Twins & Multiples: Surviving the First Year

From feeding and diapering, to telling them apart.

Not One but Two Babies

one newborn baby drinking bottle with another in background

Jodi was thrilled when she found out she was pregnant with twins. She and her husband, Matt, had always wanted two children, and this way they would do it with just one pregnancy. But when the twins arrived, the demands of caring for two babies caught the couple off guard. "We didn't have a clue what we were doing. They needed to be fed every few hours around the clock. Even when they were napping, we had to prepare bottles and do the laundry, so we hardly got any sleep," the West Bloomfield, Michigan, mom recalls. "We were totally overwhelmed."

If you have twins or triplets, chances are 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 have double or triple the feeding, diapering, and laundry and, as a result, less time to spend cuddling and getting to know each baby. To be sure, there will be days when you feel as if you're walking up a down escalator. Recovering from a c-section or visiting premature babies in an intensive-care nursery (events you are more likely to experience when you have multiples) will only add to the difficulty. Fortunately, there are ways to make it work so that you can not only survive but -- yes -- enjoy your babies' first year.

Next: Prep Work

Prep Work

Early on, you'll need to shop for baby equipment (many baby stores offer a twins discount if you buy two of the same thing), find a pediatrician, and prep your house. When organizing your home, don't focus just on the nursery. If you have more than one floor, set up a changing station on each level; include diapers, wipes, and extra baby clothes. That way you can avoid running up and down the stairs every time one of the babies spits up or needs 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, so that you have a safe place to leave one baby in case you need to attend to the other," says Carline, of Los Angeles, the mother of 21-month-old twins Jay and Ava.

It's also a good idea to hook up with other parents of multiples. They can tell you what to expect, weigh in on the merits of side-by-side versus front-to-back double strollers, and help you feel as though you're not alone. If you don't know anyone, you might join a support group. The National Organization of Mothers of Twins Clubs (nomotc.org) has more than 475 local support groups and an active bulletin board on its Web site. Also check out tripletconnection.org and twinslist.org.

Finally, be sure to enlist the help of friends and relatives. "Do not turn down any offers of help!" says Maria, of Pelham, New York, whose mother-in-law helped out for two months and whose parents visited regularly as well. "You have no idea how crazy it's going to be with two newborns. 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.

The Feeding Frenzy

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 lasts only a few months, and most say it passes in a blur. First, you'll have to decide whether to breast or bottle-feed. Breastfeeding is the healthier choice, plus you can nurse two babies at one time once you get the hang of it. But be prepared for the fact that preemies often don't suck as well as full-term infants, so you may need a lactation consultant's help to get your babies to latch on correctly.

Jeannette, of Greenwood, Indiana, mastered the art of nursing her twin sons, Chance and Campbell, before she left the hospital. "I always paged a lactation consultant for help when it was time for a feeding," she says. "By the time I got home, I could sit on the couch and nurse them while I ate dinner."

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 cradle the other in front of you. A U-shaped nursing pillow fits comfortably 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 two babies at a time and place the third next to them in an infant seat.

You should alternate breasts each feeding to make sure they produce equal amounts of milk and to lessen the chance of blocked ducts. "Henry always ate less than Michael, so the breast that Henry last nursed from would become engorged before the next feeding," says Julie, of Chicago, a mother of four boys, including identical twins.

Bottles & Bedtime

Other mothers decide that formula is the best option for them. With formula, more people can help with feeding -- and Mom can get some relief during middle-of-the-night sessions. Some mothers of multiples combine nursing and bottle-feeding so that their babies get the benefit of breast milk but others can help with the feeding. "Our son had a difficult time latching on, and there were nights when we'd both wind up in tears -- him out of hunger and me out of frustration," says Rhonda, of Richton Park, Illinois, the mother of 2-year-old twins. So she frequently nursed her daughter while her husband gave their son a bottle.

