A Crunchy Parent’s Guide to Twins

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Guest post by Naomi of Almost Bananas

[Beth's note: this is a longer-than-usual post, but it's just so chock full of awesome info and tips, I didn't think y'all would mind! And, even though I'm not a twin mama, I found Naomi's tips and story fascinating. I'm sure you will too!]

The day I found out I was having twins is etched for eternity on my memory. I had delayed going to see the doctor until about three months along. A minute after starting the ultrasound, he asked, “Do you have twins in your family?” I froze. I had never even entertained the thought of twins being a possibility. In fact, we had just bought a car the day before and it was already too small, as we had two older children.

For the next two weeks my thought pattern went something like this: “We’re having twins. Ohmygosh, we’re having twins. How am I going to manage twins? What is it like? How many clothes/swaddling blankets/cloth diapers etc will I need? I can’t believe we’re having twins!”

With singletons, I had done things like exclusive nursing, cloth diapers, and extensive babywearing. Would that even be possible with twins?

Each pregnancy and baby is different for each woman, nevermind two (or more) babies, but here is a compilation of helpful methods and tools to manage, based on my experience.

Pregnancy

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Twins pregnancies are similar to singleton pregnancies in that there are no two alike. With twins, however, you can expect that some pregnancy complaints will be increased, like morning sickness, heartburn, and pressure on the bladder. While searching for a magical cure to the awful morning sickness, I read that carrying twins can intensify the symptoms. “Good thing I’m not having twins,” I thought, “I would be even sicker.” Little did I realize I already was!

Prepare a little earlier than usual for a new baby, as twins have a higher chance of being born premature. Stock the freezer with ready made meals, make a list of easiest crockpot meals, and another list of super quick and easy meals. Make sure any projects are done around the house.

The best idea I’ve heard for a baby shower is gifts of food. The expecting mother asked all the guests to bring freezer meals, so that when she was tired with baby she could just pull out a ready made meal.

When planning your birth, find out about the hospital/birthing centre/midwife’s policy on premature babies. Do they allow kangaroo care? How long can the mother stay?

Birth

twins trussed up Slovak style

Twins make doctors rather nervous, simply because there are more unknown factors involved. Most women expecting twins that I talked to didn’t even think a vaginal twin birth was possible, everyone from doctor to mother simply assumed birth via cesarean section. While this may be necessary in some cases (like if the twins share a placenta), try to find a doctor who is willing to at least try other options.

For a vaginal birth it is much preferred if twin A (the lower twin) is presented head down. It’s best if twin B is head down as well, but not necessary, as twin A opens the passage for twin B. While it’s not possible to manipulate the position of twins, like with a singleton, they may turn on their own anytime. For me, twin B turned 180 degrees at 38 weeks on his own, and I don’t know how there was any room as they were both over 6 lbs at birth and I’m not a large woman.

Remember to stay flexible. I prefer the everything-natural-no-drugs approach, but by 39 weeks I was so large and uncomfortable that I agreed to be induced, even though I originally didn’t want to be. By being induced I also knew that the doctor I wanted would be on duty for 24 hrs, so she would be present even if the labour took a while.

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Consider hiring a doula to attend the birth, particularly if you will be birthing in an environment that is hostile to your wishes. Doctors will be more nervous about the birth and may pressure you more to do practices you don’t want to. Some women can stand up for themselves during labour, but I go into a total other space and become a sheep. Looking back on the twins’ birth, I believe a doula would have prevented some undesirable events (like being cajoled into stirrups – they should be BANNED everywhere – or having practically the whole ward watching the unusual event of a twin vaginal birth).

Giving birth to twins made me a little more nervous than normal beforehand. I loved this story of a Greek mother giving birth to unexpected twins while making a journey on a donkey; it reminded me that we mothers are stronger than we think we are, and can endure more than we expect. Since having twins, I’ve heard so many stories of other twin mothers withstanding difficult circumstances. My mother’s hairdresser, for example, comes from a family where 12 children were born in 10 years, due to 5 sets of twins!! This was a good 50 years ago, before disposable diapers and dishwashers for bottles. Another mom of twins had three under three years, a husband who worked away in the mountains, no running water and only wood heat. If they did it, I thought to myself, so can I.

Postpartum

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This is where the difference between singles and multiples makes itself felt. You may have angelic twins who sleep at the same time and never have a stomach ache, but don’t count on it.

Try to have someone come help the first six weeks. If you have no family or friends available, save your pennies beforehand to hire someone to help a few hours a day.

