If you’ve found out that you’re expecting multiples, be it twins, triplets or even more, then the chances are you’re struggling with mixed emotions. While you may feel blessed and happy on one level, on the other hand, you may be feeling scared too. As a midwife, I’ve worked with lots of multiple mums to be and have come to know that the main concern is ‘Will I be able to cope?’
The short answer is that yes, you will cope – parents of multiples always surprise themselves. But the long answer is that feeling confident about the arrival of your multiple babies is very much a question of preparation and planning.
This guide is dedicated to helping you do exactly that. I’m going to talk you through the main challenges involved with a multiple pregnancy and birth and then the challenges of caring for multiple newborns. While you may feel like all your expectations of motherhood have just been thrown out the window, I have plenty of useful advice and experience to pass on, to help you feel more confident and in control, allowing you to enjoy the process so much more. They often say multiples can be a handful, but I like to think of them as a heart-full instead.
If you’re facing a multiple pregnancy then you’ll already know something of the physical challenges. From back ache to SDP to fatigue and nausea, often all the troublesome pregnancy symptoms are exacerbated by having more than one baby on board.
When you’re carrying multiples you’re instantly classed as a ‘high risk’ pregnancy, which can feel worrying, but it’s to ensure that you and your babies get extra special care. You can expect more scans and appointments when you’re pregnant with twins, triplets or more, and actually, this extra surveillance can be helpful to prepare you by giving you access to more information – and, let’s not forget – more opportunities to see your babies on the ultrasound screen.
Once your babies are here, it’s a physical strain to care for multiple newborns. I’d advise you to spend part of your pregnancy putting in place a support system to help you to get through the physical challenges of the early days. Tiredness and soreness from the birth aren’t to be taken lightly. Arrange for your groceries to be delivered, hire a cleaner or ask a friend to clean for you for a little while. If you already have a maid or paid help at home, then make sure you’ve communicated clearly what you would like their assistance with when the babies arrive. It’s worth sitting down for a chat to talk through any new responsibilities or alterations to the way things are currently done, as having more than one baby around is undoubtedly going to change things! Minimise the exertion on your own body until you’ve recovered from the birth (and the pregnancy too!).
People talk a lot about arranging hands on help with multiples and it can feel like no one trusts you to be able to manage. The truth is that if you want to enjoy the experience more then it’s only sensible to ask for and accept offers of help. That’s not to say you’ll never be able to cope with all of your babies at once , all mamas are superwomen, and multiple mamas are no different.The thing you want to avoid is feeling unsupported or overwhelmed. Take each day at a time and if someone offers to give you a hand, there’s no shame in saying yes!
As well as all the feeding, changing and winding, there’s no end of sterilizing, cleaning and washing, drying and tidying to be done, not to mention finding time to shower, nap, or simply take a quiet moment for yourself. It’s a physically draining time so be sure to nurture yourself as well as your babies.
Studies show that a parent of 6-month-old triplets spends an average of 197hrs per week on child care and household chores – there are only 168 hrs per week – you do the maths! One person cannot do everything alone.
Luckily, help can be found in many forms – from asking a friend to prepare meals or look after older siblings to getting a cleaner (I highly recommend this!) to employing the services of a night nanny, midwife or maternity nurse. I’d recommend you enlist your family and friends to help you settle into the first few weeks. It’s going to be a blur of nappies and sleeplessness but this intense newborn phase really doesn’t last long.
Every woman needs time to recover physically from birth, but with a multiple pregnancy your chances of a C-section are raised and this is not an operation to be taken lightly. You will need to take some additional time to take it easy (as much as is possible), so make sure your partner or family or even a hired professional is available to assist you until you’re fully recovered.
Even if you don’t have a C-section, the strain of delivering two babies (or more!) and the effects of having carried a multiple pregnancy for eight or nine months, is extremely demanding on your body. Take time to heal.
I normally suggest that parents of multiples enlist some help a few weeks before their estimated due date or at least have a network ‘on call’ for when you do finally bring your babies home. This gives an extra peace of mind – and for parents expecting multiples, that really is incredibly valuable.
Other physical challenges associated with the constant feeding include the obvious – sleep deprivation. Sleep is sacred when you have multiple newborns to feed and settle at all hours. It can feel overwhelming, plus there’s the hormonal roller coaster that every new mum has to endure.
