Sometimes, a little advice from those who've "been there, done that" is just the thing you need to survive it yourself! Here, moms of multiples offer tried and true solutions to several unique challenges of life with infant twins, triplets or more.
Challenge No. 1: Postpartum Recovery
"Many mothers of multiples need physical therapy after delivery, and some may even need additional therapies or surgeries in order for their bodies to heal," says Maureen Doolan Boyle, a mother of triplets and executive director of MOST (Mothers of Supertwins) Inc., an international support network for families of multiples. "You also have to appreciate the possibility of postpartum depression. It's exceptionally high in moms of multiples."
What can you do to facilitate a smooth recovery? Make your health just as much a priority as the health of your babies. Force yourself to take every available opportunity to sleep — extreme exhaustion is dangerous to your physical and emotional well-being. Also keep a stream of people around you to prevent feelings of isolation, and pay close attention to any signs your body or mind might be sending you that something is wrong.
Challenge No. 2: Combat Isolation
Let's face it: You can only spend so many days at home with your babies before you need to get out. Still, taking your infants anywhere there are crowds (a shopping mall, baby class, even a child's birthday party) is not advisable during the months of October through April. That's RSV season, which stands for respiratory syncytial virus. In infants and children born prematurely (35 weeks gestation or less), RSV can cause serious respiratory tract disease, and multiples are at an increased risk.
How can you safely change the scenery? "Talking walks in your neighborhood is a great option," suggests Boyle. "Plus, you're close enough to home that you can get back fast if the babies get fussy." You can also invite company to come to you — just a few people at a time. Insist that everyone wash their hands with soap before handling the babies, and reschedule anyone who shows signs of illness.
It's also important for the main caretaker to have alone time, if possible. Becoming a parent is a major shock to the system, whether you're prepared or not. To keep your sanity, schedule an hour or two every few days to take a nap, a bath, a stroll through the mall or just a walk around the neighborhood. These little refreshers can go a long way.
Challenge No. 3: Getting Around
"Leaving the house with more than one baby is not something that happens at the spur of the moment. It's an event," says Boyle. "Pack the car with everything you'll need the night before. Also get your babies' outfits set, and try to time your departure somewhere between feedings, diaper changes and naps." And if you can, keep a second diaper bag packed with all the essentials and leave it in your car for unexpected trips you may have to make.
Here are some tips that can help make adventures with your babies a little smoother:
- Have a strategy for the pediatrician's office. The doctor's office will probably be the first place you venture out en masse, and you don't want to get stuck in the waiting room. Booking the doctor's first appointment of the day will put the odds in your favor. Also, many times you'll need to undress, re-dress, hold babies still, and even comfort them after shots. It can be overwhelming with just one baby, let alone multiples. So bring someone along to help you.
- Choose "one-stop" stores that can meet all your needs if you'll be taking your infants shopping, says Sheryll Greatwood, co-author of Mothering Twins (Fireside) and themom of twins. This way, you'll be most efficient with your shopping time and you'll only have to deal with getting in and out of the car once.
- Avoid the grocery store. Hands down, food shopping will be the hardest thing to do with your infants. So why torture yourself? If you absolutely must take the babies along, try this setup: Wear one baby in a baby sling and place the other in his infant carrier, which should fit snugly over the shopping cart's child seat. Some exceptionally brave moms have even been known to wear two criss-crossed baby slings to the supermarket. Or, to avoid this scenario all together, look into grocery delivery services in your area. For a small fee, grocery stores will gather and deliver your supplies right to your door, usually within 24 hours.
- Invest in a good stroller. "Look for a stroller that is quick and easy to set up and fold down, and be sure it is also sturdy and comfortable enough to hold growing children," says Greatwood. "A well-built, reliable twin stroller is not inexpensive, but it will save you the inevitable extra cost of having to replace a flimsy, poorly built one."
Challenge No. 4: Keeping Track of Who's Who
You're laughing now, but you'll see when your babies are born: Even when twins are fraternal it can be hard to tell them apart. Boyle, along with many others, is a proponent of assigning each baby a color and coding everything from clothing to cribs to bottles. She says, "I didn't realize how important our color-coding system was until I left my triplets with three volunteers so I could go to my postpartum checkup. I'd forgotten to tell them about the color system, and without it they accidentally fed one baby twice!" Color-coding has its perks, too: It's not uncommon for multiples to know their colors earlier than singletons.
Challenge No. 5: Bonding, Times Two, Three or More!
Learning to split your heart evenly in two, three or more doesn't happen overnight. So, at first, it's not uncommon to feel closer to one baby than the other(s), especially if your babies' hospital homecoming didn't happen all at once.
Try these tips for fitting in one-on-one time with each baby:
- Feed each child individually once a day. During feedings, make lots of eye contact and get skin-to-skin with your babies when possible.
- Take your time diapering. Visits to the changing table don't have to be rushed — singing, cooing, eye contact and smiling all make this count as quality time.
- Take naps together. Many pediatricians and even the American Academy of Pediatrics say it's OK to nap with babies in a bed that has a firm mattress; no soft bedding, pillows or blanket to get tangled in; and no space for getting caught between the mattress and the bedstead. Just make sure babies are a safe distance from the bed's edge. (Children's bed rails, which fit under the mattress and fold down when not in use, can provide peace of mind that your babies won't roll off the bed while you're co-sleeping.)