Sunday, February 20, 2011

Advice for Parents-to-Be of Multiples

I've been thinking a lot lately about what advice specific to twins I would give to parents-to-be of multiples since my friend, Helene, is pregnant with twins. Here goes. (These posts might also be of interest.)

1) Be ready early.

Whenever anyone tells me they're expecting twins the first thing I say is "Not to scare you but..." And what follows is this: "be ready early." Twins tend to come about a month early, and among twin moms I know, easily over half had pre-term labor scares that led to about two months of bed rest. Just like me! Once you're on bed rest, it's hard to get the nursery ready or do all the other nesting projects you had planned (and once you give birth it's impossible), so in the sage words of Larry the Cable Guy, "git-R-done."

"Work on that nursery! I mean, git-R-done!"

And bed rest actually isn't actually that bad. I had a laptop so I didn't have a problem with boredom. What bothered me the most was the isolation.

2) Join a twins group.

I joined Gemini Crickets, the twins organization for Silicon Valley. (There is also Mid-Peninsula Parents of Multiples.) Their dues are $40 a year but I made up for the membership fee even before I gave birth by getting free or greatly reduced gear from other members. Plus, they have several garage sales a year for twin parents. (At one of their garage sales I scored a $5 music table and cute outfits for $1 each). The best thing though about being in a twins group is their online forum. I've gone there to ask all sorts of baby-related questions. And it's a good place to get playdates with other twin moms.

3) Notebooks are your friend.

Keep a notebook to write down feedings, diaperings, etc. Trust me, with two babies you will lose track. This is really only necessary until they eat on a schedule, but until then it's hard enough to remember on your own, let alone not know what happened during the shift before yours when you were asleep. It also helps in answering doctor questions the first few months about how much the babies are drinking and how many wet and poopy diapers they're producing.

4) Masking tape is also your friend.

Put masking tape on bottles so you can write on it to keep track of whose is whose and how much is inside.

What the inside of our refrigerator used to look like. Bottles go in the middle, formula on the left, milk goes on the right. Chinese takeout and pickles apparently went on the far left.

5) Do the best you can with nursing but don't kill yourself.

I was lucky my mom lived with us for several months and my mother-in-law came to visit often because I wouldn't otherwise have been able to give my babies breastmilk. For something that's so natural, nursing is surprisingly hard! Babies that are premature aren't as good as sucking and that was the case with my brood. Working with a lactation consultant (a lot!) who weighed my babies at 10 minute intervals during an hour of nursing, she determined that each one needed to be nursed for 20-30 minutes (after that they were pretty much just hanging out on my boobs), followed by a bottle. After that I would pump. Let me tell you, in the early days babies often need to be fed every 2 hours. That meant by the time I finished the first cycle of feeding each baby and pumping it was pretty much time to start all over again. Thankfully I had a lot of help. I bought a twin nursing pillow but was rarely able to get them latched and keep them latched. It was definitely a two person effort, but with babies that latch well it's definitely doable.

In case you're wondering, Julia (my better sucker) rejected the breast at 2 1/2 months and James at 4. After that I pumped in all my spare moments. I can remember not eating lunch until 3:30 on more than one occasion because when I did have a spare moment earlier in the day, I pumped. And I pumped and I pumped and I pumped - even during my Jeopardy taping (well, not during MY episode) - for nine months. I had an undiagnosed infection that made pumping very painful so I had to keep lessening the suction accordingly, and then eventually I was only making 1/6 of one baby's total milk for the day, and decided it was no longer worth it.

Sometimes I felt like I birthed a litter.

6) Buy your maternity pants at Motherhood with the comfy full belly panel.

I bought some maternity jeans at Old Navy early on and had to abandon them after a few months because they did not get big enough for a big ol' twin belly.

It's not good when you have to use office supplies to keep your pants together, though to be fair the pair on the left weren't maternity pants. On the right are my Old Navy pants - which were good at the time - but I outgrew them two months after I bought them.

It may look like I'm wearing granny panties but i'm oh so comfortable.

7) Your babies will be dirty but it's not a bad thing.

Julia may look cute but she stinks to high heaven.

You can crawl but you can't hide from the stench, James!

Don't feel bad if you only bathe your babies once a week. Early on, even with another person to help you, it's hard to fit in baths and have the energy to bathe your babies between the constant feedings and the crying and the holding. When you're on your own it's very difficult to bathe two. In theory you could use two bath seats, but that only works if you have a shower curtain instead of shower doors (no dice in our house). And if you bathe them one at a time you can't keep an eye on the other baby. So I've decided to just wait until the weekends when Mark can help. They're babies - despite my captions on the pictures above, they don't smell. It's not like they do triathlons between poopings. You really just have to worry about keeping their creases clean (and you can clean the neck fat rolls with a washcloth outside the bath if you need to.) An informal poll among twin moms I know shows that a majority opts to bathe their munchkins once a week. It'll be nice when my twins are a little older and they can both sit in the tub safely, because I feel bad now keeping them from something they enjoy.

8) Schedule!

After the on-demand feedings of the first several months are over, definitely put your twins on a schedule. This is why: if they don't nap at the same time you never get a break. (This is one reason singleton parents are really lucky - if their little one doesn't want to nap at a certain time, they can just try again later. With twin parents, if you put both babies down and only one sleeps, it's the "Oh crap!" heard round the world.)

9) Feed them at the same time.

The other reason to put your twins on a schedule: you want them to have their feedings at the same time. For a long while, I resisted feeding them at the same time, thinking that when I'd take the bottles away to burp my little ones (a process that could take several minutes with my babies since they were prone to spitting up) there would be a lot of crying. But actually, once they had 1/3 to 1/2 a bottle, they were fairly content to wait for their turn to burp.