It can all sound rather terrifying and it’s true that it is a huge transition from thinking about becoming a mum to suddenly being a multiple Mama. But trust me when I say you will never feel more proud of yourself than when you see that your body has created multiple beautiful babies. In fact, you’ll probably never quite get over how amazing it is!
I’d definitely advise joining some multiple mum Facebook support groups. There are loads out there for different regions or towns as well as larger international groups about identical twins, boy/girl twins, triplet groups, and breastfeeding multiples. While you’re still pregnant get busy asking to join the groups that interest you most. Look for the ones where there the community seems supportive, rather than judgmental. The women you’ll meet in these forums are an invaluable source of strength, advice, and support – after all, they know exactly what you’re going through!
Becoming a mum is emotional. Expect tears! And not just your babies’! As a multiple mum to be you’re probably already experiencing a range of emotions from excitement to disbelief to fear. My experience of working with parents of twins, triplets or more has given me access to the unique emotional challenges that you’re likely to face.
I really want to stress that I’m not trying to scare monger with all this information about challenges and so forth, but rather I want to prepare you for the emotional ride ahead – because all these emotions and phases are entirely valid and normal, and knowing that these bumps in the road might be up ahead can only help you to feel more sane when/if they arise.
People often talk about the baby blues and with multiples this can be experienced more profoundly – there is twice (or more) as much to adapt to. Dads can suffer too. Talking is key to getting over these hurdles. Often with multiples, it can be much harder to get any sleep, or to leave the house, let alone participate in any of those fun baby groups you imagined when you still thought you were expecting a singleton! So, unsurprisingly feelings of isolation can often crop up.
Parents of multiples can feel like they are being spread too thin, are too tired and too stretched financially. Once your house suddenly fills up with multiple babies it can even feel like you’re losing your identity to babyland as you focus all your energies on motherhood. Again, this is totally normal, but having some help or committing to having some time out for yourself can be critical to feeling more positive about your new life.
It’s certainly a steep learning curve as you and your partner adapt to the new normal, so be kind to yourselves all along the way.
I’d advise you and your partner to take your time and talk about your fears about these scenarios before the babies arrive. Maybe even set some rules for yourselves as a couple so that you can make your relationship a priority after the multiples come along. The dynamic between you is going to be different and accepting that and preparing for it can only help you to feel stronger throughout the whole process.
If you’ve undergone fertility treatment, emotionally you may find yourself feeling like you can’t talk about your worries, stresses or frustrations because suddenly you don’t want to appear ungrateful. Please know that there’s no need to isolate yourself with these concerns, every parent is entitled to their feelings and discussing them is crucial for your mental health.
Another emotional hiccup can be the art of bonding with your babies. In the beginning, as it can feel more like a production line than the rose tinted image you had of skin to skin for hours on end. Many multiple parents I’ve worked with have said they worry about spending enough time with each baby, or even with other older siblings. I always say that there is no perfect way to parent. Getting through each day is what counts in the beginning, try and keep in mind that you’re doing the best that you can and that it’s enough. The time you spend with each baby or child will all even out in the end.
Every parent has their own way of preparing for raising multiples but I hope you find these tips useful as food for thought. They come from the first-hand experience I’ve had from working with many parents of multiples and are all intended to give you more choice, time or confidence.
Statistically, you’re more likely to have an early birth so get set for every eventuality:
1. Take multiple-birth-specific classes either in a group or one-on-one. Try to complete them early in case you end up having to have bed rest.
2. Get an early referral to health and social services that have experience with multiples.
3. Pack your hospital bag early so you have peace of mind should you go into labour ahead of schedule
4. Prepare to be flexible on your desired birth plan. Multiple births can be more complicated so have a frank discussion with your doctor or midwife about your chances of a C-section, premature birth, induction etc. You want as few surprises as possible. Studies show over 50% of twins and multiples end up as C-section. If you know you are going to have one, arrange to have help while you recover. Also, keep in mind that you or your babies may have to spend longer in hospital.
