At my first Mothers of Twins meeting, I made a discovery. As the other mothers went around the room, laughing and crying, I noticed that none of them had twins over the age of 3. I concluded that after three years, parenting twins was no longer so hard – either that, or the parents were all dead!
Parents with older twins (and even those remarkable parents who have triplets or more) have often assured me that by the time children are 3, many of the unique challenges of caring for multiples seem to fade away (only to be replaced by the very real parenting challenges of raising a large family).
No article or book can give you a magic bullet to make it through those first three challenging years. Nothing will make having multiple infants seem like having a single baby. But there is some valuable advice – from parents who have been there and survived! – to help you implement the key principles of getting help, getting scheduled and dealing with guilt and isolation; and meet the particular challenges of breastfeeding and sleep.
It’s daunting to be faced with two or more squalling infants at once. Don’t feel bad if you’re overwhelmed merely getting through the day: It simply takes more than two hands to calm two (or more) fussy babies. Parents of multiples need extraordinary amounts of help in the first year.
Ask for help. Think broadly in your search. Creative moms report using unemployed neighbors and siblings, in-laws or cheap-to-hire students to play with their babies.
Arrange for help at the most useful times. Tamara Eberlein, a mother of twins and co-author of When You’re Expecting Twins, Triplets or Quads, recommends keeping a list of things you need so that you can make specific suggestions when people ask how they can help. If your babies are fussy in the late afternoon, get help then. Don’t hesitate to politely tell people to go away when the babies sleep and you need a nap. Invite people over for a “working dinner” so you have extra hands during meals.
Pay attention to your own needs. Don’t hire someone to play with your babies so you can clean your kitchen if you would rather spend time with the kids. But if you do need a break from the babies, don’t feel guilty if you would really rather scrub the floor.
Fight the Guilt and Isolation. Being a parent of multiples can be rife with guilt: about not being able to attend to all of your children’s needs or even about not being happy about having multiples. This guilt is compounded by the feeling of physical and psychological isolation.
Fight against the isolation by getting out every day. Ellen Olson-Brown, a mother of twin boys, called her daily walk with her infants “the psychological equivalent of brushing her teeth.” Use your outings as a way to s
“I loved the new moms’ playgroup,” Olson-Brown says. “It was the first time I saw with my own eyes other moms getting two – or three! – babies in and out of the house and the car. It was the first time I saw other mothers manage two babies at the same time, and it made me feel like my clumsy two-baby holds were maybe not so bad. I felt normal.”
Rebecca Moskwinski, editor of Twins to Quints: The Complete Manual for Parents of Multiple Birth Children, urges new parents to remember that no one – not even your pediatrician – knows more about raising your multiples than you do. But other parents can make practical suggestions about tending to two or more babies at once.
Other parents of twins can also give you the all-important permission to temporarily lower your parenting standards and cut corners, to skip baths and not heat bottles. They’ll tell you not to buy two of everything and instead spend your money on more help. Do what you have to do to make it through, these parents will tell you, and don’t feel bad about it. And those with older twins will assure you that you will not have to lower your standards forever.
Get Informed and Set Goals
One particular challenge for many moms of multiples is breastfeeding. While everyone agrees that nursing is healthiest and cheapest, a satisfying nursing relationship between a mother and more than one baby can be elusive. As with everything with twins, nursing requires a lot of help and support: practical help during feedings; expert help from lactation consultants; and emotional support from friends, family and doctors.
Karen Kerkhoff Gromada, author of Mothering Multiples: Breastfeeding and Caring for Twins and More, suggests that the main reason many women end up weaning before they want to is lack of preparation. She urges pregnant women to arrange as much support as possible before the birth: visit a nursing-support meeting at about 24 weeks into the pregnancy (to guard against possible bed rest later), line up household help (cleaners, prepared meals, etc.) and choose a pediatrician who actively supports nursing. Consider investing in a double-nursing pillow to make tandem feedings easier.
Gromada also emphasizes the importance of a positive attitude on successful nursing: “Say to yourself and others, ‘I’m going to breastfeed my babies,’ instead of ‘I want to try to breastfeed.’” She suggests setting small goals: nursing for four weeks, two months, six months, etc., and rewarding yourself for each milestone you reach.
Yours and Theirs
It’s a fact: parents of twins will get less sleep than parents of a single baby. That means parents with multiples need to find ways to get extra sleep, whether it’s by going to bed very early in the evening or taking naps during the day when help is most available.
Experts and parents agree that the key to parents’ sleep is nudging the babies toward a similar nighttime and nap schedule. They advise doing this by keeping a sleepier baby awake and calming a livelier baby down until they can both fall asleep at the same time. Of course, there are different schools of thought on sleep training aligned with different styles of parenting, but whatever your method, your goal should be to set a predictable routine that your babies will recognize and respond to.
The first few months – Tamara Eberlein, author of Sleep: How to Make Your Baby Sleep Like a Baby, recommends waking the second baby once the first has woken to feed, and feeding them simultaneously. This will help maximize your stretches of uninterrupted sleep (though they will still be too short). Mothers who breastfeed exclusively will have fewer nighttime options, but families who use bottles at least some of the time can experiment with various strategies to ensure that each parent gets at least some uninterrupted sleep: splitting the night into two shifts, switching off responsibility for alternating nights, or hiring a night nurse. (My husband and I each slept with one of the babies in separate rooms for the first six months.)
Time to sleep through the night? – At some point, waking the second baby to feed becomes counterproductive. Multiples may be physiologically ready to sleep through nighttime feedings at different ages. Once your children are 12 pounds or so you can try letting the sleeper sleep. And once the babies no longer need night feedings, sleep training for multiples is no different than for singletons – just more frustrating.
See the Light...
Rest assured, there will come a time that the overwhelming world of having multiples becomes the merely chaotic world of having many children.
As your children grow, you will see the benefits of having multiples. Even before they can talk, they entertain each other, leaving you to finally have a moment to put up your feet. And the benefits will last for a lifetime. Your multiples have something that most siblings don’t have: a playmate, a confidant and a friend just their age. Though there will be screaming and fighting and blocks to the head, there will also be love and friendship of a kind that single children will always envy.
If you have or are expecting multiples, nothing – no book, no Web site, not even this article – can replace the emotional and logistical benefit of parent-to-parent support. Here are some organizations that can help you meet other parents of multiples.
The National Organization of Mothers of Twins Clubs– Find local clubs through its Web site. Also lists club yard sales for low-cost clothing and equipment.
La Leche League –Find local La Leche League leaders. Some areas have meetings specifically for mothers of multiples.]
Mothering Multiples: Breastfeeding and Caring for Twins and More, by Karen Kerkhoff Gromada, La Leche League, 1999.
Twins to Quints: The Complete Manual for Parents of Multiple Birth Children, edited by Rebecca Moskwinski, National Organization of Mothers of Twins Clubs, 2002. Combining advice from 125 parents of multiples, this book contains some good tips on how to survive the first three years (though much of the book repeats parenting advice found elsewhere).
When You’re Expecting Twins, Triplets or Quads: A Complete Resource, by Dr. Barbara Luke and Tamara Eberlein, Harper Perennial, 1999. Provides the specific information left out by other pregnancy guides. It is a very informative guide to maximizing the likelihood of large, full-term babies.
On the Web
Twinslist provides articles and links to other sites on all aspects of raising twins, from pregnancy to college. The link www.twinslist.org/freebie.htm provides a list of companies that give discounts or free products to multiples.
Get answers to the most common questions from parents of multiples.