Surviving Twins and a Toddler
Surviving life with newborn twins and a toddler
I had high expectations as many parents do when expecting our first baby. So it was no surprise (a massive surprise in fact!) when we learnt we were pregnant again – only this time with twins! I was terrified and determined to let go of those expectations first time round, and take on a more go-with-the-flow approach to parenting.
Working with many diverse and sleep deprived families as an Infant and Child Sleep Consultant, I often get asked what it was like to raise newborn twins? I sometimes struggle to answer this, not because it was painful experience but because it was such a huge adjustment and busy time in our lives hard to put into words. Blessed beyond belief for sure, however the sleep deprivation and exhaustion were on a whole other level. In hindsight when compared to other twin families, we were pretty lucky. We delivered healthy full term babies so we did not need to spend any time in NICU, thankfully. However, our child to parent ratio meant we were outnumbered literally overnight when we brought home child number 2 and 3. I felt like our kids had one up on us and at any second it could turn to custard – which it did, many times.
Life was pretty unpredictable with newborn twins however as a second time round parent there were some key differences in our approach, which we adopted and we managed to survive the first year with all our hair intact, just. It is for this reason I have come up with my top tips to help families survive newborn twins.
Take care of yourself…
If you’re going to set expectations, expect to be exhausted in those early weeks. The whole experience of carrying and birthing one baby can be no easy feat, let alone two or more babies. Whether you deliver one baby or multiples, your body is going to need time to heal and recover. It is for this very reason when raising a newborn baby extra help may seem like a luxury, however when raising newborn twins – it is an absolute necessity. Your life will take on a whole new pace – a much faster pace. I promise you there will never be a dull moment, BUT it is for this reason, you need to a good support network around you.
Round up relatives, neighbours, friends, your husband’s boss’ wife (make of that what you will) and accept all offers of help in any form. Those first early weeks with round-the-clock feeds, settling and nappy changes are relentless – having an extra set of hands to help burp, change or cuddle a baby can make all the difference in surviving those early weeks. Your body will also thank you when faced with those early morning wake-ups and sleepless nights.
Activities such as quick trips to the supermarket for last minute supplies, catching up with friends, running errands, venturing out in public or basic hygiene like showering and brushing my teeth, took on a whole new challenge when our family expanded to 5. Everything from grocery shopping, to basic household cleaning, and laundry I attempted to outsource to family, friends and enlisted the services of local businesses to help lighten the workload (a little).
I would do my weekly grocery shop online and have our groceries delivered to our door. I also bought pre-cooked meals like pizza’s, lasagna’s and mince pies and while not the healthiest options, these meals could be easily plucked from the freezer and nuked in the microwave or oven without much thought or effort.
At the time going from a two-income household to one-income, money was tight, however we did make an investment in a cleaner once a fortnight to take care of our bathrooms and toilet and vacuum/mop the house. This allowed me more time to sleep between Peppa Pig re-runs.
We also had close friends who offered to take our older daughter one night over the weekend regularly to allow us a short break to catch up on some rest ourselves. These little acts of service and offers of help from friends really did go a long way and gave us the stamina to continue to move forward in the early days.
Have a back up plan…
Sleep for a newborn twin was relatively easy during the day however when the 8 week mark hit and so did the catnaps, I relied heavily on assisted naps to help them stay on track and achieve balanced sleep during their day. This could be achieved with walks in the stroller along with some fresh air, bouncing them or sometimes piling all 3 kids in the car and doing laps around the block during nap times so I too could get a moment’s break from resettling.
I’ll admit, the drive would often end in quick detour through Macdonald’s drive through for a coffee and McFlurry to help get through the next leg of my day or at least until Dad got home! Nevertheless, having some alternative sleep options (aka back up plan) will be your best chance at preventing your little ones becoming too overtired and ensure their sleep stays on track. Assisted naps early on also provides alternatives to achieve sleep without your little one’s becoming too dependant on one particular method. I would slowly introduce a more consistent settling approach once their sleep become more consistent during their day.