5. Talk to your doctor or midwife about what to expect from NICU as very often multiple babies require additional help and a short stay on an intensive ward while they gain strength. Multiple babies often have a lower birth weight and may need some extra help before they are allowed to go home. Understanding what could be involved will help you to mentally prepare should this scenario arise.
6. Focus on self-care and relaxation as much as possible before your babies arrive. You’ll need all the energy and strength you have once they’re here.
7. Contact a nutritionist early on in your pregnancy to ensure you’re meeting all your nutritional needs for both you and the babies.
I can’t recommend this highly enough! It’s so important for your peace of mind to set about finding a support group of multiple mums or mums to be.Having a network of other women going through the same challenges as you is incredibly empowering, so I’d advise seeking out multiple mums to be at pregnancy yoga classes, via parenting apps or real life meet ups to feel less alone as you embark on this adventure.
Some of my clients can feel like getting help means their ability as a parent is undermined, but on a hands-on level it is so important to make sure you have practical support in place so you can be the best parent you can be. Don’t forget that you need sleep and downtime too – and that can be incredibly difficult to come by when you have a few newborns to deal with.
Whatever type of help you enlist – be it friends, family or hired help, make sure you feel happy with a practical plan to put in place.
If you don’t have anyone who can help, there are community support workers and volunteers who are committed to supporting families with newborns. Discuss with your midwife or doctor the services which are available in your area.
I’ve seen different families manage multiples in so many different ways, but one thing that is always useful is allocating different tasks or routines to different people.
Perhaps your friend will pick up your older child from school in the first few weeks? Perhaps your partner will cook meals for the week on a Sunday or perhaps you’ll organize a breast pumping schedule or create a cleaning routine to charge a family member with. There is always something that needs to be done. Try writing a list anticipating the chores that will build up when the babies come along so that people can be more helpful when you need them.
I passionately believe that fed is best and that mother’s know what works for their individual circumstances. Feeding multiples definitely presents additional challenges for breastfeeding, but that’s not to say it’s impossible. It’s a matter of finding out what works for you and your babies. If you’re feeling unsure or intimidated about your feeding options it can be helpful to talk to an unbiased professional who can discuss the various different ways of feeding, from on-demand breastfeeding to exclusively expressed milk to combination feeding or formula feeding. The thing to remember is there’s no right or wrong. While pregnant, I’d recommend researching lactation consultants, private midwives, charities or support groups like La Leche League so you can easily have their details to hand for advice or support when your babies have arrived.
The good news is that breastfeeding is absolutely possible for mums of twins, triplets or even more but it’s certainly more challenging as you have more mouths to feed.
Physically, nursing can be particularly energy sapping for a mum of multiples. It’s worth researching combination feeding and supplementing with formula milk. There’s also the option of hiring a high-quality breast pump so that you can increase your supply and allow someone else to feed the babies with your milk, while you take a well-deserved rest.
You may want to look into organizing a session or two with a lactation specialist or a midwife postpartum so that you can start your breastfeeding journey with confidence. Each baby has to learn how to latch and it’s rarely as simple as it sounds. The most important thing is to feed your babies, no matter whether it’s from the breast, bottle, with formula, milk from donor milk banks or your own expressed milk.
Every parent I work with reminds me just how unique each family is. I know that what works for one might not work for another, but with multiples, I’m confident in saying that whatever happens, you will cope better with a routine.
There are all kinds of routines for multiples and you can find information about them in forums, books, websites and from maternity nurses and midwives, but the important thing I’d say, is not to expect it to click into place immediately. Newborns are notoriously self-interested and won’t give a hoot about sticking to a carefully researched routine. When they’re hungry they’ll want feeding, when they’re tired, they’ll want sleep.
Take the pressure off for the first few weeks and gradually get a feel for your newborns. Little by little you can start introducing regular routines, be it milk, wind, new nappy then sleep each time you put them down, until you’re able to build up a broader picture of how the day (and night) will break down.
I’d go as far as saying that sleeping and eating routines are essential and mostly because they allow you some valuable time off! The goal is to make sure the babies can feed and sleep within the same time frames so that you at least get some opportunity to have time for yourself (to drink something hot, to go to the bathroom or take a shower!)
Inevitably it’s easier said than done and babies work to their own agenda. Sometimes babies have different needs or require specialized care and may not be able to be on the same schedule. Accepting that you can’t have total control will go a long way.
