When I was pregnant with my twins, I got all kinds of advice about how to survive those first few months caring for two, but there was one tip I heard repeatedly: "Get on a routine." Schedules are essential when you're caring for twins, agrees Sheri Bayles, R.N., a certified Lamaze lactation consultant and instructor in New York City, who is a mother of twins herself. "Your day will become a lot more predictable and that will make you feel like you have some control over your life." These steps can help you get started.
Establishing routines for feeding, changing, and sleeping is much more manageable when you're not trying to do everything by yourself, so don't be afraid to ask for help. While you don't necessarily need a baby nurse, you will need at least one extra set of hands in the beginning. Rely on your partner, or enlist a family member or a trusted friend to pitch in. "For the first week home, my mother and a friend who has coached other new families with twins came to stay," says Sharon Peck, a single mom of twins from Rochester, New York. "When my mother couldn't be there, I asked others to step in. Especially at night, I needed help with my twins' bedtime routine in order to get any rest myself."
Regardless of who's sharing the baby care, it's important to ensure that you're both on the same page about the key elements of a good routine: when and how the babies will be fed, and when and where they'll sleep. Never be afraid to speak up if you're unhappy with how someone else is handling things. Remember, you're not being mean; you're just making sure your babies get the quality of care they need.
While pediatricians often advise feeding infants on demand, it's not quite practical for parents of twins. "The biggest challenge when you have newborn twins is getting out of the house, and it's impossible to do that if you're feeding all the time," says Bayles. She recommends feeding them every two to three hours in the beginning. You may have to wake one or both babies in order to stay on schedule, but twins usually adapt quickly and may even start to wake up for feedings on their own.
If you're breastfeeding, learning how to feed both babies at the same time is a huge time-saver, though it can often take a week or two of practice before you're able to do it easily. Many twin mothers swear by special pillows designed for tandem nursing, and a lactation consultant's guidance can also be extremely helpful. For those opting for combination feeding, consider alternating which baby nurses and which baby bottle-feeds. If you're pumping, keep breast milk and formula in separate bottles and always start the feed with breast milk so you ensure that the babies get as much breast milk as possible. Regardless of your approach, do share the overnight feeds with your partner whenever possible, recommends Shelly Vaziri Flais, M.D., instructor of clinical pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, in Chicago, and author of Raising Twins. "Dad can take the first feed of the night, and you can take the second. That way both of you end up getting a longer stretch of shut-eye." Just be sure to have some pumped breast milk or formula ready.
Don't try to rely on your fuzzy, new-mommy brain to remember how much each baby ate, how long each was at the breast or how many wet or poopy diapers each had--all of which is information your pediatrician uses to track the babies' growth. Instead, keep a chart and post it in a visible place like on the front of the fridge so helpers can update it easily.
There are also plenty of electronic options. "I used an app called Total Baby that kept track of when I nursed each baby, on which side, and for how long with a quick tap of a button," says Margit Ragland, of Asheville, North Carolina. Plus, some apps, such as Baby by Smallnest and Sprout, allow multiple users to share and upload data for each child, which is helpful when others are pitching in.
Your goal should be for both babies to be asleep or awake at the same time. If one's a fussier sleeper than the other, resist the urge to put them in separate rooms. Twins become remarkably good at sleeping through each other's cries and will start to coordinate their sleep cycles naturally. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you avoid putting them in the same crib, which may increase the risk of SIDS.
Creating a consistent bedtime routine can also help establish good sleep habits. "My mom and I would rock the babies, sing a lullaby, and then put them down in sleep sacks with pacifiers," says Peck. Although every parent's bedtime ritual may differ, going through the nightly routine signals to your baby--and to you--that it's time to rest.
Originally published in the March 2014 issue of Parents magazine.
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