Mothers of Multiples and Breastfeeding Guilt

baby twins in mom's lap
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Despite their best efforts, many mothers of multiples are not able to breastfeed their twins, triplets, or more. The obstacles they face are many. In some cases, the ravages of a difficult pregnancy take such a toll on a mother's body that she is unable to produce a sufficient milk supply. Sometimes multiples that are born prematurely require medical treatment that creates an unsupportive environment for breastfeeding. And often, the demands of caring for two or more infants simply generates too much stress. With two mouths to feed, it just makes more sense to find an alternative.

The Pressure to Breastfeed

There's no denying that breast milk offers optimal nutrition for babies. The evidence is clear and the arguments are many. Mothers of multiples are all too aware of the benefits; they're elaborated in every book, website, and magazine article. Well-meaning friends, relatives, and medical personnel reiterate the positive power of breastfeeding as they encourage mothers to pursue nursing. Many mothers of multiples are staunch supporters of breastfeeding; they certainly would if they could.

All the positive press weighs heavy on the hearts of mothers who are struggling. Breastfeeding proponents promote it almost like a magic potion for all of life's issues: lose weight faster, save more money, lower your risk of cancer, make your children smarter, healthier and more secure. Bottom line: you're a better mother if you breastfeed.

For mothers who simply can't make it work, the guilt can be overwhelming. They desperately want to nurse their babies but aren't having success. They've read books, sought help from lactation professionals, struggled and persevered. In some cases, they're sacrificing their own health and sanity in the attempt. Women whose multiples are the result of treatment for infertility may feel like their body is betraying them yet again. They feel dysfunctional. They feel like a failure.

What to Do If You're Feeling Guilty

Guilt about breastfeeding isn't productive. It doesn't help the lactation process and it doesn't generate any benefit for mothers or babies. If you're feeling guilty about not breastfeeding your twins or multiples, release it. Consider these reassurances:

  • Be realistic; this is not a failure. While breastfeeding definitely offers benefits, not breastfeeding isn't necessarily harmful. It won't cause your babies to be sickly weaklings with low IQs. There are plenty of twins and multiples who received formula as babies who are happy, healthy, smart, secure individuals. This is just one component of your role as a mother; there are many, many other ways that you contribute to your babies' welfare in a positive way.
  • Acknowledge that you are the best mom for these babies, no matter how you feed them. You've made the decision to feed them in the best way possible -- the option that is healthiest for you and for them in your current circumstances. Be confident in your ability to mother them.
  • Dismiss the judgment. The people who offer it have not walked in your shoes. They did what was right for their family; you're doing what's right for your own.
  • Appreciate the effort that you made -- any amount of breast milk that your babies received will offer them invaluable benefits.
  • Surround yourself with support. Tune out the naysayers and embrace encouragement from those who offer it. You'll find plenty of support in your local mothers of multiples club as well as online.

By Pamela Prindle Fierro
 Pamela Prindle Fierro is the author of several parenting books and the mother of twin girls.