How to juggle multiples

Just arrived home — with more than one baby? Don't worry, here's our guide to getting through those first few weeks.

Just arrived home — with more than one baby? Don't worry, here's our guide to getting through those first few weeks.

This article first appeared in the January-February issue of Pregnancy & Birth magazine.

From pregnancy books to antenatal classes, advice on looking after a newborn is widely available. But what if you're expecting one of the 8500 multiple births that happen every year in Australia? Few mums-to-be are offered tailored classes on parenting multiples. Let Pregnancy & Birth's essential guide help you out in the first weeks.

Early-childhood health nurse and Pregnancy & Birth expert, Sharon Donaldson, says while a routine helps enormously, it will take six to eight weeks for the family to establish one. "Your routine will evolve over time," she says.

Some hospitals put babies in a cot together when they're born, others favour separate cots. At home, decide which works best for you.

"In a cot, adhere to normal safety guidelines," Sharon says. "So put them side-by-side or head-to-head, but each with their feet to the end of the cot. Some parents prefer them to sleep separately, but it really depends on how much they bother each other. Many sleep very well together."

Lactation consultant and Pregnancy & Birth expert, Barb Glare, says many mothers worry they won't have enough milk for two babies.

"But breastmilk production works on the simple principle of supply and demand — the more milk you take out, the more you will make for your babies," Barb says.

If your twins are premature and unable to suck effectively, you'll want to ask the hospital staff to help you express early and frequently so you have the best chance of establishing a good milk supply.

"In the early days most new mothers find it easier to breastfeed their babies separately. This makes it easier to learn the signs of good attachment, and learn how to recognise that your babies have had enough milk," Barb explains.

"Eventually you will graduate to feeding both babies at once. In this case, most mums usually find it easier to feed their babies in the 'rugby hold' (with their legs under your arm). Other mums find it works best when the babies are across the mother's lap."

Having one-to-one time with each child is important for you and them. Bathtime provides another opportunity, so leave one baby with your partner while you splash around with the other.

"It's unnecessary to bath newborns every day," Sharon says. "Every two to three days is fine, with a top and tail clean in-between. As they grow older, bathtime can become part of their bedtime routine."

Sharon says it's considered healthy for twins to be seen as individuals.

"Referring to them as 'the twins' may come quite easy for us, but to help them develop their own identity it's a good idea to call them by their names, and perhaps resist the urge to dress them identically for the most part," she says.

What to buy ...
Equipment-wise, you don't need two of everything. Save on a cot as one will do for now, and you'll only need one bath, nappy-changing stand or mat and baby monitor. You will of course need two car seats, and two baby slings can be useful for you and your partner (you can buy a sling that holds two, but this will very soon be too much for your back).

As with a single baby, a pram is the biggest, most important expense, and you need it to fit your lifestyle. As twin or triplet prams are larger, you'll want to be especially aware of how much it weighs and if you can manoeuvre it through doorways and in and out of the car. Choose from side-by-side or tandem (which may be forward-facing, facing towards you, or allow the babies to face each other).

Vicki, mum of two-year-olds Morgan and Ellie, suggests visiting forums on twin club websites for recommendations. "Members often advertise gear they no longer need for sale — or try eBay."

To find a twins club near you, ask your midwife or search

... And how to afford it
Money-wise, if you're expecting extra help with your extra babies, we're sorry to break the news that it's minimal. You're entitled to the baby bonus times two for twins or more for multiples, and a multiple birth allowance, a payment for triplets or more. Non-means-tested childcare benefits are on offer once your children go to day care, and you may qualify for family tax benefit part A, depending on your family income level.

Nannies and nurses are available in Australia, and often your hospital or obstetrician can give you information for your local area. But from $20 to $40 an hour, depending on the person's qualifications and experience, it's not cheap.

Students can be great mother's helpers to just help keep the household running in the first few months (post an ad in your local area or on local classified site, such as Nursing or medical students, or even doula graduates, are your best bet.

An economical option for the first year, if you can accommodate one, is a live-in au pair ( These are usually young people from overseas visiting Australia for six to 12 months, often with babysitting experience. But remember it will take some time to go through the applications, interview people and find the right person for your family.

If you have family help, this is your best option. "One of the most important things to recognise when having multiples is to accept any help no matter who it is coming from," Sharon says.

"You need as much support as you can, so take everything that is forthcoming. One way to encourage people to help is to give them specific tasks — grandmothers seem to respond well to this," she says.

"For example, you may ask them to come over every day from 2.30pm to 6pm, run the bath for the twins and do other specific tasks. If things are left open, that's when it can get stressful and people feel they are not needed."

Tips from mums of multiples
"Buy two bouncy chairs — a godsend. You can breastfeed one while you bounce the other with your foot!"
Polly, mum to one-month-olds Hannah and Sam.

"Try not to let visitors pick your babies up all the time. When everyone's gone home, you can't hold them all at once. So you don't want the babies to get too used to constant attention, or they'll take longer to settle."
Melanie, mum to three-year-old triplets Lily, Amy and Finn.

"Ask your partner or mum to manage a rota of helpers for at least the first six weeks. It's handy if your partner can save some holiday allowance for when his paternity leave runs out."
Nelufer, mum to four-year-olds Neve and Teom.


Have you had twins (or more)? What are your tips for surviving the first few weeks? Share your suggestions in the Mother & Baby forum.

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12:21PM, Jan 13th 2010

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