Your first time parenting is a BOGO experience? Stay strong, comrades. The road ahead is rough but rewarding. Here’s a list of tips, survival strategies, and things to think about as you enter the world of outnumbered parenthood.
Where We’re Coming From
You should know up front our personal path into twinhood has been challenging. Our twins were born seven weeks early because of medical complications. Our daughter was a happy, laid back baby almost from the start. Our son, however, had health issues which made him incredibly demanding as a newborn. For a huge portion of his first three months, the demand he alone generated was relentless and extreme, often driving me to tears. Never mind he had a twin sister too!
We have just reached the 4 month mark with our boy/girl twins. WHAT. A. DIFFERENCE. Cue celebratory music. Bring in the parade. Our son has at last turned a corner, and while he is still crankier than his sister, both are healthy, normal babies even if they are a little small for their age. During that terribly difficult time when I wasn’t sure if we would survive, we had to clench our teeth and put one foot in front of the other. It was gritty. We were not rosy-eyed first time parents. We were worried, overwhelmed, and exhausted.
Depending on how premature your twins are, you may find yourselves walking a similar path. If you do, hang in there. It DOES get better. We’re living the better right now. I promise, it comes. Nevertheless, I do hope your children are healthy from the beginning. No one wants to start their life with needles, blood draws, and anatomy scans.
Whether you spend a month and a half in the NICU like us or end up with two little people raring to go, multiples parenting will always have moments of insanity. I hope something we learned will make the insanity a little easier for you.
Before They Arrive
Expect a c-section.
Not a guarantee but statistically frequent for twins. Some people feel strongly about the way their kids are delivered. I was all for a c-section because it was quicker, less painful, more predictable, and presented fewer unknowns. You may feel differently. Read about your options and be prepared to do what you need to. Your doctor or hospital may not afford you a choice depending on mitigating safety factors for you or the kids.
Understand the possibility of premature birth, medical complications, NICU stay.
Most twins are born prematurely. This has many ripple effects. Term for a singleton is 40? 42? weeks. Term for twins is around 36-38. Many twins are born in the early 30’s; this is safely past the point of viability but will probably involve a NICU stay while the kids finish developing outside of Mom.
Less frequently but certainly still common, twins are born in the danger zone of just at viability (26 weeks I believe). We saw two or three sets of mid-twenty weekers arrive during our time at the hospital.
Medical complications, mild to severe, can arise after premature birth because things were not done developing. For many twins, time and a NICU stay self-corrects the problem.
Expect to stay at the NICU until your kids’ original due date. This will be a couple weeks to multiple months, depending on how early they are. For reference, our twins were born seven weeks early. They were in the NICU for one month and a half.
In addition to a NICU stay, prematurity may also mean temporary developmental delays. Your pediatrician will explain your kids’ chronological age does not matter. They calculate development according to adjusted age, which is age based on original due date.
This means while your friends may have started “sleeping through the night” at three or four months, you may not see that until five or six months if your kids were 6-8 weeks early.
I could write several posts entirely about practical tips for surviving an extended NICU stay. Look for that in the future. For now, I want you to know SO MANY twin parents will tell you their kids are completely okay in the long run. Even those born in the mid-twenties. During our NICU stay, I got to know the nurses caring for our kids. One of them was a twenty-year veteran and never lost a baby.
Your stay is going to feel like it never ends. You will wonder if you’ll ever bring them home. You will learn the names of nurses, become an expert at navigating your section of the hospital. Your kids WILL come home. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not next week, but they will do it.
Some parents prefer to only use specific brands of diapers and wipes. My opinion is that cheapest is best. After all, a diaper is just disposable underwear, and you of all people don’t need to pay $$$ for disposable underwear. We’ve used a mix of Pampers, Huggies, Sam’s Club generic and others without leakage or other problems.
(Edited to add: Our son was switched to Pampers by his pediatrician because he seems to have a reaction to generic ones. Sad face. Pampers are EXPENSIVE. Justine has not had a problem with any brand.)
Buy in bulk.
The keystone piece of twin advice. Get a Sam’s Club membership. Purchase in bulk non-perishable items and things the kids will not outgrow quickly. Wipes, diapers, and formula (depending on your brand/type) are all available here. I also buy non-perishable household items to save money in the long run, such as a giant container of dishwasher soap and laundry detergent.
Facebook Marketplace is your friend.
We’ve bought clothes, baby equipment, diapers, and formula (sealed & unopened, of course) through the Marketplace. This is also a great resource when you’re ready to sell stuff your kids have outgrown. If you’re not into Facebook, use other online seller sites or buy second-hand from people or stores. Your kids won’t know the difference, but your wallet will. Baby stuff is expensive and lasts for such a short time before the kids grow.
Utilize resale stores such as Once Upon a Child.
I take all the clothes my twins outgrow to our local Once Upon a Child store. They select which items they wish to sell and reimburse me. They offer cash or store credit; however, you get a higher return if you chose store credit. Their clothes are nicely priced, so the credit I get does a decent job of securing some replacements in the next size. I sell whatever they didn’t want on FB Marketplace (see above).
