If you're expecting twins or triplets, chances are that you're delighted but also wondering how you're going to juggle the needs of your instant family. After all, most new parents have their hands full with just one baby! The reality is that raising multiples is hard. You'll have double or triple the feeding, diapering, and laundry, and less time to spend cuddling and getting to know each baby. Indeed, there are days when you'll feel like you're walking up a down escalator. Recovering from a c-section or visiting premature babies in the intensive-care nursery -- both of which are more likely to happen when you're having multiples -- will only add to the difficulty. Fortunately, there are ways to plan ahead so you can enjoy your babies once they arrive.
Preparing ahead of time is a smart move when you're pregnant with one baby, but it's a necessity when you're expecting two or more. There's a good chance that you will deliver before your due date, or you may need to decrease your activity (or even go on complete bed rest) to lessen the risk of preterm labor or other pregnancy-related complications.
Early in your pregnancy, you'll need to shop for baby equipment (many baby stores offer a twins discount if you buy two of the exact same thing), find a pediatrician, and get your house ready. When organizing your home, don't just focus on the nursery. If you have more than one floor, plan a changing station on each level of your home that includes diapers, wipes, and extra baby clothes. That way you can avoid running up and down stairs every time one of the babies spits up or need to be changed. Also, set up a portable crib or playpen in the area where you will be spending most of your time with the babies. That way you'll have a safe place to leave one baby in case you need to attend to the other.
Now is also a good time to hook up with other parents of multiples. They can tell you what to expect during the first weeks, weigh in on the merits of side-by-side versus front-to-back double strollers, and help you feel like you're not alone. If you don't know anyone, you might want to join a support group. The National Organization of Mothers of Twins Clubs, Inc. (www.nomotc.org) has more than 475 local support groups and an active bulletin board on its Web site. Also try www.twinslist.org and www.tripletconnection.org.
Finally, be sure to line up friends and relatives to pitch in after the babies are born. You'll really appreciate an extra set of hands. If there's no one available, consider hiring a baby nurse (pricey, but many say it's worth it), a sitter who can come for a few hours a day, and/or a cleaning service.
Bringing the Babies Home
When you're the mother of multiples, you may feel like you do little else but feed your babies. By the time the second (or third) baby has been fed, burped, and changed, the first one's often hungry -- and the cycle begins all over again. This phase is grueling, but it only lasts a few months, and most say it passes by in a blur.
First, you'll have to decide whether to breastfeed or bottlefeed. Breastfeeding is the healthiest choice, plus you can nurse two babies at one time once you get the hang of it. Be prepared for the fact that preemies often don't suck as well as full-term infants, so you may need help from a lactation consultant to get your babies to latch on correctly.
Nursing two infants at once is tricky -- you'll want to experiment with different positions to find what works best for you. One strategy is to rest one baby's head in each palm or on pillows with their legs stretched out behind you. Or hold one baby in the football hold and the other cradled out in front of you. A U-shaped nursing pillow comfortably fits around your waist and keeps both babies at the breast, leaving your hands free to adjust each baby's mouth. Mothers of triplets often nurse babies two at a time and place the third next to them in an infant seat. You should also alternate breasts each feeding to make sure they produce equal amounts of milk and to lessen the chance of blocked ducts.
Other mothers decide that formula is the best option for them. That way, more people can help with the feeding -- and they can get relief during middle-of-the-night sessions. Some mothers of multiples combine nursing and bottlefeeding so that their babies get the benefit of breast milk but others can help feed them.
Plan to put your newborns to sleep side by side in the same crib for the first few months. (If you'll be keeping them in your room in a bassinet, each baby will need his own.) Triplets can sleep crosswise in the same crib. When the babies start wiggling around, you should move them into their own cribs, but keep them in the same room where they can see and hear each other. Multiples have a special bond and are used to being together.
When one of your babies wakes up to be fed in the middle of the night, wake up the other one after you're done if it's within half an hour of his normal feeding time. It's hard to wake a sleeping baby, but if you don't do this, you will be constantly tending to babies and won't get any sleep, says Sheila Laut, coauthor of Raising Multiple Birth Children (Chandler House Press).
Bonding with the Babies
Just as learning to take care of your babies takes time, getting to know who they are doesn't always happen right away, either. In fact, it may take a few days to master the most basic information: which one is which! After all, even fraternal twins can look alike at first. To avoid confusion, don't remove your babies' hospital ID bands until you're sure who's who.
Of course, you may not have this problem if one of your multiples is still in the intensive-care nursery. In this case, dividing your time between hospital visits and home can make life more stressful and bonding harder.
Tending to the needs of two newborns at once may mean that you don't fall in love as instantly as you were expecting. But this is completely normal. The more you get to know your babies as individuals, the closer and more connected you will feel to each of them, says family and child therapist Eileen Pearlman, PhD, author of Raising Twins (HarperResource). Try to notice what's unique about each one, such as the way your daughter curls her lip before she cries or the way your son startles when he hears noises.
It's also important to treat your babies like distinct individuals so they begin to see themselves that way too. Giving your babies names that rhyme or sound alike may seem cute, but experts advise against it. They need to have their own special names that are not built on someone else's, says Pearlman. It's also a good idea to talk to them individually and refer to them by name, rather than as "the twins." As your babies get older, make sure they have their own clothes and special toys.
While raising multiples can make you feel like you're at the center of a three-ring circus, you will become more adjusted to them with each passing day, and they will reach milestones that make life easier -- such as sleeping through the night and holding their own bottles. Twins may be double the work, but they're also double the love, hugs, and kisses!
Originally published on AmericanBaby.com, May 2003.
All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.