At times, our pediatric practice might have you thinking you’re seeing double. Not only do I have a set a twins (identical girls, turning 17 this year), but two of my partners in my practice also have twins. In fact, one partner has two sets of twins among her 5 children. And the town adjacent to ours, Naperville, Illinois, has long held the distinction of “twin capital of America.” So if there’s one thing my practice knows, it’s twins. For those of you who are expecting twins or have just delivered them, keep reading for some helpful tips on parenting twins.
It’s More Than Double the Work
My wife and I had two singletons (the technical name for having just one baby) before having twins, so we know the difference. I tell parents of twins that caring for infant twins isn’t just double the work, it’s logarithmically more. Feeding, diapering, dressing, napping, calming and doing everything else simultaneously for two is exhausting. So the first tip is to get some help. I don’t mean you need a live-in au pair, but just an extra pair of hands around the house can be immensely helpful, even if it’s just for a few hours a few days a week.
And you don’t always have to pay for this. Friends and family are willing to help (at least in the first few weeks) for free, because everyone understands that twins are a lot of work. After that initial period, look for help on the cheap: lots of teens and pre-teens are looking for volunteer opportunities to satisfy service club requirements or religious obligations. In many communities, you can post an ad for help online.
And it’s important before the twins arrive (if possible) to have a frank conversation with your spouse about parenting duties. One recent study showed that mothers of twins who were in a coparenting role had much less stress than mothers who did not have a coparent. If coparenting is not possible for you, then you really need some extra help, and extra support (see below).
Get By With a Little Help From Your Friends
It’s not just the physical help, but you need emotional support, as well. For the first year, my wife and I just tried to get through each day without a catastrophe. It’s draining, and you need support. That same study that showed the benefit of coparenting also showed that mothers of twins who had significant emotional support demonstrated less stress than those without such support. Interestingly, emotional support was not shown to be helpful for mothers of singletons, which shows how stressful parenting twins can be.
Support groups for parents of twins can be helpful. These are parents who understand exactly what it is you are going through. If you can’t find a support group in your area, some are available online.
Not the Same Person
It’s important to keep their identities separate. This is especially true if you have two of the same gender, even if they are not identical. From an early age, strive to establish and maintain their individuality: give them names that don’t sound alike, don’t dress them in the same outfit, give them individual and different gifts for birthdays and holidays. Even the way you refer to them is critical. My daughters still object when I (or anyone) refers to them as “the twins.” I know it’s just easier, and parents and family often don’t think anything of it, but it really bothers twins when they are mentioned in this way. Get in the habit of using their names from an early age.
If they are identical, you may need a special way to tell them apart. Look for a rogue freckle or birthmark so that you can differentiate them. If you can’t find a reliable way to do this, paint a toenail to signify one (just remember to write down which one has the telltale sign). For the first few months, we dressed one of my daughters in a pink outfit, and the other in some other color. This saved us the trouble of always looking for the birthmark we used to tell them apart.
And remember to take pictures of them individually, not always as a pair. You’ll appreciate it years later.
Stick to the Schedule
It helps to have a schedule for twins: when to eat, sleep, bathe, play. This is especially important for sleeping and eating. Although it is more challenging, it is certainly possible to exclusively breastfeed twins for the first several months. But however you feed, try to prepare everything you need before starting to feed. And if possible, feed them both at the same time. Otherwise, feeding them in succession and changing and putting them down takes so much time that it will be time to start feeding again soon after you finished one feeding.
And at night, if one wakes up to feed, wake the other one up to feed, too. This is one of the few times I recommend waking a baby to feed in the middle of the night, but it will save you some sleep if you do.
Twins are at risk for speech delay. This is due to a variety of factors: less time for the parents to devote to speech development, less opportunity for them to talk, older siblings who talk for them, and a habit for twins to speak to each other in their “own language.” So make sure you focus on developing their speech by talking and singing to them a lot, reading to them (and reading to each one individually, not just to both at once), asking them for responses from an early age (“can you say cup?”).
Twins garner a lot of attention. With that come some unexpected questions or comments. When my wife was far along in pregnancy, a curious cab driver asked if she was having twins. After she replied in the positive, he jokingly asked, “Did you have sex twice that night?” While this comment made us laugh, many others are intrusive or downright rude.
In these cases, it’s best to have a prepared answer. For example, you may hear, “Did you have IVF (in vitro fertilization)?” as twins are a common result of IVF. You can certainly respond with, “It’s personal” or “None of your business” or some other reply, but it may be better to not answer directly by saying, “We are very blessed to have twins.”
“Do twins run in your family?” is another question that is very common. I used to think it was a sly way of asking if we had some “help” with the pregnancy (like IVF), but I think the question reflects just how much a curiosity it is to have twins.
It Truly Is a Blessing
I can honestly say that parenting twins is a privilege. It’s been a wonderful experience every step of the way. Sure, the first years are hard, but after a while, it’s almost easier to have two than to have one. When our singletons were pre-school or school-aged children, running an errand or trying to get something done around the house was often difficult, because they demanded a lot of attention. But with twins, they always have each other for companionship or entertainment, so running errands with two 4 year-olds is easier than with just one.
It may be hard to believe that day will ever come if you have infant twins now, but it will. Those first few years are a lot of work, but don’t forget to enjoy it, too. As a wise mother with a large brood once told me, “The days are long, but the years fly by.”