Nighttime Nursing with Twins

An NPN reader asks our natural parenting mentors:

I loved reading your posts about twins and biting and nursing. My twins are 13 months old now, and I love breastfeeding them. I am so grateful that we are able to do this. It was hard at first with soreness and exhaustion, but it has become effortless and sweet. The problem I am having now is difficult though, and I am not sure what to do. I can’t be the only attachment parenting mama of twins to have a similar problem, but I haven’t been able to find any help online yet, although I have been looking. One of my twins wants to nurse for hours every night. It is a comfort thing. It feels like he wants to own me (he shows evidence of this proprietary feeling during the day, too). I sleep with them on a king-size mattress on the floor of our bedroom, as there is not even one other room to put them in in our house, never mind a room for each. I often doze off with him attached and only wake up when the other guy wants his once-or-twice nightly turn. Mr. You-belong-to-me does not like this, so he fusses up a storm, waking me, my husband, and often one of our other two kids. My husband will attempt to quiet him by bouncing on the exercise ball, which sort of works, while I nurse Mr. Sleepy-but-hungry, and then I get him back and nurse him back down. He stays attached again. Many nights he sleeps on his own from about 7:00 until 10:00 and then I am attached to him or his brother until the morning. I feel drained and exhausted in the morning. I am trying not to resent him. If I try to soothe him in any other way besides nursing, he raises a ruckus. If it were just him and me, a ruckus would be fine, but everyone in the house needs to sleep. My poor helpful husband has to go to work all day, and the big kids are grumptacular and spacey without sleep. I am running out of reserves and memory. I just don’t see what I can do to change things. I love breastfeeding and don’t mind night nursing, but not all night! I wish I could be more positive and upbeat, but I really need help and perspective. If you can’t think of anything, do you have any idea where I could look for help?


Here’s what our natural parenting mentors had to say:

Judy [Judy Akalaitis is the mama of Hans and Stella, 2.75 year old red-headed twins. When her twins were born at 37 weeks, she pumped 9x a day for two months until her twins latched on. They became avid nursers and it is an accomplishment that she is very proud of! A former librarian, she is a SAHM and lives with her family in Seattle, WA.]: Congratulations on being able to successfully nurse your babies! Nursing twins can have many challenges. You are going through so much right now and such little rest at night can make for a long day. I hope that you are taking care of yourself as best as you can. Here are some ideas:

Tandem Nurse. I couldn’t gather from your question as to whether you have tried tandem nursing. Is there any way you can tandem nurse during the night? That way both of your babies might get what they need without waking the rest of the family. Add to your king size bed lots of pillows and you can be semi-propped up and maybe dozing a little. If you haven’t done it before it may take some practice with positioning. Mr. You-belong-to-me may put up a fuss at the beginning; try putting a rolled up towel between your breasts to create a “wall” to keep them separate (this worked for me when my son started to get proprietary). The beauty of having two breasts is that you can nurse two children at once.

Separation Anxiety. Did your son’s proprietary feelings start recently? If so, perhaps it is a separation anxiety issue associated with a developmental milestone such as learning to walk, in which case it might be something that will pass. When my son was about 7 months old, he began to wake six or seven times in the night (prior to that he was only waking once). He would wake up very upset and be difficult to get back to sleep, needing much comfort and contact. Although we were all sleeping in the same room at that time, he found it very hard to be even a few inches away from me without making physical contact. We had a discussion with a very wise nurse, parenting author, and educator, and she suggested that we wait it out because it might be attributed to his learning to crawl. We sat tight and after two months, my son went back to his prior sleep habit. During this time, my husband and I took three-hour shifts sleeping in the basement. Initially I had a hard time leaving my son for my sleep shift but it would be right after a nursing session and it helped tremendously to get a few hours of uninterrupted sleep.

