seeing double

Preparation is everything when you'’re having twins.

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When Janelle Porter learned that she was carrying twins, she wondered how she would ever juggle the needs of the newborns and her 4-year-old daughter. Two months after the twins were born, she still felt as if she and her husband were “flying by the seat of our pants.” But thinking of the cuddly additions to her family while lying in bed at night, the Lincoln, Neb., mother often has to smile. “I catch myself thinking about their first birthday and how they’ll be toddling around here,” she says. “Each milestone is just going to bring more and more happiness.”

Porter is hardly alone. Thanks largely to increased use of fertility drugs and procedures, twin births rose by 62 percent between 1980 and 1998 (the most recent year for which statistics are available), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Births of triplets skyrocketed by 470 percent in that same period, the CDC reports. Still, births of multiples are not ordinary events, and they bring with them extraordinary stresses.

By ensuring a healthy pregnancy, lining up support in advance and accepting help from family or friends, carrying and caring for twins can be a manageable, joyous affair. Here is advice from doctors and mothers of twins for making it the best experience possible.

Mind your health

“Women carrying twins need to respect their bodies and slow down,” says Connie L. Agnew, M.D., a Los Angeles obstetrician and co-author of Twins! Pregnancy, Birth and the First Year of Life (HarperCollins, 1997). Getting rest, particularly in the last trimester, is critical because it can help prevent premature labor, which is common when carrying more than one baby. “If you can, cut down on your work hours, delegate household chores and have your husband take care of the other children so you can put your feet up for a few hours,” Agnew advises.

Eating well is also paramount because the two fetuses need a tremendous amount of nourishment. “I recommend increasing protein intake by eating an egg or some cheese at breakfast,” says Agnew, “and six small meals throughout the day to keep up your [energy].” Taking an iron supplement to avoid becoming anemic is also crucial, as is drinking plenty of water and juices throughout the day.

These days, women carrying twins are often over 35, which means they are at higher risk for gestational diabetes and preeclampsia than their younger counterparts, says Agnew. But no matter what your age is, your doctor will probably want to see you for frequent checkups in your second and third trimesters. Serial ultrasounds are usually recommended, too, to monitor the twins’ growth. Since one baby often will lie in the breech position (feet down), many doctors feel it is safer to deliver twins by Cesarean section, which can lengthen your postpartum recovery.

Get help

Learning now to ask for help will benefit your health. Get good at it, because it will be necessary for your sanity once the babies are born. Following are some ways to find the help you need.

  • Join a mothers-of-multiples club. “Get involved as soon as you know [you’re having multiples],” says Kelly Harp, a mother of a twin boy and girl, age 3 1/2, and a member of her twins club in southwest Denver. “What the twins clubs offer is not just friends but other people who’ve all been through it.”
  • Get help. Whether it’s hiring a nanny or cleaning person or even letting a friendly neighbor change a diaper or two, practical support is crucial. “That goes a long way toward keeping things as sane as possible,” says Twins!
  • co-author Alan H. Klein, M.D.
  • Figure out Dad’s duties. “It’s everything, really, that your partner helps out,” says Leslie Montgomery, a Denver-based multiple-births educator. “Your future together depends on it.”
  • Put up a blackboard. Jot down when each child ate, slept and had a diaper change so you don’t have to depend on keeping it all straight in your head.

Don’t give up on breastfeeding

If you’re carrying twins, you may think that it will be difficult to breastfeed, says Karen Kerkhoff Gromada, author of Mothering Multiples: Breastfeeding and Caring for Twins or More (La Leche League International, 1999). But rest assured that it gets easier once it’s learned. Mother’s milk is better than formula with rare exceptions, adds Gromada. She recommends supplementing with pumped breast milk or formula as needed until you get a good breastfeeding routine going.

Newborns need to nurse as often as every two hours for the first month of life. While most doctors recommend feeding on demand, some parents of multiples swear by schedules, even if it’s as simple as rousing one twin to eat after the other has finished. “When one of them gets up in the middle of the night, we wake up the other,” says Shari Herold, a mother of 8-month-old twin boys in Lincoln. “If I don’t, I barely get to bed after feeding one before the other wakes up and wants to eat.”

Parents need to be flexible, though. Porter, for example, swore by feeding and sleeping schedules until she had her twins — one a champion sleeper and the other a colicky infant who could cry all night. “The schedule thing is great in theory, but if you have two who are so different, it’s impossible in practice,” she says.

Take care of yourself

You will need frequent sanity breaks, so get out of the house, alone or with your husband, even if it’s just for a walk to the park and back. When getting out seems impossible, invite other new moms over to your house for that much-needed adult conversation. If you can’t afford a nanny, consider hiring a high school student to help with child care or simple chores for a few hours in the afternoon.

Try, early on, to establish a regularly scheduled “date night” to keep a sense of intimacy between you and your husband. If the daily stresses cause too much strife between the two of you, seek counseling before the situation worsens. Also, give your husband a night out with friends once in a while, and make sure you get in girlfriend time out of the house every now and then.

Most important for those really insane, sleep-deprived moments is to remember what really counts — not a clean house, the blinking light on the answering machine or the stack of unsent birth announcements, but your two happy, healthy, adorable babes.

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