Are you beyond excited (and more than a little nervous) because you're having twins, triplets, or even quads? We've compiled everything you need to know so you can relax and enjoy double (or triple) Bonding.
Cribs Many parents of multiples swear by "co-bedding" -- putting siblings to sleep together in the same crib for the first few months. But this practice is not recommended by the First Candle/SIDS Alliance, the nonprofit group dedicated to reducing the rate of sudden infant death syndrome. Laura Reno, a spokesperson for the group, says that you don't know when an infant will begin rolling over, and if he can burrow his face into his brother or sister, there could be a higher SIDS risk.
Play stations You'll need a bouncy seat for each child, and, once they can sit up, individual stationary walkers, too. Obviously, a big challenge is holding your tots at the same time, and your aching arms and back will often be grateful for safe repositories.
Clothing Buy undershirts, bodysuits, bibs, and socks in bulk! Gerber Onesies are available in convenient multipacks. Get items in the preemie or 0-3 months size, since multiples tend to be smaller at birth than singletons. Make sure they're unisex, so boys and girls can share.
Stroller Models for multiples are notorious for being space hogs, but the Graco Duo Glider folds easily to fit inside your car. Another choice is a stroller that allows you to attach infant car seats. Look into the Safety 1st Two Way Tandem (the seats swivel so twins can face each other), the Peg Perego Duette or Triplette, or the Double (or Triple) Decker Stroller. City moms will want a narrow ride. Maclaren and Combi both make strollers for multiples that are surprisingly easy to maneuver on crowded streets.
Carriers MaxiMom makes carriers in twin and triplet versions. If you have twins and your budget allows, you can also buy two single carriers for outings with Dad.
For shopping details on all of these products, see Resources, page 112. Also, the store is mostonline.org has a good selection for multiples.
Lining up support
You might not think of support as something to plan for in advance, but with multiples, calling in the reinforcements early is a necessity. Help can take many forms. If relatives or friends volunteer to pitch in, don't hesitate to accept. If you can afford it, hiring a postpartum doula or night nurse for the grueling first few weeks can make all the difference. Or have your mother and mother-in-law take turns helping out. Consider connecting with a support group. The National Organization of Mothers of Twins Clubs (NOMOTC, nomotc.org) has almost 500 clubs across the nation and provides resources for parents of twins, triplets, and beyond. Many have special groups for brand-new parents, and some will even recruit members to bring dinner or babysit in teams of two. Don't wait until the third trimester to start lining up the reinforcements. Almost 60 percent of twins are born early, so you'll want friends, family, or paid help to be on alert a month or two before your due date, just in case. It's also helpful to read up on caring for preterm infants.
Many mothers of multiples wind up striking a happy medium, nursing as much as they can while also supplementing -- with pumped breast milk, formula, or both. Whatever combination you choose, keep a notebook and jot down who eats what when so you can make sure each baby is getting enough.
Try to get the twins as close to the same schedule as possible by feeding both when one is hungry. "It's more time-efficient and helps increase milk production," says Joan Y. Meek, M.D., director of the pediatric residency training program at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children & Women in Orlando, FL, and editor of the American Academy of Pediatrics' New Mother's Guide to Breastfeeding. This works better if your babies are similar in size; if one is much smaller than the other, she may need to eat more frequently than her larger sibling.
Try nursing both twins at once right away because it helps bring the milk in, but don't get discouraged if it doesn't work immediately. Some moms swear by the "cross-cradle" position, in which the babies rest on a pillow with their legs intertwined, while others do better with a "double football," in which each baby gets tucked beneath an arm. Alternate the side that each baby feeds on, as one baby may have a stronger suck and you want both breasts to receive the same stimulation, advises Marianne Neifert, M.D., the author of Dr. Mom's Guide to Breastfeeding. A twin nursing pillow, like the EZ-2-Nurse Twins Inflatable Nursing Pillow, is pretty much essential. Nurse higher-order multiples one at a time to help you avoid the pitfall of bonding with them as a unit rather than as individuals.
