When it comes to multiples, more than one often means double (or triple, or even quadruple) the fun. That first magical smile, those sweet baby coos ... all of the good stuff comes in droves. Of course, the challenges of keeping pace with so many babies (multiple diapers, feedings and even tantrums) can sometimes overshadow the perks. Hence, it's important to master the day-to-day basics of tending to your bountiful new brood. The result: More time and energy for savoring the thrills they're sure to bring.
What's with the spike in multiples births? The increase is attributed to soaring rates of fertility drug and reproductive technology, such as in vitro fertilization, on the part of modern couples who have delayed starting a family, says John Moore, M.D., FAAP, a father of twins and assistant professor of pediatrics at Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine. Since female bodies hit their baby-making prime in their 20s, with fertility steadily declining thereafter, these couples rely on technology to dramatically enhance their chances of conceiving, making later-in-life parenthood a happy reality, explains Dr. Moore. How common is this trend? The most recent reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that the use of reproductive technologies has more than doubled over the last decade, resulting in over 25,700 multiples born in 2006 alone. That's a whole lot of twins and triplets making their debut!
As common and socially acceptable as having multiples might be, there can still be a negative perception about what the experience of raising multiples is actually like. Sure, to some it may seem like a one-way ticket to the land of stress and exhaustion (and there are days when moms of multiples would certainly agree), but these powerhouse mothers can handle, and even transcend, the day-to-day challenges of handling their ample offspring. After all, these women are ninjas of efficiency: The scheduling precision, budgetary thrift and organizational prowess required to pull off even a simple run to the grocery store with multiples in tow should qualify these parents as Donald Trump's next apprentice. So, walk tall, new moms of multiples; you can do this! Armed with pertinent information from some of the nation's top experts, as well as tried-and-true tips from others in the moms-of-many trenches, you'll be leaping over the hardest hurdles of managing multiples in no time.
It's the "big gun" challenge of managing multiples: how to feed all the little hungry birds efficiently. The "breast is best" philosophy endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) becomes even more important when feeding multiples. Data from the National Center for Health Statistics reveals that approximately 60 percent of twins and nearly all high-order multiples are born prematurely. As a result of less time in the womb and nutrients from mom being shared among several infants, more than half of twins and almost al high-order multiples are also born with low birth weight (LBW) of less than 5.5 pounds. Breast milk provides the crucial nutrition and antibodies LBW preemies need to gain weight, stay healthy and ultimately thrive. But, good intentions aside, exactly how does a new mom pull off breastfeeding twins, triplets or more? "Premature babies can have challenges latching on and nursing, so seek support from a lactation consultant at the hospital," says Maureen Doolan Boyle, a mom of triplets and executive director of the national support organization Mothers of Supertwins (MOST).
As for the mechanics of how to feed multiple babies, try different methods until you find one that works for you, but remember: Flexibility is key. "Every drop of breast milk you give your babies is a gift," says Doolan Boyle.
For Katie Hardee, a mom of triplet boys in St. Louis, that method started as a rotating system of feeding two babies on breast and then giving the third baby expressed milk in a bottle. "When they were little, it was easy for me to nurse individually, since the other babies would sleep the whole time," says Hardee. "But at around three months, they started to realize that I was feeding another sibling. They would start screaming and want their turn. At that point, I had to be flexible. I started to nurse just one baby on breast, while simultaneously bottle-feeding the other two pumped milk or formula. I made it work."
Dr. Moore emphasizes establishing proper latch-on techniques with each baby first before attempting complicated tandem-feeding techniques. "Start with one baby at a time, just alternating the order in which they nurse," he explains. "It takes more time, but establishing successful latch-on and suckling techniques is essential for long-term nursing success, especially with preemies." Once each baby has gained weight and is nursing well, then moms can graduate to tandem feeding.
There are three basic techniques typically used, according to Dr. Moore. First, the "football" hold: one baby on each side of your body, feet pointing behind you, babies cradled to your side like a football. The second is the "crisscross," where babies are cradled across the front of you in an X formation. The third is a hybrid hold: one baby in a football position and the other cradled across you. "It can become quite a complex dance," says Dr. Moore. "Be patient and kind to yourself. The key is to remain flexible. Remember that pumping and supplementing with formula are options; otherwise just take it day by day and do the best you can."
The old adage "never wake a sleeping baby" may go right out the window when you have multiples. Shelly Vaziri Flais, M.D., FAAP, a pediatrician outside Chicago, Illinois, mother of four -- including twin boys -- and the author of Raising Twins: From Pregnancy to Preschool, says having all your babies on the same schedule is the fastest way to restore order to your happy home. "When one baby wakes up, you simply have to wake the others as well," says Flais. "You may feel guilty at first, but newborns quickly begin to feel the sleep/wake pattern and adapt. Once they do, they are ultimately happier and healthier, and you maintain your sanity."
Though they look adorably cute cuddled up together, the AAP cautions against co-bedding multiples in order to eliminate the associated risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). "Having them sleep separately worked best for us," says Amanda Nethero, a mom of 23-month-old fraternal twins. "The nurses established the pattern of them sleeping separately in the hospital nursery, but we wanted the twins to be near each other. Our solution was to put them in separate cribs in the same room. That way the babies slept separately but could still see and hear one another."
