Whether your babies arrived on or near your actual due date, or if they arrived six weeks early, when the day arrives to go home and start your lives together as a family, the thought and the reality is both exciting and frightening. As my husband and I walked out of the NICU for the last time with our first daughters, I recall looking back at the doors and wishing I could take one of the nurses with me. We lived on our own in Virginia at the time. My mother, who had been with us for about a week when the babies first arrived, was back in Florida, and my mother-in-law wasn’t planning to arrive for at least 2 weeks.
It was time to wrap our brains around the fact that we were the only ones going to care for our 4.5 lb. daughters, one of which was still under treatments for an intestinal disease that developed immediately after her birth. A visiting nurse came once every other day for about 30 minutes to check on her, and attend to her medical needs prior to surgery which was scheduled in two more weeks. Other than that contact, my husband and I were it, and that truly overwhelmed us both.
Being well-prepared ahead of time with all the baby-needs required is the best foundation for making the transition into new parenthood. And from the archives containing my own experiences of living through the arrival of three sets of twins, I’d like to give you some tips on surviving those first few weeks (or even months), when your world is so focused on around the clock diaper changing, soothing the crying and breastfeeding.
These first weeks made all the weeks on bed rest seem like a vacation!
Tips for New Parents of Twins
1- Team work. Although not impossible, taking care of two or more babies on your own would be very difficult. As soon as the lack of sleep, exhaustion and all around feeling that you’re overwhelmed kicks in, you’ll be very, very thankful that your mom, your sister, your aunt or mother-in-law is there to take over when you simply physically need a break during the day, and also appreciate every bit of assistance your husband gives when he’s at home.
2- Accept all help. Welcome with opened arms each meal a neighbor or friend drops off, and take them up on their offers to help out with your older children. There are times when we want to be completely self-sufficient in our lives, but now is not the time. Humbly accept these gifts and opportunities, and remember that one day you may be in the position to pay these favors forward for another overwhelmed mommy!
3- Take care of yourself. Proper nutrition and being well-hydrated is vital to your health, and if you don’t take care of yourself, your body’s immunity defenses break down and resistance to battling viruses are weakened. Getting sick will only make everything worse! If you are breastfeeding your babies, your self-nourishment is also vital to their well being and growth. As with pregnancy, drinking at least 10 oz of water each hour will ensure that your milk supply will keep up with your babies’ growth and nutritional demands. Because you may be still recovering from giving birth, your body needs optimum nutrition for full recuperation and regaining of strength, especially if you’d been on bed rest prior to having your babies. Taking a vitamin supplement (in pill or shake form) can fill in all the gaps your body (and your babies’ bodies) need as your breastfeed them.
4- Stick to a routine. You’ll find that working around your babies’ feeding schedule keeps you on a ’round the clock schedule, but make sure you keep some order in your life during this crazy time, it will help keep you focused and thinking straight.
5- Take much-needed breaks. The endless cycle of feeding and care taking can take its toll on a new mom very quickly. When your help is available to take over for little while so you can nap, shower, bathe, sit outside to soak in some sun, run a quick scenery-changing errand to the grocery store, or take an older child out for a quick lunch treat at the park, you’ll find that a break from the routine can be enormously rejuvenating. Your older child(ren) will become frustrated by the now shifted attention away from him, so it’s important to spend a little one-on-one with him. Going out with your husband for a quiet dinner can be so relaxing, too, but I’ll warn you: all you’ll talk about will be the babies!
6- SLEEP! I never fully appreciated a full night’s sleep until I had my first set of twins. I also rediscovered this appreciation after my second and third sets were born. Sleeping for more than a 2.5 to 3 hour stretch can feel like a million dollar gift. Take shifts for the sake of everyone’s sanity and survival. My husband and I had an extra bed in the nursery when our second set was born, and we would take shifts for caring for the babies through the nights. I breastfed them, so I had to get up for feeds, but my guy handled the diaper changes and the soothing back to sleep. Remember this: Sleep when your baby(ies) are sleeping, as much as possible.
7- Baby soothing tips. I found that carrying (whichever baby happened to be fussy at the time) swaddled tightly in a sling close to my chest helped soothe and quiet better than anything else. Sometimes, we had a double fest, whereas I would readily enlist the help of my baby swings. Those swings, without a doubt, allowed me to maintain my sanity. For well into the next months (after all the live-in help went home), my baby swings allowed dinner to be prepared, laundry to be folded, dishes to be done, and the other children to be cared for. I also believed that warm baths helped tremendously just before putting the babies down for a nap so I could either get some other things done, or sleep myself! They just slept deeper and longer between feedings if the received a bath once a day.
8- Keep babies together. Twins were womb-mates, and prefer to stay close together. I always tightly swaddled and placed them close to each other. They could smell, hear and feel each other for comfort and added security. My babies shared the same crib up until they reached about five months old.
For some additional tips and advice on the first weeks with your newborns, please visit HavingTwins.com.
Another wonderful source for self- and baby-care during those busy first days, go to www.thefirst8days.com for tips and advice for handling your first week. Purchase my friend Gea Meijering’s translation of this popular, confidence-building, step-by-step and tip-by-tip guide from the Netherlands.
You will survive this challenging (okay, downright difficult) time, and before you know it, sleep will return, the sun will come back out, and life with your new family will be wonderful!