Your newborns can sleep side by side in the same crib for the first few months, but if you're keeping them in your room in bassinets, each baby will need his own. When the babies start wiggling around, move them to separate cribs, but keep them in the same room, where they can see and hear each other. Triplets can sleep crosswise in the same crib.

When one of the 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 her normal feeding time. "It's hard to wake a sleeping baby, but if you don't, you will be constantly tending to babies and not getting any sleep," says Sheila Laut, coauthor, with her husband, William Laut, of Raising Multiple Birth Children (Chandler House Press).

During the first few months, it may seem as if you seldom have a moment to catch your breath. But things will get better. Maria, the Pelham mom, says she turned a major corner when she got her twins on a regular nap schedule. "When Bayden and Helena were 5 months old, I started putting them down for a morning nap every day at 9:30 and an afternoon nap at 1:30," she says. Maria used the morning naptime to shower, pump milk, prep bottles, empty the dishwasher, and plan the day. She used the afternoon naptime to make phone calls and pay bills.

Bonding with Your Babies

Just as learning to take care of your babies takes time, so does getting to know who they are. In fact, it may take a few days to master the most basic information: which one is which! To avoid confusion, don't remove your babies' hospital ID bands until you're sure you can tell who's who. Julie, the Chicago mom, wrote the names of her twins on their wristbands in indelible ink. After a day or two she could tell them apart by the shape of their head. "Michael's was round like a softball, and Henry's was like a flattened circle," she says. Finding a freckle or birthmark on one baby, dressing them in different colors, or painting one toenail can help with identification too.

Of course, you may not have this problem if one of your multiples is still in an intensive-care nursery. In that case, dividing your time between hospital visits and home can make life more stressful and bonding harder. "One of my twins came home two weeks earlier than the other," says Maria. "No matter where I was or which twin I was with, I felt torn -- and guilty that I wasn't with the other one. Once they were both home, things got a lot better."

Tending to the needs of two newborns may mean that you don't fall in love as instantly as you'd expected, 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, coauthor of Raising Twins (Simply Collins). Try to notice what's unique about each one, like the way your daughter curls her lip before she cries or the way your son startles when he hears a loud noise.

Celebrate Their Individuality

Jodi, the West Bloomfield mom, says she thinks of her twins as two children who just happen to be the same age. "They look different, they act different, and they are going through different stages at different times," she says. "We call Ellie the girl with a thousand faces because she changes her expressions all the time, whereas Jenna always has a smile on her face. When people want to know who's happier, stronger, or funnier, I just tell them it depends when you ask!"

It's important to treat your babies as individuals so that they begin to see themselves that way too. Refer to them by name rather than as "the twins," and as they get older, make sure they have their own clothes and special toys. Kathy, of Atlanta, says that her 8-month-old daughter, Abigail, is outgoing and never tires of social interaction, whereas Abigail's twin, Virginia, is quieter and will reach a point where she's had enough. "So at the end of the day, we'll continue playing with Abigail and just do more snuggling with Virginia," says Kathy.

While raising multiples can make you feel as if you're at the center of a three-ring circus, you will adjust to them more with each passing day, and they will reach milestones that will make life easier -- like sleeping through the night and holding their own bottle. "At 6 months, Jay and Ava were smiling and entertaining each other. It didn't take long for us to realize how lucky we are to have them and how lucky they are to have each other," Carline says. "They're double the work, but also double the love, kisses, and hugs."

Next: What You Need

What You Need

Wondering what the babies can share and what you need to double (or triple) up on?

Babies Can Share:

  • changing table
  • playpen or portable crib
  • baby bathtub
  • nursing pillow
  • breast pump
  • baby monitor
  • double or triple stroller
  • stationary activity center
  • activity mat

Each Baby Needs:

  • car seat
  • layette
  • infant seat
  • bassinet
  • crib
  • mobile
  • swing
  • diaper bag (so you can take them out individually)
  • high chair
  • front carrier

Pamela Kramer is a freelance writer in Littleton, Colorado.

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