Don’t be too proud to ask for help. For many of us, this is really, really hard. People asked me if I was managing and I usually said yes, even if I was drowning. Simple things, like taking the babies for a walk, washing the pile of dishes, or entertaining an older child, will help.

You will be tired. In all probability you will cry. I once told a new (twin) mom that I cried from sheer exhaustion and she looked up at me, “Really?” She had a look of relief, as in, “I’m not crazy? I’m not the only one?” Hormones are all over the place, sleep is a precious commodity, and you’re trying to figure out how to care for these new human beings; emotional instability is to be expected. If you feel that the negative emotions are too intense or going on for too long, however, be sure to ask a professional about postpartum depression.

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Let the babies sleep together. Having each other in close proximity, I found, helped them to sleep better and if one started crying it wouldn’t wake the other. At around six months, when babies start moving more, they may start kicking each other in the head as they toss and turn, so you might want to separate them then. My twins, at two, still sleep together and rarely wake each other up. In fact, both of them will sleep through quite a bit of noise, and I attribute it to them being used to sleeping with each other.

For clothes, you’ll probably need one and a half more than for a singleton. If you don’t know the gender or have different genders, try to stock up on mostly neutral colours, white, yellow, green, etc.

If one gets a stuffy nose, pull out all the stops to get rid of it. For the first months, babies cannot breath out of their mouths, so they constantly wake up when they can’t breathe. When two have a stuffed nose, you don’t get any sleep. I think that was one of the hardest times for me. Some gentle remedies include squirting a few drops of breastmilk in baby’s nose, aromatherapy, massaging the nose areas of the foot, rubbing garlic infused coconut oil or olive oil on baby’s back and feet, and steaming up the bathroom to clear out the nose.

It is possible to cloth diaper twins. You need at least enough for about three solid day; I washed diapers every other day, so enough diapers for two days plus one more day while those are laundering.

Nursing

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I highly recommend giving breastfeeding a good, hard go. Like, don’t give up the minute it’s difficult, because it will be. The amount of milk you make is based on the amount of stimulation from sucking, so don’t be afraid of not having enough milk.

A twin nursing pillow greatly increases the chance of successful breastfeeding, making it much easier and more comfortable. They can be pricey, so look for second hand ones if you need to. A normal nursing pillow for one is not the same and will not provide the same support. I had an air filled one that was shaped to tilt their bodies towards mine. It was also quite high so that I didn’t have to worry about holding up their bodies as much. I tend towards minimalism in the baby gear department, but this is one piece of gear that was worth every penny and I highly recommend it. Take it with you to the hospital, especially if you live in a country where you are kept for longer in the hospital (four days at least for a normal uncomplicated birth in the country where I live, Slovakia).

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If you exclusively nurse twins, however, you will be ravenously hungry. Don’t be afraid of the amount you are eating – focus on healthy foods to feed yourself and your babies and worry about the postpartum weight later.

Call a lactation consultant to help, at least once. I assumed that because I had nursed two children and gone to some breastfeeding clinics that I wouldn’t have a problem nursing. I turned out to be a sobbing mess. The first problem was that I hadn’t taken the twin nursing pillow with me, so I couldn’t really get into a comfortable position if I needed to feed them both. Every insecurity that I helped other women with turned out to be mine as well. The nurses and doctors wanted me to give them formula; actually, they thought it was impossible to nurse twins. I expressed my difficulties to a good friend, who is a lactation consultant, and she insisted on calling a consultant she knew in the city I was in. As lactation consultants are volunteers in Slovakia, I didn’t want to bother anybody, but fortunately I didn’t have a choice. Her presence, expertise, and comforting were reassuring and calming, and I was able to continue on my own with much more confidence with a few pointers.

twins meadow

If you supplement, try using a nursing tube before using a bottle. A nursing tube, or nursing aid, is a thin tube that goes from a container of supplement to beside your nipple in the baby’s mouth. When baby sucks, he pulls in the formula as well. The benefit is that you are able to get more fluids into the baby without nipple confusion, like with a bottle. By day four my milk wasn’t really in yet, but the hospital wouldn’t let me leave until one twin stopped losing weight (some weight loss is normal after birth). I didn’t want to stay one day longer than necessary, nor did I want to deprive her of nourishment she needed, so I did give them both some formula. I wish the hospital had given me a nursing aid, because I felt the girl’s latch change immediately. The lactation aid brought me some, and I had more peace of mind supplementing with the tube instead of a bottle.