Avoid baby equipment with recurring cost.
You will spend waaaaay more money than you want on baby stuff. We elected to pass on things that theoretically make life easier but bring recurring costs–specifically a Diaper Genie and Playtex-style drop-in disposable bottle liners. Think through your purchases to see not only the initial cost but the price of maintaining it.
Prepare ahead of time.
Make all your bottles for the day (or night) at one time. We used four bottles for each kid, totalling eight bottles in the fridge. Keep a fully stocked changing station on each floor you frequent. Include a change of clothes for each kid in the event of diaper failure. Strategically place chairs/swings/bouncers/rockers on each floor so you have a variety of options for both kids.
You will be tempted. Don’t. You already have more than you can carry. Leave your diaper bag packed at all times (minus the bottles) so that you are ready to leave at a moment’s notice.
This is the diaper bag we have. I highly recommend it. I love the backpack style because it frees up my arms for the kids. When we go out, I pack: a stack of diapers for each kid; a changing pad; barrier cream; a container of wipes; one change of clothes per kid; a stack of burp rags; a set of filled bottles; and several pacifiers for each kid.
Pockets are your friend.
You will never have enough hands. Wear clothes with pockets to carry little things. Pajamas and a house robe are particularly helpful. I recommend horizontal pockets when possible because you can store open liquid—such as bottles, a glass of water for you, a mug of coffee—with less chance of spilling.
Buy a quality travel system.
Some things are worth scrimping on. This is not one of them.. Buy a quality travel system: car seats, bases, and stroller(s) that work together. This will cost you several hundred dollars but I am telling you, economize everywhere else with your twins, NOT here. We use the Graco Click Connect ecosystem. Any car seat/stroller/base product that says “Click Connect” is compatible with any other product that also says “Click Connect.”
The double stroller conundrum.
Do you buy a side-by-side stroller (theatre seats) or a front-and-back stroller (train)? This is a big decision. Unfortunately, it’s also expensive and you can’t test drive it for days before you decide.
We chose this double stroller. We liked that it works with car seats but also without them as the twins grow. It fits through standard-sized doorways, unlike some side-by-sides. It’s smooth to push, not difficult to turn. The front wheels lock for jogging purposes. We are not joggers, so I can’t tell you how it fares for that. The storage underneath is nice but useless until your twins have graduated out of car seats. The covers work in tandem with your car seat covers to completely encapsulate the kids if weather requires. It is so easy to set up and take down after you practice a few times. It is long and bulky, so measure your trunk space. We have a 2016 Honda Civic. It fits in our trunk but takes up a ton of space. Traveling with some luggage is possible; traveling with a bunch of luggage + other bulky baby supplies like a travel pack-n-play is NOT possible. When I grocery shop, I have to put my bags in the shotgun seat.
The single-stroller conundrum.
Should you even buy a double stroller? Should you just get two singles? Should you get a double AND a single? Do you need a single at all?
We chose to buy a single in addition to our double because there are some occasions when you only have one kid with you. (Example: We have lots of follow-up appointments at the hospital. Depending on how early your twins are, you will too.) I didn’t want to be forced to use the double if I was just running errands with one kid.
We purchased this single because it’s in the same compatibility-ecosystem as our double and car seats. It’s actually a little more complicated to set up and take down than the double is. It has MANY configurations for how the kid can ride. It’s a smooth push and made to be jogging compatible, if that matters to you.
We opted NOT to buy two singles. Both Josiah & I would have to be present every time we wanted to take out both kids. This is not practical for errand running during the work day when he is unavailable and I have both kids.
You don’t need two of everything.
This is an entire post by itself, so watch for my full breakdown in the future.
Short version: You must have two car seats and two cribs for safety reasons. I highly recommend: two feeding pillows, at least one bottle warmer, one single/one double stroller, two swings, two portable mobiles, at least two pack-n-plays (preferably ones that are easy to set up/take down), one rocker, one bouncer, one activity mat.
Dual feeding is possible.
Giving two bottles at the same time is a little uncomfortable for the arms but doable. Use two Boppy pillows on the floor or sit them in car seats/swings/chairs. Burping is the hardest part because you can only do one kid at a time.
Get a label maker.
Examples of things you might want to label: bottles, formula cans, storage totes/drawers, fabric storage cubes, toys, clothes, car seats (if you want one kid to always use a specific one), and diaper bags if you’re maintaining two.
This is the one I have. I love it! I use blue tape for his stuff and red tape for hers. You don’t have to own a fancy label maker; masking tape and a Sharpie will do.
Wake the sleeping twin.
When one twin wakes up to eat, wake the other twin up after you’ve finished the first. It may seem counterintuitive. What is worse: waking a sleeping baby while you are already awake? Or going back to sleep only to be woken by Child #2 forty-five minutes after Child #1 has fallen asleep? Keep them on the same schedule as much as possible.
Sanity & Parental Emotional Health
Make a list of babysitters.
