We just found out we're having twins! What do we do now?
Having twins (or other "multiples," such as triplets) means much more than simply having two babies at once, and this challenge goes beyond having twice or three times the work or pleasure.
Twins and other multiples quite frequently are born early and therefore tend to be smaller than the average newborn, so you may need to consult your pediatrician even more frequently than you would with a single baby. Feeding twins, whether by breast or bottle, also requires some special strategies, and the doctor can provide advice and support. There may be added financial pressures upon the family as well, spending a lot more on diapers, clothing, food, car seats, and dozens of other items; and perhaps needing a larger family car or even a larger home.
The twin birth rate in the U.S. is just over 3 percent. But as your obstetrician and pediatrician may have explained to you, the number of multiple births has risen in recent years. It has increased 42 percent since 1990 and 70 percent since 1980. Some researchers have attributed much of this increase to the more frequent use of infertility treatments and procedures such as in vitro fertilization. In vitro fertilization may involve implanting more than one fertilized egg into the uterus, while using infertility drugs can stimulate the ovaries to release two or more eggs.
You should care for your healthy multiples just like any other infants. From the very beginning, it is important that you recognize your babies are separate individuals. If they are identical, it is easy to treat them as a package," providing them with the same clothing, toys, and quality of attention.
But as similar as they may appear physically, emotionally they are different, and in order to grow up happy and secure as individuals, they need you to support their differences. As one twin explained, "We're not twins. We're just brothers who have the same birthday!"
Identical twins come from the same egg, are always the same sex, and look very much alike. Fraternal twins come from two separate eggs, which are fertilized at the same time. They may or may not be the same sex. Whether identical or fraternal, all twins have their individual personalities, styles, and temperament. Both identical and fraternal twins may become either competitive or interdependent as they grow. Sometimes one twin acts as the leader and the other as the follower. Whatever the specific quality of their interaction, most twins develop very intense relationships early in life simply because they spend so much time with each other.
If you also have other children, your twin newborns may prompt more than the usual sibling rivalry. They will require a large amount of your time and energy, and will attract a great deal of extra attention from friends, relatives, and strangers on the street. You can help your other children accept, and perhaps even take advantage of, this unusual situation by offering them "double rewards" for helping with the new babies and encouraging even more involvement in the daily baby care chores. It also becomes even more essential that you spend some special time each day alone with the other children doing their favorite activities.
As your twins get older, particularly if they are identical, they may choose to play only with each other, making their other siblings feel left out. To discourage the twins from forming such exclusive bonds, urge them to play individually (not as a unit) with other children. Also, you or a babysitter might play with just one twin while the other plays with a sibling or friend.
Development of Twins
You may find that your twins do not develop in the same pattern as do other children their age. Some twins seem to "split the work," with one concentrating on motor skills while the other perfects social or communication abilities. Because they spend so much time together, many twins communicate better with each other than with other family members or friends. They learn how to "read" each other's gestures and facial expressions, and occasionally they even have their own verbal language that no one else can understand. (This is particularly true of identical twins.) Because they can entertain each other, they may not be very motivated to learn about the world beyond them. This unique developmental pattern does not represent a problem, but it does make it all the more important to separate your twins occasionally and expose them individually to other playmates and learning situations.
Twins are not always happy about being apart, especially if they have established strong play habits and preferences for each other's company. For this reason, it is important to begin separating them occasionally as early as possible. If they resist strongly, try a gradual approach using very familiar children or adults to play with them individually but in the same room or play area. Being able to separate will become increasingly important as the twins approach school age. In preschool most twins can stay together in the same room, but many elementary schools prefer twins to be in separate classes.
Balancing The Dual Identities of Twins
As much as you appreciate the individual differences between your twins, you no doubt will have certain feelings for them as a unit. There is nothing wrong with this, since they do share many similarities and are themselves bound to develop a dual identity; as individuals and as twins. Helping them understand and accept the balance between these two identities is one of the most challenging tasks facing you as the parent of twins.
Your pediatrician can advise you on how to cope with the special parenting challenges with twins. He also can suggest helpful reading material or refer you to organizations that help parents with multiples.
At the same time, take care of yourself, getting as much rest as possible. Many parents find that raising twins and other multiples can be much more physically demanding and emotionally stressful than having just one baby. So make an effort to catch up on your own sleep whenever you can. Take turns with your spouse on who's going to handle the "middle-of-the-night" feedings, and who will bathe and feed the babies. If your budget can afford it, get some extra help for routine tasks like bathing the newborns and grocery shopping; or ask friends and family members for help. An extra set of hands, especially when there are more than twins, even for just a few hours a week, can make an enormous difference, and can give you more time not only to enjoy your babies, but also more time for yourself.
Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5
(Copyright © 2009 American Academy of Pediatrics)