Individual Twin Care

By Krista Gray, IBCLC. Last updated August 4, 2013.

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Having two (or more) babies is more work.  There are twice as many diapers to change, babies to dress and bathe, feed, and get to sleep. In the busyness of life with twins it can be easy to do everything as a sort of “assembly line” – when one baby is dirty, change both; when one is hungry, nurse both; etc.  Sometimes this works well, but other times it doesn’t.  Necessity often times dictates this approach. (I know when my twins were young we were living in Egypt without help or support from family. My husband would be out working and I had 2 babies and a toddler to care for.  I couldn’t clone myself and there is only so much one person can do!)  At the same time, it is important to realize that your babies are individuals and their needs might night line up congruently at the same time.

In the early days, one baby may latch well and nurse effectively while the other struggles to maintain weight at the breast.  As they grow, one may need to nurse every hour while the other is happy nursing every 2-3 hours.  One baby may sleep more during the day; the other at night.  What this can mean for a twin mom is always having at least one baby to nurse, carry, play with, or help to sleep.

Though every new mom seems to struggle with sleep deprivation, twin moms can have even greater struggles than with a singleton. Many groups for parents of multiples encourage “sleep training” and “feeding schedules,” both of which can interfere with a baby’s needs and a breastfeeding mother’s milk supply. It is important to allow your babies to be individuals and respond to their individual needs as much as possible.  So how can you watch for each baby’s needs and cues, while maintaining your sanity and not feeling like all you are able to do is nurse babies for the first year of life?!

  1. Listen to each baby.  For example, if one cries soon after nursing, rather than assuming he’s full and he must need sleep, offer to nurse again.  If one sleeps more than the other, it may be that one baby just requires less sleep – not that he needs to sleep as much as his twin.
  2. Respond to each baby’s needs. This can be challenging, especially without help and support from others.  But, responding to each baby’s individual needs can also bring a sense of calm to the chaos.  If your baby is crying, it can often be easier to nurse him again, put him in a sling, change his diaper, or meet any other need than to “train” him to fit into a routine you are attempting to create.  Babies find comfort and confidence in knowing their needs are responded to.  They don’t cry to manipulate and they haven’t read any parenting or sleep training books.
  3. Enlist help.  And accept all offers of support!  You are busy feeding your babies.  Allow everyone else to cook, clean, do laundry, take care of older siblings, shop, and serve you as you need.  You are going to be busy in the beginning.  (And this is true no matter how you feed your babies.) Twin moms need extra support that first year!
  4. Sleep near your babies.  Consider having both babies sleep together in a crib/cot by your bed or even in your bed.  But please make sure to use the safest co-sleeping strategies possible!  These include only co-bedding if you are exclusively breastfeeding, no smoking or drugs by anyone in the house, firm service, covers that are not heavy, no pets or other children in the bed, taking precautions babies can’t fall out of bed, and supportive partner.  SAFE co-sleeping either nearby or beside your babies can help to increase your sleep significantly.  No sleeping strategy is without risks, but make sure to do your research and make an informed decision as to whether bed sharing with your babies is right for your situation.
  5. Relax and try not to worry.  Remember you do have two babies and they will not always have the same need at the same time.  Just being prepared for this and accepting the reality mentally can help a mom deal with it on those days where it seems each baby’s needs are as opposite to one another as possible.  It’s okay if your babies don’t fit into the mold a book describes; it’s okay if your babies don’t sleep or eat on a schedule like your friend’s babies; it’s okay if your babies’ needs are different to one another even.  If you can relax in your role of mothering your babies, listening and responding to their individual cues, the early years of parenting twins can be much more laid back and enjoyable for everyone in the home.
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