If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes an army to survive twin infanthood. Start with your church, especially small groups that know you: friends from ministry, small group, leaders at your campus. Also reach out to grandparents, siblings, friends. Most people are willing to help if you just pony up and ask.
Write down the days/times people are available so you know who to approach when things are insane and you need backup.
What is this army of babysitters doing for you? At first, two things: nap coverage and couple time. Both are important. Neither will happen naturally for a while. Once your twins are older, you can use the coverage to get things done that are difficult when you have two small people crying for you.
Try not to punch people when they say, “Sleep when the baby sleeps.”
Anyone with more than one child hates this line. You, as a parent of two infants, are really going to hate it. Depending on the baby, putting it to sleep can take a long time, and practically anything can wake it up. And, news flash, just because ONE kid is willing to sleep right now does not necessarily mean the second one will. It’s frustrating and sometimes you just want to shake people who don’t get it. Deep breaths. We get you.
It’s been months. You’re still struggling. It’s normal.
Parents with more than one child are in a much better position to understand you than parents of a single child. However, I am told by parents who have done both that having multiple children is NOT the same as having two (or more) children of identical age.
Especially since these are your first kids, you have all the challenges of new parenthood plus immediate, intense, logistical strain singletons parents did not have to endure. You WILL be tired. Over your head. Struggling to find your feet. Living one day at a time. Totally overwhelmed. Full of doubts. Feeling like it will never end. You will live like this longer than singleton parents.
My suggestion is to accept with gratitude the help of those who get involved. Ignore (graciously!) criticism from those who do not. It truly is hard to understand what life is like the first three months with multiples, nevermind any medical complications thrown on top. (I believe I used the phrase “torment from hell” at one point during the height of Jayce’s dark period.) If you have the energy and the composure to share your heart with people you know mean well, go for it. Otherwise, move on. One day your infants will be children and nobody will care about your deportment as new parents.
Do not take your stress out on each other.
These is marriage advice that applies to all situations, but especially to multiples infancy! You are already outmanned and outgunned. Don’t hurt yourself farther by taking your frustration (which you will have) out on your partner. YOU NEED THEM.
When the twins cry for hour #3 and neither of you know why…..when it’s 2 am and you’ve been up three times already to feed….when you’re so tired you can’t follow a simple conversation….you will be tempted to lash out at the only available target: your spouse. Don’t do this.
Don’t sweat the small stuff. Or even the moderately-sized stuff. Really, anything short of life-or-death will probably sort itself out.
You, my friend, will be incapable of worrying about things not immediately necessary for survival. Where other first time parents are obsessively checking the baby monitor, worrying about SIDS, and picking at cradle cap, you will not have the time nor the energy. I consider this a perk.
Feed your kids something.
Related to not sweating the small stuff, I highly recommend you…feed your kids. That’s it.
Anyone who’s made the mistake of wandering over to internet mom forums knows how nasty the debate can get when the topic is feeding infants. I’m a 1000% supporter of bottles and formula, but if that’s not you, do what you like. The only two opinions that matter when it comes to deciding how to feed your kids are: 1) yours, 2) your spouse’s.
Feeding your kid is the best choice. Period.
Most baby advice is for the intellectually challenged.
If you’ve ever looked at a hair dryer and seen the tag proclaiming “Warning: Do not use while in shower!” you know some safety advice is just redundant. Baby safety advice is no exception. Stupid people do stupid things, harming innocent babies.
You are not a stupid person. If you need to microwave the bottle because it’s 3 am and both twins are crying like there is no tomorrow, for Pete’s sake, microwave the bottle. 10 seconds at a time, swish the milk around in between to avoid hot spots, and test it on your wrist first.
If your twins are super young, can’t roll over, and refuse to sleep on a flat surface because the first 1.5 months of their lives they slept on a reclined surface in the NICU, <cough cough cough> do what is necessary for you to sleep and them to be safe. We used a Fisher Price Rock-N-Play for the first three months. We crib trained during daytime naps. By the time they became more mobile and we felt rolling over could happen soon, they slept in cribs at night.
These are specific examples from our routine, but you get the idea. Be safe. Be smart. Don’t kill yourself with unnecessary rules.
Double Work Becomes Double Reward
We can’t speak from personal experience about the rewarding side of having twins. We JUST entered a peaceful season where this does not seem like the worst thing in the world. Our kids don’t scream all day now. They smile at us. They gurgle. They take naps. We can set them down to feed ourselves without them freaking out.
And you know, it’s fun. I love my kids. It’s fun seeing them nap together. They are still too young to understand each other is present, but our son actually looked at our daughter for the first time this week and we were ecstatic. We read books, do tummy time, go on walks.
All the twin parents have told me the first year is insane. But once you survive it, twins are actually pretty great. They play together, taking some of the entertainment strain off you. You get two kids out of one pregnancy, so if you only planned on two kids (like us), then hey, you can be done!
Surviving twin infancy is a painful but effective growth catalyst. We chose to become closer together. We learned how to be a better team. We have some grit to our relationship–we know we can handle tough stuff! And once we get through this first year, we’ll have two healthy kids to help through childhood and on to becoming adults. What a privilege.