From the beginning, nurse at the same time. Latch one baby on, and when she has a good latch, add the other. One benefit is simply that of time – if you exclusively nurse twins separately, you will do almost nothing else the first month. The other benefit is that if one sucks longer or stronger than the other, it will encourage let down for both of them. One twin would nibble a bit, and then fall asleep before any milk came; her brother sucked away, and when the milk let down she woke up and was able to feed as well. Then the he would fall asleep and she would keep nibbling until I got a second let down. This is a great way of encouraging milk supply and making sure both babies get enough milk, as you cannot switch breasts like with a singleton.

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Learn to nurse laying down. At night, it is much more tiring to get up and sit up to nurse. A bedside cot is ideal to bring one baby over, nurse laying down, and put them back (or not) with minimal effort. I didn’t nurse at the same time at night, unless they were both screaming.

I found the football hold (head at breast, legs tucked around your side) to be the most comfortable with two, although I found it odd with one. Experiment with positions until you will find what works best for you. Nursing increases oxytocin, and I’m convinced that nursing the twins helped keep me sane. Sometimes I would be so stressed and grumpy, and nursing them would mellow me right out.

I’m a huge advocate of nursing in public, and had no problem nursing a singleton anytime, anywhere. If I had two hungry babies, however, I felt rather exposed if I tried to nurse both in public with just a t-shirt. There are various nursing shirts, which would be even more helpful with twins than singletons. My solution was to snip a line about 2 1/2 inches long on a camisole, just above nipple level. I wore it under a t-shirt and when I nursed, I nursed through the hole in the camisole.

Babywearing

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Some people find babywearing intimidating, but for me, it was a sanity saver. When the twins were a month, I was left on my own with four children and a husband who is gone 11 hrs a day for his job. Babywearing, either one or two, frees your hands while comforting babies. It’s also indispensable if you live on the third floor of an apartment building without an elevator, like I do.

With singletons I tended to reach for ring slings or mei tais; while I had a wrap, it was more complicated to learn to use. With twins though, it was the wrap all the way. There are some cautions against using one wrap when wearing two, and I can see pressure being an issue with a toddler and a newborn, but I feel that it is safe with two babies of the same size, for at least the first few months. Please only wrap with what you feel is comfortable and safe.

My favourite carry was one on the back, one on the front, as demonstrated here. It’s less bulky than having two in front, and I found this hold had the least pressure points. The photo above was the first time I had tried it, at a month postpartum.

Putting a baby on one’s back can be intimidating. My favourite carry with two in front is this one, although it only works while they are fairly small. This is the position in the title photo.

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I’m 5’5 if I think tall thoughts and I would have liked if my wrap was 5 m. Mine was a little shorter, but you do need a longer wrap than normal. Jersey wraps (like the Moby) are easier to learn to use but do not provide as much support as a woven wrap, and since you have two babies, I recommend going straight for wovens.

A great resource for all things babywearing is thebabywearer.com. The forums provide a wealth of experienced and helpful wearers and there is a thread dedicated to wearing more than one.

*****

As the above has been dedicated to problem solving, it might seem that twins are more trouble. While it is true that they are more work at the beginning, they are also particularly amazing to be a part of. The interaction between their budding personalities is fascinating and at times I’ve thought my heart would actually burst, it was so full.

My own twins are now two, full of character and mischief. They play on their own together (and fight too), which gives mom more space. You would not believe the mess two toddlers can make, however! A saying on my nursing pillow read “double the fun, double the joy!”

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Do you have twins and have any nuggets of wisdom to share? Are you expecting twins and have any concerns? Or maybe you are a twin, give us the insider’s perspective!

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Comments

  1. says

    Although Tara and I aren’t mum’s yet, we both would LOVE to have twins (which everyone tells us is insane). They run in her family and we just think it would be so awesome. This post and all your amazing insights and honesty made this such an amazing post as resource. Thanks for sharing!!

  2. says

    I do have twins; they are 10 now! This is great information. We adopted ours, so I did not have the pregnancy, birth, recovery processes. I definitely agree with not needing double of everything and asking for help. Ours did share a crib until they were 5 months and then did wake each other up with kicks to the head:) I didn’t know about baby wearing then but would definitely do it if given the chance again – love those pictures. Thanks for sharing and keep having fun!

    • says

      I’m glad you enjoyed! I’ve seen photos of diaper stashes for a singleton that were bigger than my stash for twins :) So awesome that you were able to adopt twins.

    • says

      I’m glad I didn’t scare anybody off! Having twins is a lot of fun! Today we were at the pool, and it was so interesting to see their different reactions to a new experience. The boy had a permanent worried look on his face, and by the end the girl was too comfortable for me to be comfortable. :)

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