Finding out you are pregnant with not one, but two, three or more babies is quite a shock! Once you start thinking about the reality of a multiples pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum, you may feel downright panicked. Having realistic expectations and doing some advance planning will help. Many multiples are born early and spend time in the NICU. But eventually, they will come home and you will find yourself in a haze of feeding, diapering and soothing those babies.
As a mother of multiples and a postpartum doula, I’ve found a few ways to ease the struggle and help you prepare for newborn multiples. Here are five of them:
1. Arrange for help.
After your babies arrive you should have two priorities: resting and getting to know your babies. These two things are more than full time jobs. So what about everything else? Feeding yourself, caring for your other children, doing dishes and laundry, stocking up on diapers, cleaning the house? These things need to be done, but not by you.
Preparing for multiples means outsourcing.
Don’t try to do it alone. As local therapist, Mary Martina says, “you are not a village.” Find someone to coordinate a meal train. Set up a schedule of people to come by to snuggle the babies while you rest. Kestrel Gates, author of Build Your Nest, suggests that you set-up a “kid train” of playdates for your other children.
If you are still pregnant, ask for help on your baby registry. When you are asking for friends and family to pitch in, be very specific about what you need and when. Even with the safety protocols we all have to follow right now, there are still ways to receive socially distanced help from friends and family. If your family and friends aren’t local or are likely to make things more stressful, register for gift cards for services. Consider a postpartum doula, a housecleaning service, a meal planning/ delivery service, or gift cards to local take out restaurants.
If money is tight and you don’t have a local network to rely on, ask for resources from places where you already get help. Try your doctor’s office, WIC office, your church or Families First in Portsmouth.
2. Find a community.
Other parents of multiples can be your biggest allies. They understand your challenges and how to prepare for newborn multiples. And parents of multiples know that judgement and parent shaming has no place when juggling twins, triplets, or quads. If you don’t have any friends with multiples, find some.
With all the Covid restrictions in place right now, you will likely have to start with a virtual community. Join the NH Mothers of Twins Facebook group. Check out the Seacoast Area Mothers of Multiples. This group will allow you to request a parent mentor. And starting this month, I am running a Parents of Multiples virtual parent/ baby group through Relief Parenting Respite and Resource Center.
3. Keep it simple.
There are million products marketed to new parents. When you are desperate to get your babies to sleep or eat or stop crying, it is so easy to believe that the right stuff will help. “Maybe if I just find the right pacifier I can get 3 hours of uninterrupted sleep!” Sadly, this is rarely the case. Keeping it simple will actually make your life easier.
As a parent of multiples, you need the basics and a few extras. Get the double stroller. If you want to breastfeed, get the twin breastfeeding pillow. Stock up on lots of diapers for sure. And don’t underestimate convenience. If one baby is soothed by a swing, get a swing; if a bedside co-sleeper will make night feedings easier, buy it.
Also, remember that stuff is not going to magically solve all your struggles with your babies. So what will? Most likely, time. And lots and lots of help (see # 1).
4. Figure out the logistics.
When you prepare for newborn multiples, know that having more than one newborn presents different logistical challenges than having a singleton. Preparing for twins or multiples means thinking ahead. You will not be able to anticipate them all, but the more you can figure out in advance, the easier it will be. Get your car seats installed early. Think about how you will get two or three or four babies from the house into the car. Whether you want to nurse or bottle feed, research ways to feed multiple babies at the same time. Look for pictures of people actually doing it. Figure out how long your parental leave will be. Explore your childcare options if you are going back to work.
Having more than one baby at a time can get expensive. If your budget doesn’t stretch far enough to get what you need, check out used gear or reach out to your community of parents of multiples to see if someone has what you need that you can borrow or purchase used.
Speaking of that community, if this all feels overwhelming, talk to those other parents of multiples. At the very least, they will reassure you that there are lots of ways to make it all work.
5. Stay flexible.
You were determined to breastfeed? Swore your children would always sleep in their cribs? Everyone told you that you had to have the babies on the same schedule? But now that you have multiple newborns at home, it isn’t working for you. What are you doing wrong? Probably nothing. Caring for more than one newborn at a time is hard. And all babies have their own personalities. And all families have their own set of circumstances.
The most important guideline for a family preparing for multiples is: Do what works for your family. Then ignore unhelpful advice.
As La Leche League tells parents, “You’ll see things you like and things you don’t like. Try what you like and leave the rest.” Also, fight the urge to compare your babies or your parenting or your life to anyone else’s. There will always be families that seem to have it more together than yours does. As Jill Churchill says, “There is no way to be a perfect mother and a million ways to be a good one.”
Truthfully, the first year of your multiples’ life is likely to be hard. On especially tough days remember that having multiples is not just exhausting; it is also amazing. Many seasoned parents of multiples will tell you about the magical connection their babies have. Think about the joy you will have watching this connection development as your babies grow.
But also, remember you don’t have to love every minute. Sometimes you just get through it. You aren’t alone! You can do this.