You may want to breastfeed exclusively for a few weeks to establish the habit before beginning with supplemental bottles. Have Dad or Grandma introduce the bottle, as many babies will reject it if they know the breast is close at hand. This may persist, even when you are consistently bottle-feeding, so you might want to continue having Dad offer a bottle in another room (making sure to trade off so each baby gets a fair share of breast milk). An excellent book for mothers of two or more is Mothering Multiples: Breastfeeding & Caring for Twins or More! by Karen Kerkhoff Gromada ($15; available at lalecheleague.org).
Sharing night duty is crucial, even if one parent is going to work in the morning -- the stay-at-home parent has a hard day's work ahead as well. Try to get on a schedule and stick with it.
Orchestrating that schedule, though, requires near-military precision. Nursing moms often pump so their husband can give a bottle at night, or they supplement with formula. Many couples wind up taking shifts: Each parent is on one night, off the next. A twist on this idea is that each parent claims responsibility for a particular feeding. That way, both Mom and Dad get four to six hours of sleep in a row.
For many families, figuring out how to maximize parental sleep is a process of trial and error. My husband and I eventually discovered that taking turns feeding our twins worked best in the early months; later on, as the feedings stretched out and our babies develped their own individual patterns, we each took care of one child throughout the night (and got so attuned to "our" baby's needs that we didn't even wake when the other one cried.)
Don't be shy about asking visiting relatives to take a shift: If you go to bed right after the 9 p.m. feeding, your mother-in-law takes the midnight shift, and your husband handles the 3 a.m. call, you might actually all manage to get something resembling a full night's sleep. If you can afford one, a night nurse can be very helpful during the early weeks.
Out and about
By the time she made it out of the house after her kids were born, recalls Mary Adcock, former executive vice-president of NOMOTC and the mother of identical twins, "roads had changed, stores had moved, and life had gone on." Finding a window of opportunity in between naps and feedings is such a challenge that many moms wait weeks or even months before they cross the threshold. But it's worth the effort to get out. "Getting the babies out the front door can change your whole mood," says Adcock. "It can change their mood, too, because they're seeing something different." For major expeditions (say, lasting an afternoon), or any outing once your children are mobile, nothing beats bringing a friend along to act as an extra pair of hands. For solo outings, decide what mode of transport will make things easier. Sometimes a stroller will be best -- a trip to the mall or a nice long walk to the park -- while a carrier is well suited for a dash to the corner store. However you get outside, do it, because watching the world react to your bundles of joy is something you don't want to delay.
Maureen Doolan Boyle, executive director of Mothers of Supertwins (MOST) and a mother of triplets, offers tips for preparing for, and surviving, the supertwin challenge.
Color code Boyle suggests assigning each baby a primary color and then matching as much as possible -- crib bedding, clothing, bottle tops, medications -- to that color. Jen Geoffroy, a mom of one-year-old identical triplets from Long Island, NY, keeps items such as cribs, dressers, and walkers in the same order. "Alexa's things are usually first, followed by Nicole's, and then Rachel's," she says.
Prepare for early arrivals Getting ready to care for premature babies is essential when you're carrying higher- order multiples. Boyle advises expectant parents to tour their hospital's neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and meet the staff before they deliver. This will reduce the "scare factor" of seeing your babies in the NICU after they are born.
Ready the troops Many moms of supertwins find that visits from relatives are simply not enough. Boyle recruited members of her church group to help hold and feed her babies when they were small. Geoffroy used an au pair to help with household chores, while she, her husband, Glenn, and 9-year-old daughter, Danielle, took care of the babies. Boyle suggests connecting with other families of higher-order multiples; MOST (mostonline.org) offers web forums.
Count your blessings
"One of the biggest bangs I've ever had as a parent," says Patricia Malmstrom, coauthor of The Art of Parenting Twins, "was observing their dawning consciousness of who the other is. One twin looked over at the other one asleep beside her with an expression that said, 'Aha! How could this be better?'" Looking at each other becomes talking to each other, and then giggling over jokes only they seem to understand. By then, your adaptive memory loss will have kicked in, and the grueling early months will be a distant blur. "Aha!" you'll think. "How could this be better?"