How to wean twins from breastfeeding.
At some point in every breastfeeding journey, there is an end. For some this might be a gradual thing. Baby slowly loses interest and it just fades away. In other cases, there is a deadline presented that can’t be avoided. The mother is going back to work, maybe a new medication is needed, or a trip is in the plans. Whatever the reason, you have to wrap this thing up. The other option is that you just feel it is time. You have reached your goals and are ready to close the nursing chapter.
I fell into that last category. Personally, I wanted to reach fourteen months with nursing Ali and Sammy. Well, I wanted to reach a year most of all. I nursed Ben for fourteen months, and in the feeling of fairness I wanted to match that with his sisters. While I was thrilled that we had made it as far as we did nursing, I personally was ready to be done at that point. I do think the mother’s feelings play into this. Yes, the girls ate much faster than when they were newborns, but nursing still took large chunks of time out of our day. There is also the mental planning to build in nursing time around our other activities. It isn’t impossible, or honestly hard per se, but it is just one more thing to do. I was ready to move past that.
More importantly than my being ready to wean, I think Ali and Sammy were ready to wean. Signs of being ready can include shorter nursing sessions, refusal to nurse, and an increase in solid food consumption. Ali and Sammy were showing all of these. They were nursing for short periods of time, and honestly were fighting me to even be on the nursing pillow. Every baby can have a couple of off sessions, so it was important to me to make sure these short sessions were a consistent trend and not for some other reason.
The twin factor
Twins can make it harder to tell if general disinterest in nursing is taking place, as opposed to illness, teething, or distractions that are creating short sessions. I found distractions to be a big issue with the girls. I mean, your sister is right there next to you making it easy to play around instead of eat. One option is to start nursing one at a time again (assuming you nurse both at once). That seemed like a backward step to me, adding more time to nursing instead of taking it away. I chose to really look at what was happening, which brings me to my first big tip.
Start tracking feedings again
I know I just said I didn’t want to add more time to nursing, but tracking doesn’t have to take long. I would just write down the timing and anything of note. My goal was to see why a session was short. There is a big difference between ‘Ali accidentally hit Sammy in the face and her crying made Sammy have a short nursing session’ and ‘Sammy just wouldn’t even latch.’ It didn’t take long for me to see that yes in fact, the girls were shortening their sessions. If you need help taking notes, I have a free printable just for taking notes on twins. You can sign up to get access to my twin printables here.
What if one twin is ready before the other?
Tracking might show that one twin is ready to wean more than the other. This can be tough as a mother. Going off signs of readiness it would make sense to wean whoever is ready and keep nursing the other. Logistically this can be challenging. What is the other baby doing while the other nurses? Will there be jealousy issues since one baby might appear to be getting more attention? Are you going to have to prep different meals or remember who gets cows milk and who is still nursing?
It is an option to wean one baby and then do the other later. But I have found from talking to other twin moms there is a bigger reason to wean together than just the questions I listed. That is the sense of fairness. While logically we might know that we love our babies equally, it can feel like we are playing favorites if we nurse one longer than the other. I don’t think you should discount this feeling. You can overcome a lot of logistical challenges with nursing, I think every nursing mother does at some point. But in my opinion there is no need to add more guilt and worry about this. It is something every twin mom has to deal with already, and what I think is the hardest part of having twins. Because of this I recommend weaning both babies at the same time. (Of course this is just one opinion, every mom has to make her own choice.)
How to wean
Once you have decided that yes, it is time to wean, how do you go about doing it? In general you want to drop nursing sessions one at a time, giving some time between drops. Breastfeeding is based on supply and demand, so your body will make milk for when it is used to feeding your babies. With twins this usually means that each breast makes a full meal. Going slow gives your body more time to adjust. It also gives you more time for your babies to make the switch to not having that food and comfort source. I recommend waiting a week between dropped sessions. This isn’t always feasible, and it isn’t a hard and fast rule. But for me that gave my body plenty of time to adjust without pain, and it gave my babies enough time to adjust to the new routine.
Which feeding do you drop first? That is completely up to you. If you have been tracking you might see one meal that is clearly ready to go. The nursing session immediately following the afternoon nap was the first to go for us. Ali and Sammy just did not want to nurse. They would crawl away from me, they would fuss, and once they were on the pillow they would barely eat. The first day I didn’t make them nurse they were so happy! They went straight to playing and had no issues. That made me feel like we were making the right decisions.
