Every parent of twins will tell you that the most important sanity saver is letting friends and family pitch in. "You desperately want to meet your child's every need. But it's impossible even with one baby and out of the question with two," explains psychotherapist Eileen M. Pearlman, Ph.D., coauthor of Raising Twins: What Parents Want to Know (and What Twins Want to Tell Them) (Harper Resource) and director of Twinsight, which provides counseling and workshops to multiples and their families. "Parents need to be realistic about what they can expect of themselves."
It can be hard to ask for assistance, particularly if you pride yourself on being independent or your twins are the result of fertility treatments. "People have said to me, 'Hey, you asked for it! You knew when you took fertility drugs that you might have more than one baby,' " says Debra LaPadula, an Eastchester, New York, mother of triplets. "No matter how much you wanted your babies and how hard it may have been to conceive them, it's okay to acknowledge that raising twins is hard work," Dr. Pearlman stresses. "Don't feel guilty about getting help. You're not lazy; you're smart."
Because nights are especially demanding, consider hiring a round-the-clock baby nurse or an overnight nanny, if financially feasible, even for a short time. Or invite a relative to stay for a few weeks. "I was dead-tired and sore from giving birth. Yet the first night home, it seemed that every five minutes my husband would walk into the room with another crying baby -- or our crying toddler. If my mother hadn't been there to help, I would've gone crazy," recalls Amy McClanahan, of Fowlerville, Michigan.
Of course, you can also use backup support during the day. "I called local churches and synagogues to find a mother's helper," LaPadula says. "It doesn't cost much to have a 12-year-old come by after school." Though a preteen shouldn't be left alone at home with infants, she can help with feeding and diapering or at least entertain the babies while you shower.
When your friends ask, "Is there anything I can do?" force yourself to say yes. They can:
It's hard to imagine falling in love with two people at the same time. Yet that's exactly the challenge facing parents of twins. "I bonded immediately with my firstborn," explains Bonnie Cope, of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. "But it took longer with the twins because I was always busy thinking about the next diaper or the next feeding."
"It takes extra time to get to know each of your babies' temperaments, patterns, and preferences," Dr. Pearlman explains. To hasten the process, seize opportunities to give each baby undivided attention. Talk and play one-on-one while changing a diaper. Make sustained eye contact during feedings. Use a front carrier around the house, alternating which twin gets to ride. Join a Mommy and Me gym class, and let the babies take turns attending with you.
Also, consciously think of your babies as individuals. Refer to them by their names rather than as "the twins." To avoid mix-ups, leave the hospital bracelets on or paint one toenail until you can pinpoint a distinguishing feature -- a rounder face, a birthmark, or one twin's tendency to suck her fingers instead of her thumb. Don't berate yourself if telling them apart takes time. "At first, I felt disappointed when I couldn't find lots of distinctions between my girls," says Judy Levy, of Ann Arbor, Michigan. "Then I realized that all I had to do was give them love and tenderness. Their personalities would emerge over time."
And don't feel guilty if you find yourself favoring one baby. It's not uncommon for a parent to be more drawn to the twin, for example, who's easier to soothe. With twins of different genders, you may initially prefer the child of the sex you'd hoped for. If one twin is hospitalized longer, you might feel closer to the baby at home. "Do you love your parents the same? Probably not, but you do love them both. That's how it is with twins. You respond to each as an individual, just as you would with any other kids," Dr. Pearlman explains. To meet other mothers who can relate to the challenge of raising multiples or to find a local club, contact the National Organization of Mothers of Twins Clubs at 877-540-2220 or see the website below.
"People warned me it would be impossible to breast-feed both twins, but the more I nursed, the more milk I made," says Lisa Tenore, of Redding, Connecticut. How to be sure you're producing enough? Each baby should soak at least six diapers and have at least one bowel movement per 24-hour period and should gain an average of one half to one ounce per day during the first two months.