I encourage all Mamas to celebrate the little things as they all add up to a bigger picture. Even if your babies have only managed to sleep half an hour at the same time, try to see it as a positive rather than berating the fact your babies aren’t following the routine rule book (the chances are they haven’t read it!).
Babies go through so much development in the first months of their lives that a routine is always in a state of change and believe me when I say you’ll soon get an intuitive feeling for what or when changes need to be made.
As part of any routine, especially with multiple newborns, it’s really useful to note down every feed, nap or nappy change – at least for the first few weeks. It will help you to see their natural rhythms and will also be information your health care providers will ask you for in follow up appointments.
Finally, it might sound like a cliché but I’m still going to say it because it’s true. When you have newborns try and sleep when they sleep. Sleep deprivation makes everything feel so much harder. Train yourself to grab some sleep whenever you get a chance – the washing can wait!
I know a lot of couples worry about the unexpected financial costs involved and it’s true everything seems so much more expensive. However, I believe parents often get pushed to buy a lot of products that aren’t essential and there are actually lots of savvy ways to limit costs.
1. Check out deals and discounts on line for regular items like nappies, wipes, and formula.
2. Buy pre-loved items. There are lots of local mum-to-mum selling groups on Facebook and more widely online. Prices are negotiable and you’ll be impressed with how little wear some things have had. I hate to say it but they don’t stay babies for long!
3. Do your research on the items that multiple mums have bought and used so you only invest in the things that are going to bring the most value to you.
4. Get advice on any benefits, childcare vouchers or maternity leave pay that you’re entitled to.
If you feel like there’s not enough of you to go round or not enough hours in the day, then this is all totally normal for any new mum. Especially a new mum of multiples! The aim of the game is survival, not perfection.
My advice would be to stop loading pressure on yourself and bypass the guilt trip. Flip negative thoughts by realizing how much of yourself you do give to others – like your babies in particular. Right now they’re the most important.
That’s not to say that other people like your partner or your family (or even you!) don’t matter – they do. Ask them to get involved with all aspects of caring for your babies and as soon as you’re ready, try and schedule someone to look after the babies for an hour while you and your partner take a moment to have a coffee in a café or a walk outside the house as just you two. These mini ‘mini breaks’ are incredibly rejuvenating.
If you do feel like it’s too much too cope with and that you’re struggling at times, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. If you suspect post-natal depression then you must talk to your health care worker or doctor. They can help give you the practical support and tools to recover.
Another thing that many parents of multiples (especially identical babies) worry about is the idea that their babies are not going to develop as individuals. There are lots of little things you can do to encourage their individuality, starting with choosing different clothing, toys, books and of course, unique sounding names. While they may be twins or triplets, they’re still most definitely individuals and will have their own cries, preferences, and habits. Encourage family and friends to see these differences and call them by their names rather than as a unit, like ‘the triplets.’
One thing they don’t teach you in the parenting books is just how much of an impact having children can have on your relationship. It’s an incredibly intense and disorientating time as you find your footing both as individual parents and as a parental unit. You may feel like you’re on a brand new planet – it’s life, but not as you know it.
It takes time to get into your stride and one thing that I find helps couples is carving out time each day to talk to each other. You’re on this journey together a long time and finding small moments to make each other a priority amid the daily chaos is incredibly important. Together you can help one another take stock of the accomplishments and hurdles you’ve managed to overcome.
There’s always fascination and interest whenever someone is expecting multiples, especially identical ones. While you might find it flattering on one level, after a while it can start to feel intrusive and may even add to your anxieties about having multiples.
Once they’re safely here you’ll no doubt soon find that everyone wants to stop and admire your brood and you’ll be surprised at how complete strangers feel comfortable asking intimate questions. It’s worth spending some time considering how open you’re prepared to be. If there are more than 3 babies you may also have to deal with media attention. Unsurprisingly, with everything else you have to get your head around, this kind of attention can feel overwhelming. Set some guidelines about what you’re happy discussing and maybe even go as far as preparing some answers to the kinds of questions you’re likely to be asked regularly. Speaking to other multiple mums will show you they also get exactly the same questions – you’re definitely not alone!
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