For a woman who likes to fit as much into life as possible (as well as being incredibly physically fit), having twins was a whole new flex for Danni Duncan. The AIF Certified Nutrition Coach and Master Female Trainer has a legion of fans on Instagram, inspired by her confident and easy to follow mum-friendly fitness and nutrition guides, but becoming mum to three was as every bit the adjustment as you could imagine. With a focus on coaching clients for long-term health and fitness, Danni is all about empowering women - and this message carries over through to how you feed your babies, imploring her followers to do what works. “Look after YOU. Because I tell you what - no amount of pain, tears or guilt is worth it.”
Already a mum to Harper, now 3, Danni’s feeding journey ran the full experience from breastfeeding, expressing, combo feeding and eventually exclusively formula fed and it’s this experience that makes her such a passionate advocate for doing what is right for mum.
“I had loads of milk, a really good supply - almost too much. Looking back I think maybe I was a little too impatient and didn’t feed her enough - I’m not sure, but I was a first-time mum and I did what I thought was right. I breastfed Harper exclusively for 4 months, but just before our 4 month check-in, she had dropped off the chart in regards to her weight.”
After being advised to start mix feeding, Danni felt guilty for having to incorporate formula into her feeding, triggering feelings of stress and anxiety over how much she was being fed - with the same feelings of anxiety impacting her feeding plans for the twins.
When Harlow and Beau were born in August 2021, they required special care, with Harlow needing to stay longer. Danni and her husband made the decision to put Beau back in to be with his sister for the journey with Danni pumping every 3-4 hours at home.
“Initially I was going to decide not to breastfeed the twins at all - knowing I was having two, I was really worried about how my mental health would be trying to breastfeed them, I was worried about sleep and I really wanted [husband] Chris to be involved in the process. What actually happened when I ended up having the babies is that I decided that I wouldn’t necessarily breastfeed all the time, but I was happy to pump,” she said, explaining how her feeding journey started.
“I ended up pumping for 2 weeks every 3-4 hours at home and Chris and I would do drops into the nursery. When I was in the nursery I would pop Beau onto my boob every now and then for a feed and then top up with expressed breast milk so I knew he was getting enough. When I could put Harlow on a bit later in the journey when she came off her feeding tube and could suck by herself I would put her on too, but not for long as we were cautious she would get too tired because she was so small.”
It was an intense few weeks for Danni, but she pressed on with her hectic schedule of expressing every few hours. “The 6 weeks of pumping for me was really hard - the first few weeks while they were in special care I was really committed to it because I wanted to give them anything I could considering they couldn’t be with me and I couldn't be with them,” she recalls.
“Then when we got home, that's when the next 4 weeks fully expressing at home started to take its toll. I had to feed the babies - which took them a good 45 minutes, then express afterwards…so it was a good hour and a half to 2 hours away from my time with Harper, so then I started to feel guilty around her and it felt like all I was doing was feeding-pumping-feeding-pumping.”
It’s a familiar sentiment for many mums, especially mums of multiples and for Danni, it’s still very raw and real.
“There is so much guilt. You do wish you could have done it for longer. One thing I feel like I did miss out on a little bit was that closeness. With Harper - those night times and mornings were really special. Taking her to her room, reading her a book, popping her on my boob - having that time together,” she recalls.
“With twins, you can’t just hold one as there will always be one left by themselves - those feelings are enhanced with breastfeeding. I can’t sit there and have a nice cuddle and a breastfeed, so there is definitely guilt around that - you feel like you’re not giving them all of your love, or as much love as you gave your singleton or your first,” she says, fighting back tears.
Those early months are loaded with emotions, and it’s especially a vulnerable time for most parents.
“For me, expressing with the twins and knowing they were getting enough milk each feed was really, really important for me. A few people did say, ‘why would you not breastfeed or why don’t you tandem feed?’ [But] tandem feeding was just something I didn’t want to do, I didn’t like the thought of not having my other arm - I didn’t want to be stuck to my baby without being able to read or book or grab my phone during that time. That may sound selfish, but it’s a long time to not do anything - I have a very active mind so I needed to be able to do more than just feed the babies - and that certainly caused some negative reactions with people,” she says.
For her personally though, being a mother second time around and being in tune with her own needs redefined her feeding journey. “There were definitely positives - with Harper I was really worried if she was getting enough food from me….because we were able to give the babies enough feeds, they started sleeping through the night really early - from about 12 weeks they were sleeping through…I knew that sleep was a big problem with Harper initially and I know that was to do with how much food she was getting,” she says.
She wants new mums to know their options and do what’s right for them. “You’ve got to do what works for you. At the end of the day, a happy mum = happy babies. When my mental health started to get really down at the end of my expressing journey, I wasn’t the best mum for Harper or the babies, I wasn’t the best wife and I wasn’t looking after myself. You’ve got to do what’s right for you and try not to let any external influences get you down, because a fed baby is a happy baby, a fed baby is a sleeping baby and a fed baby has a happy mummy as well.”