It's important to focus on your own nutritional needs too. "You should consume an extra 1,000 to 1,200 calories per day beyond your prepregnancy intake, with plenty of calcium-rich foods and fluids," advises Barbara Luke, Sc.D., a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor, and coauthor (with me) of When You're Expecting Twins, Triplets, or Quads (Harper Perennial). Even if you're breast-feeding, occasionally supplementing your babies' diet with formula will give you some much-needed freedom -- and extra sleep. "My husband gives the twins a bottle each evening so that I can go shopping or to yoga class," Cope says. My own fatigue eased greatly once I decided to relinquish the 5:00 a.m. nursing session and let my husband give the twins their bottles instead.
The logistics of dual feedings are usually the most challenging part. Offer each twin one breast per feeding, alternating sides for each infant. Assigning the same breast to the same baby every time limits visual stimulation. It can also lead to lopsided breasts and a diminished milk supply on one side if one twin has a smaller appetite. "If there's a significant weight difference between your twins, you may need to feed the smaller baby more often," Dr. Pearlman says.
Feeding both babies at once is a tremendous time-saver. Experiment with positions until you find one that's comfortable: both babies in the cradle hold, bodies crisscrossed in front of you; both in the football hold, legs tucked behind you; or the combination hold, with one baby cradled and one held football-style. Many women love twin nursing pillows, such as Nurse Mate (available from the More Than One catalog: 800-388-8946).
You can also bottle-feed both infants simultaneously. Sit in an armchair and place your left elbow on the armrest. Support the babies' weight in your lap while cradling both heads with your left arm and hand. Lean one bottle against your chest or in the crook of your right arm, and hold the other bottle in your right hand. Or sit on the floor, and open your legs in a V. Place the twins between your knees, their heads supported by a pillow and their feet pointing toward you. Use your thighs as armrests, and hold one bottle in each hand.
If your multiples are sharing a room, let them get accustomed to it from the first night. "I worried that one baby's cries might awaken the others, so at the first peep I'd whisk the fussy baby out of the nursery," LaPadula says. "Big mistake! I was back and forth all night. Once I let them get used to each other's noises, they learned to settle themselves back to sleep."
Ideally, you should synchronize the babies' nap and nighttime schedule. It can take weeks, but hang in there. "Early on, when at least one baby was always awake during the day, life was constant chaos," LaPadula admits. "Finally, we instituted a schedule: breakfast at 8:00 a.m., nap at 10:00 a.m., lunch at noon, walk at 1:00 p.m. Now they never fuss about napping."
Establish a soothing nighttime ritual -- a quiet lullaby in the rocking chair, with the lights off -- that lets the babies know it's time to wind down. Then put them to bed at the same time. Make an exception, however, if your twins' sleep needs differ greatly. "Megan sleeps 12 hours, from 7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m., but Jonathan just doesn't require as much sleep," McClanahan says. "If I put him to bed before 9:30, he'll be up before 5:00 a.m."
To stave off your own sleep deprivation, take advantage of any opportunity to get some shut-eye. Have your husband handle one nighttime feeding or at least the early-morning breakfast bottles on weekends. If you're nursing, have him bring the hungry babies to you in bed; when the feeding is over, he can change diapers and settle the infants back to sleep. During the day, nap when your babies nap, even if it's just a 20-minute snooze in the rocking chair.
Or try this favorite strategy of mine: Whenever my twins were asleep in their car seats after an outing, I'd park in the driveway, recline my seat, and take a nap with them.
Whenever your new life seems crazy despite your best efforts, keep in mind that things will soon calm down. Moms of multiples almost all agree that the first year is the most demanding. "Life gets easier with each milestone -- getting over colic, sleeping through the night, spacing out feedings. By the time your babies start amusing each other, the initial phase will be over," Dr. Pearlman says. And remember: Your hands are fuller than most parents', but so is your heart.
Copyright © 2000 Emily Perlman Abedon. Reprinted with permission from the November 2000 issue of Parents magazine.