for nourishment … something they didn’t get to experience with my first two.