After dropping that first session we dropped the rest of the middle of the day feedings. These are easy to replace with meals and distractions. The first and last sessions of the day are usually the last to be dropped. The first session can be a good one for a long time, your babies will be hungry after not eating all night. It is also a session your body may be most ready for after not nursing all night. The last session of the day is usually the best one for cuddles, and nursing can help your babies wind down for the night.
I chose to drop the morning session before the bedtime one. My girls wake up energized and ready to just play in the morning. They did not mind at all being unleashed on the toys right away. Personally, I enjoyed the evening cuddles before bed, which made me want to hold on to that session as long as possible. Again, this is a personal preference situation.
You dropped the sessions, are your twins going to lose nutrition?
A question always comes up once you have dropped a nursing session- are they going to get all the nutrients and calories they need? How do I make sure they are eating enough? What do I substitute in for my babies? There are a few things to keep in mind for this transition period.
You will need to be sure to keep nutrition up. Beyond taking away an activity if you will, you are taking away a food source. This is a good time to switch to cows milk (or alternative milk). You can do that a few ways. You can go cold turkey and just give a different milk. Ben loved cows milk and really took to the change. Some babies need more of a gradual change, which can be achieved by mixing pumped milk and the new milk. You can also try to serve the new milk at room temperature. Simply being a cold drink can be confusing when babies are used to the warm milk from you.
You might need to spend some time planning ahead. If your babies are used to waking up and eating right away you will want their new milk or meal ready to go. I would fill up sippy cups ahead of time so I could grab them right when the girls woke up. For mornings I made sure that breakfast was ready as soon as they woke up. As they got used to the change I was able to go back to doing more in the morning, but being prepared helped hold of the hangry.
Meal times might need to be bulked up as some calories are lost. I know not everyone is a fan of snacks, but some might need to be added in as little tummies adjust to the new eating schedule. I personally knew I could push lunch later if need be because the girls nursed. If I wanted a later lunch I gave them a light snack to bridge that gap now that we were no longer nursing in that time slot.
One thing that can be forgotten is that you might need to add more water to your babies’ day. Breast milk contains a lot of water, so not only are you removing those calories you are removing that hydration. Even if you swap in an alternative milk it is a good idea to make sure you are offering plenty of water.
What do you do with this new time?
Not nursing frees up more time, which is awesome. But you can be stuck with a ‘Now what?’ feeling at times. It is an activity that takes time and is a part of your daily routine. I personally enjoyed the freedom that not nursing brought. We could get out of the house faster. I didn’t have to plan activities around nursing sessions or remember to bring my nursing pillow with us. We mainly filled the time with more playing because Ali and Sammy were all about being on the move. Sometimes they still wanted the closeness and cuddles that nursing brought, and this was the perfect time to add in some reading time.
If one or both twins are having a hard time with the adjustment it is the perfect time to get out of the house. Simply being in a new environment can help your baby forget that he or she used to nurse at that time. You can also try a rotating in a fun toy or even just cranking up some tunes to get them moving. Distraction works very well with little ones to help get through changes like this. Regardless of how you fill the time be aware that your babies might go through clingy times as they adjust to new ways to be close to you.
Be aware of your feelings
I think it is so easy to feel a little let down at the end of the weaning process. Even if you were sooo ready to be done with nursing and are enjoying the freedom of not having to worry about it, it is a major change. It is the end of a chapter with your babies. Personally, I was very ready to be done, and Ali and Sammy were too. They took off with weaning and never looked back. That last nursing session was hard for me. These were the last babies I was going to nurse. Even though it can be a lot of pressure to be a food source for another person, two people with twins, it is a beautiful thing. I felt so blessed to be able to do it.
I was a little surprised by the sadness I felt afterward, but really I think it is totally normal. The most important thing is to be aware of it and be ready to work through it. When you end milk production your hormones shift yet again. I’m not an expert, but I do think it is important to work through these feelings. However you feel about the end of this period is valid and right. I talked to my husband about it. Other moms who have gone through and are going through it are another good resource. Just know that no matter how done you felt before you started weaning, it is okay to be a bit sad when it is over. As with all things, if it gets to be too much ask for help. Your babies need a healthy mom who takes care of herself most of all.
Ali and Sammy were fully weaned by fifteen months. We did go longer than I thought we would, but I wanted to give plenty of time between dropped feedings. I also put off the ‘last feed’ for a few days as it hit me that we were really done. Now that we are a month out from weaning I know took the right path. Ali and Sammy haven’t had any issues with not nursing anymore. I am thrilled with the extra time in our days and so happy to have one less thing to plan around. Like most things with twins, weaning can have a few more considerations. But by making sure your babies are ready and planning appropriately it can go smoothly.