Comfort. The experience of your son needing to sleep attached to you must be exhausting. I did not go through that, but my son has always been more possessive of me and seemed to need me more than his twin sister, especially when it came to nursing. As he got older (actually, around 13 months) he would try to edge out his sister when they were tandem nursing. Prior to that, they would hold hands across the nursing pillow while tandem nursing! For over two years, I was the only one who could comfort him, nursing him to sleep for every single nap and bedtime and rarely being away from him. Like your son, he would cry if I was nearby and my husband was trying to comfort him. Very, very gradually it got more manageable as he spent more time with my husband alone and began to bond with him. He has recently come into his own. He gradually weaned himself this past summer with no prompting from me (I thought he would nurse for a long time yet!). He is still possessive of me every once in a while, but he’s also very sweet now. He hugs me all day long, tells me wonderful things, and of course is still very into my breasts. Fulfilling his needs has paid off and he is a very secure, loving, and confident toddler. What I am trying to say is that your son will probably not always be so proprietary and will grow out of this at some point, so hang in there.

Best of luck and take care. Things change so fast with babies. You will be looking back on this time some day in the future, I promise!

Darcel: First, congratulations on breastfeeding twins for over a year. That is amazing! Second, I apologize if I am repeating information and suggestions you have already heard or read.

While breastfeeding is important, so is sleep!

It sounds like he really needs his mama. At this age, that is completely normal. Is he teething? That can cause babies to want to nurse more often. Do you wear them in a sling of some sort during the day? Perhaps if you wore the more needy one (for lack of a better word), it would help him to feel closer to you during the day.

I am sure pumping is the last thing you have time for, and one or both babies may not take it at this stage. Maybe you could pump and give one of them the expressed milk in the bottle during the night? Alternatively, is it possible to nurse them at the same time during the night?

It may help to get another mattress and lie the twins on it together with some of your clothing near their face so they have your scent.

Have you contacted your local La Leche League leader with this question?

Mothering.com is a great message board. You could talk to the ladies there about your situation.

The Mother of Twins Club and the Breastfeeding and Attachment Parenting Twins website may prove useful as well.

Kellymom.com has a section of articles on nursing twins. Since the problem is one twin wanting to nurse all night, Dr. Sears’ article on 12 Alternatives for the All Night Nurser might be helpful.

Nearly every website I checked recommended the book Mothering Multiples.

I am really sorry I don’t have more for you. I hope you find a solution that works for your family so that everyone is getting the sleep they need.

Luschka: My primary question would be to see whether Mr. You-belong-to-me has been checked for a tongue tie. If he has one, then he is working twice as hard to get half as much milk. If that is definitely not the issue, I would look at other physical issues, such as teething (which can go on for months) or growth spurts.

If it’s none of those things, I would start looking at daytime eating and drinking habits. I don’t know how you have approached solids, but as the babies start eating and drinking more during the day, their need for milk during the night should decrease. Perhaps increasing specifically liquid intake during the day might help.

My final suggestion is the need to break the habit. I am not sure if he’s old enough – it really only started working with my daughter when she was two – but when she woke in the night at about 45 minute intervals to ask for milk, I started shushing her, patting her on the back or similar, and she normally went back to sleep without needing to feed. It has taken about four months, but she now sleeps for five or six hours before asking for milk again. If she asks, I say “later,” “in the morning,” or “when the sun comes up,” and it has really made a difference in the frequency of feeds. If she really insists, then I know she’s really hungry or thirsty; this usually follows a day where her food or liquid intake wasn’t high. Your twins might be a little young for that, but it’s worth a try.

If none of that helps, I am really sorry, but this will pass; it’s a tough time, but it will pass.

2 Responses to Nighttime Nursing with Twins

  1. Heather

    I am seriously in the EXACT same position. I have one baby who nurses constantly, and then screams the ENTIRE time I nursing the other in the middle of the night.

    I wish I had some answers for you :(

  2. April G  

    Whew! This is making me so grateful that my twins have never done this. I can only imagine. It’s hard enough nursing two at times. I’m inclined to agree with the suggestions from Luschka though. If there’s no physical need for the all night nursing, some gentle night-weaning/re-direction of the possessive affection so that he doesn’t require the breast all night may be in order. I hope this mama has some luck.

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