Focus on small goals…
I learnt early on when raising newborn twins, the big picture was bloody frightening to say the least and at times utterly overwhelming. The thought of continuous 3 hourly feeds, settling 2 babies for 4-5 naps per day, and performing bedtime routine for 3 kiddies was mind-boggling, and it often left me feeling unable to cope when faced with an entire day’s work with no end in sight. To overcome my newfound anxiety and reality, I broke my day down into a sequence of small goals and activities. Being very goal orientated person this was my best coping mechanism, these goals were much more manageable and allowed me to focus on the hour and in some instances the minute – without the whole day beating down on top of me, allowing me to get through it; or at least to 6pm when Dad got home!
I carried out these small goals and activities, again and again until my days literally became like groundhog day. We became creatures of habit and as a consequence our twins ate, slept and played at the same time… 12hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks of the year. It made even the most challenging days somewhat more manageable (-ish) as we knew what to expect.
We very rarely stepped outside of this routine, unless completely absolutely necessary. It provided our family the consistency and structure we needed to survive and function normally again. It also provided me some much needed quality time with my older daughter, which we both craved so very much. A routine can certainly go along way and if you’re battling to stay on track then try to break down your day and take small bites.
Fed is best…
The challenge of feeding one baby let alone two seemed like no easy task in the beginning. Whether it be via breast or bottle, both had their advantages and disadvantages. Sometimes it often took an hour or more to get them both fed. I made a conscious decision early on to top both babies up with expressed milk or formula. I knew approximately just how much milk each baby was receiving and took away the guesswork.
However, expressing around the clock and the lack of sleep during the night were catching up with me. As a result; my milk supply became significantly low just after a few short weeks out of hospital. I decided to exclusively formula feed our twins to help sustain their growth and preserve my sleep – above all I needed sleep to function and 4hours broken sleep a night, just wasn’t cutting it. It was at this point I decided here also, that guilt was optional. Whilst I absolutely loved the bond of feeding and nurturing both my babies, I knew that I couldn’t continue on this warpath of no sleep therefore kicked any guilt to the curb. It only robbed me of my joy of being a mother.
After a few short weeks, we had this bottle-feeding fine tuned. We bought an additional six bottles so twelve bottles in total and electric bottle sterilizers so we only needed to do 2x bottle washes per day – one in the morning and one at night. During the first 6 weeks of our twins’ life, we room shared in the spare room downstairs. Our twins slept in a shared cot with plenty of room as they were both so tiny. My husband and I shared the sofa bed next to their cot which was within arm’s reach. During the night it was strictly business. When our twins woke, we fed on demand and this was usually every 3hours. I would prepare 2 bottles before going to bed at 8pm each night and fill these bottles up with boiled water and place them in a insulated bags along with the right level of formula in one of those travel containers which I kept beside our bed.
By their next night feed, the water in the bottles had become lukewarm which I then added the formula, shook and tested temperature to feed each baby without leaving the bedroom. If one twin woke slightly earlier than the other, we got both twins up to feed. It allowed us to stay on track with their feed schedule and made it slightly easier on us.
Each night feed usually started with a nappy change then passed to Dad for a bottle feed first, while I got the second twin up, changed his/her nappy, re-swaddled, before offering a bottle feed. Usually if one twin was more unsettled than the other, we would swap so Dad could put the easier twin down to sleep first while I stayed up settling the other twin since Dad had to go to work the next day. Over time as both twins started to double their weight, their sleep at night would slowly stretch longer and longer.
Feeding and sleeping are closely related, so a consistent feed schedule can be the start of a solid routine with naps usually falling within these feed windows.
These earlier days do feel like a distant memory now, however I am continuously reminded of my sleep deprivation and exhaustion early on, when I meet many first time parents or multiple families I’ve worked with.
Sleep deprivation is real, and if you’re battling this and unable to see the wood through the tree’s. Please give me a call, I would love to help get you and your little ones sleep back on track.
Hi! I have twin baby girls and a toddler and I’ve been lucky enough to have had help until the girls were 6months old, we are currently going to be moving into our own. And I’m terrified. Any tips and tricks on sleep training while having a toddler around ?