How to bottle feed them at the same time? Two Boppies. I know you'll be tempted to get the giant twin nursing pillow, and by all means, get that. But Boppies are wonderful for so many purposes, one of which is to prop up two babies and then hold a bottle in each one's mouth. The first half of the feeding, I'd turn on the TV and it was beautifully silent in the apartment (except for the TV of course) for about six minutes. (For Mark's advice for making large batches of formula, see the comment at the end of this post.)

This is how it's done! (Thanks, Stacy, for the photo!)

I returned home and had to piece together what happened with Mark and the babies. (Something like: they fell asleep on the sofa in the Boppies but Mark needed to leave the room and didn't want them to fall off the sofa.)

At a park playdate you can also feed your twins at the same time by putting them in their car seats. For this visit I employed some cheap child labor.

What to do if their feeding times are significantly off? Go on a walk! Miraculously, babies forget they're hungry while they're on a walk, so the baby who woke up early won't fuss that they're eating later. (What to do if their feeding times are off by an hour and a half and they have feedings every three hours? Give up. Your day is officially ruined.)

10) Keep your sanity by getting a Mother's Helper.

Get a mother's helper during the first six months, maybe even nine months. There were times the first six months - especially the first three - when my mom and I would be in tears at the end of the day, and there were two of us! A mother's helper takes care of babies as well as household tasks. It meant my mom and I could take a break, one of us could go run errands, we could eat a leisurely lunch at home, etc. I found our mother's helpers through the Alpha Phi sorority at Santa Clara University, and I cracked the whip over them for three hours stretches a couple times a week at a rate of $10-12 / hour. A bargain for my sanity.

11) Get an Exersaucer and a Jumperoo. I would put the babies in these for only 15 minutes at a time (since there were studies that these contraptions might impede their physical development), and it would give me peace to scarf down my lunch.

Both babies occupied means Mommy gets to eat.

Gear (obviously borrow and buy stuff used as much as you can):

I used the book Twin Sense to help figure out how many items I might need of certain vital items.
(It also has useful advice on how to set up two babies to nurse at the same time while on your own.)

Julia's finished pop-up books and has moved on to reading about how to raise herself.

I'm not going to go through the entire baby gear list (obviously you know you need diapers and such), but for some you're not sure of, here's my input:

-Boppy pillows (2)
-Washcloths (20). Besides being useful for baths, when the little ones started eating solid foods (3 times a day) and snacks (2 times a day), I found I needed to wash their faces afterwards nearly every time.
-Crib sheets (4) and waterproof pads (4).
-Lightweight Blankets (12). They're good for propping up the middle of Boppy pillows for feedings, rolling up to form around baby heads in car seats, and rolling up and putting next to sleeping babies when they're first born (I later discovered SwaddleMe and preferred them for swaddling.).
-A really big lightweight blanket to cover the whole stroller (1). This is good for meals out or during walks to help them sleep the first several months. It's also good as a photo backdrop on a bed.
-Thermometer (1)

Blankets for going around the car head rest.

Big ticket items:

-Pack N Play (1) They can both sleep in here at first. Later you can move one/both to cribs. We didn't use the bassinets long but it was only because we preferred the Pack N Play. (Note: I bought one with a diaper change station and a Newborn Napper but since both twins slept here and I couldn't access those items, those options were wasted.) My little ones both slept in the Pack N Play for several months until James started rotating in the middle of the night to rest his head against Julia's feet. I was worried she might kick him so at that point I separated them.
-Crib (2) You don't need this right away and of course you'll eventually want two. Some babies sleep in the same crib for a long time. Then there are mine who keep each other awake and now have to sleep in separate rooms.
-Double Snap N Go stroller frame (1) and SnugRide car seats (2) since they'll snap into the frame
-Bob Duallie Jogging Stroller (1) for when they're older (if you're inclined to jog)

My newborns sharing the Pack N Play. And keeping the blanket industry alive.

You want to make as many "stations" as you can, where they will entertain themselves (usually for about 10 minutes if you're lucky). You only need one of each of these stations because the other twin can be using another station. The only exception is an activity mat. Two activity mats are preferable since they spend the most time here of any station the first several months. Your stations could include: activity mat, bouncy chair, swing, the floor with toys, car seat with arch of toys; and later, Exersaucer, Jumperoo, and Bumbo seat with tray.

James playing on his quilt.

The babies in their Bumbo seats. (I wish I'd gotten the Bumbos with trays so they could play with toys instead of dropping them and instead grabbing their sister's foot for amusement. Then again I got them free through Gemini Crickets so I can't really complain.)


  1. Wow, what a great post! This had to have taken you forever to compose. I ditto all these things. I totally should have located one of those mother's helper gals. What a great idea... not even sure if they have such a thing in my area, but it would be awesome for new moms.

    It's been awhile since I commented (under a new profile/blog this time around), but your kids are, of course, still as cute as ever. I love that your daughter's exciting expressions have stuck with her. And Mark's sofa ordeal is too funny. You all have such a fun family!


  2. Cathy, it's grea to hear from you.

    I definitely wish I'd discovered the existence of mother's helpers earlier. (I've heard of people even using neighbor 13 year old girls as helpers.)

    Yes, our Julia is quite the ham when it comes to making expressions! :)

  3. Mark's advice for making large batches of formula:

    If you're making formula, make it in bulk (or at least as large a batch as you can go through in a day or two). We used to make the bottles as needed and to measure the powder and shake it till it dissolved took so much time. Eventually I got a 32oz (and, later, a 64oz) tupperware-style pitcher and would make batches with one or two cups of powder at a time. Also, if you shake the pitcher some, let it sit in the fridge for an hour or two, and then shake it some more, it's easier than trying to make it all dissolve in one round of shaking.