Nethero found that separate cribs also helped her attend to the specific sleep needs of each of her babies. "My son suffered from reflux, so keeping him separate was necessary in order to use the crib wedge to help keep him comfortable. We found swaddling his twin sister using the exact technique used in the hospital was the key to getting her to fall asleep." (Note: Because of the correlating increased risk of SIDS, the AAP recommends against placing any objects in a baby's crib including those that modify sleep posituons, but recognizes a few exceptions to this recommendation for babies with certain medical conditions. Discuss your individual circumstances with your pediatrician.)
In the hustle and bustle of tending to the physical needs of your mini-mes, finding time to actually bond with each individual baby can feel like a challenge. "The truth is, people really do bond one-to-one," says Dr. Moore. "Try spending a little individual time with each baby every day, but don't feel daunted or guilty if this doesn't happen right away when the collective needs of the babies require so much of your attention." Dr. Moore and his wife used late-night feeding time to bond one-on-one with their twins. "Some of my fondest memories of their infancy were nights when my wife and I were both up at 3 a.m. together. We would each tend to one of the babies individually to bond with them, but it also gave my wife and me quiet moments to just talk and bond with each other."
Courtney Kowalchuk, a mother of 4-month-old twin girls, says she and her husband also use this divide-and-conquer approach to baby bonding. "When my husband is home, we take turns giving the girls individual time," says Kowalchuk. "We each hold and focus on one of the babies after they're done feeding or during playtime on the floor. The babies really enjoy it and seem to seek that individual attention. Their behavior can be a bit off whenever that one-on-one attention doesn't happen." Dr. Moore encourages moms to do their best with bonding but to remember that each baby's unique personality will blossom as they get closer to three months of age, the same time that day-to-day demands of physical care start to level off. Cultivating a deep, caring and unique bond with each one of your little darlings will get easier and more natural as that process unfolds.
Expand your Social Network
With so many details and demands to attend to, it's easy for new moms of multiples to feel overwhelmed. Support from multiples-specific parenting groups and online forums can provide invaluable advice and we're-in-the-trenches-together camaraderie. "I desperately felt the need for support," says Bettina McCormick, a mother of fraternal twins in Orlando, Florida. "My husband is amazing. I couldn't ask for better from him, but sometimes you just need to talk to other women." In addition to attending a weekly lactation meeting and a general new moms' group that included moms of singletons, McCormick actively sought advice and encouragement specific to her mom-of-multiples experience. She participated in a multiples-specific online forum and also became a member of her local Mothers of Twins Club (which assigned her a Big Sister to serve as a friendly, empathetic source of this-is-how-I-did-it advice). "The multiples group was particularly helpful," says McCormick. "The resources and having people to talk to were great, but it was knowing that I wasn't alone that really made a huge difference."
In addition to providing general support and encouragement, moms of multiples groups also typically offer workshops and guest speakers, outings and playgroups, group discounts, consignment events, coupon-swaps and easy access to a wealth of new friends who can relate to your experience. "Only a fellow mom of multiples truly knows what your world is like," says McCormick. To find a moms-of-multiples support group in your area visit nomotc.org or babytalk.com. For a great multiples-specific online forum check out twinstuff.com.
3 Ways to Save, on the Double!
It Never Hurts to Ask
Baby-friendly businesses like Babies R Us offer discounts for multiples, but did you know that discounts, typically at least 10 percent, can also be had at photo studios (JCPenney Portraits), play centers (Gymboree) and clothing stores (Carter's and Payless Shoes)? For a list of companies offering deals, visit the Multiple Birth Products section of mostonline.org.
Standard baby product samples are sized for singletons. So make like Oliver Twist and ask for more (please!). Call the manufacturer's toll-free number and request multiple samples. They're almost always happy to oblige. To see a list of baby-product manufacturers and their contact information created by other moms of multiples, visit forums.parenting.com.
Before your house is overrun with stuff, keep in mind that you're bringing home individuals with their own preferences and personalities. One baby may love dozing off in the swing, but another may not. So, don't stock up on multiples of pricey products. That said, remember that you only have two arms -- and at some point they'll need a break.
Stuff you need
-A crib for each baby, or if you want your baby closer to your own bed, separate co-sleepers for each. Arm's Reach offers a wide selection, including a few space-saving mini versions. (armsreach.com)
-A breastfeeding pillow made especially for nursing two babies at once. A popular choice is Double Blessings' EZ-2-Nurse Twins pillow. (doubleblessings.com)
-Multiple bouncy chairs and, later, multiple stationary activity centers. You'll need a place to safely secure your kids while you do all those things you need to do, like dishes, laundry and going to the restroom.
-A stroller designed to carry your brood.
Stuff you don't
-Separate play mats. Instead, create different zones -- bouncy chair, ExerSaucer, play mat, etc. -- and rotate your babies through them throughout the day.
-Full-size high chairs. Save room by picking up more compact options like travel high chairs.
-A rocking chair or glider. Your giant nursing pillow won't fit, so try a small loveseat instead.
-Multiple swings. They're pricey and not all infants enjoy them, so wait. If you find out that it's the only thing to get Babies A and B to sleep, then buy another.
-A pack 'n' play. Use the crib for naps and your bed or changing table for diapering. Save your money and invest in a play yard (the North States Superyard XT works well). You'll thank yourself when they start walking. (babiesrus.com)