If you are expecting twins or more (triplets or quadruplets), it can be exciting and overwhelming in equal measure.
Even if twins run in the family or you have had IVF procedures, you may have been imagining and planning for just one baby. So it can be a shock to hear at the scan that there’s more than one heartbeat. The first reality you need to face is that you will get a bigger bump than most mums so you’ll be likely to feel more tired than you would with a single baby.
Prematurity and early delivery
Mums expecting twins or multiples are generally recommended to go on maternity leave a little earlier, partly as twins and multiples are more likely to be born prematurely. You can begin your maternity leave any time from 11 weeks before the week of your babies’ due date. So that’s from when you’re 29 weeks pregnant.
Arrange to visit to your local special baby care unit in the maternity hospital where you are planning to have your babies. Most twins and multiples are born in a consultant-led hospital unit, either when mums go into labour early or have a ‘scheduled’ birth by caesarean section or induction at 36-38 weeks (to reduce the risk of stillbirth). However, it is possible to have twins at a birth centre or as a home birth, but most doctors will recommend a planned hospital birth. This is because about 40% of twin births result in at least one of the babies being transferred to special baby care. Find out more about the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU).
Twins and multiples support groups
Most antenatal courses are based on single births so it’s really worth seeking books, courses and support groups for twins and multiples. TAMBA is a good place to look. You can also join your local twins and multiples club during pregnancy or online forums if there are no local groups you can visit. The online forums are particularly good for 24/7 support as other parents of twins and multiples will be keen to help you.
Bonding with your babies
If your babies end up in special baby care or if the birth requires a lot of medical intervention, it may feel very surreal and overwhelming. As soon as you can, try to make sure you and your partner spend lots of time with your babies in skin-to-skin contact. If your babies are in incubators there are lots of ways that you can be close to them – for example, stroking and talking to them. This will really help your body and mind begin to get used to parenthood. It will also help to regulate their breathing and body temperature, which may mean you’ll be able to take them home earlier.
Getting out and about with your twins or multiples
Most new parents find it tough to get out of the house before lunchtime in the early days. It’s understandable that with double the feeds, double the nappies etc, it can seem easier just to stay at home.
It’s important to get out and about with your babies, even if just to get a milk or a magazine for yourself! In the early days, go out with your partner, a friend or one of the babies’ grandparents so there’s an extra pair of hands. As your little ones get more settled and you get more confident you can build things up.
You’ll benefit from getting out to your local twins and multiples group as it can help to get empathy and support from other parents. They are really the only people who know how intense the early days are! Then you can share the ups and the downs together.
Parents of twins and multiples and postnatal depression (PND)
As a parent to newborn twins or multiples you will be very tired. You may have had the extra stress of your babies needing special care and all the worry that comes with that. You will spend most of your time looking after your babies and there will be little left over for you and your partner to be anything other than full-on parents.
If you are feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, depressed or angry, talk to your friends at your local twins and multiples group and talk to your health visitor or GP too. It’s important to remember that things will get easier on every front but you are coping with a lot and there are people ready to support and help you.
Remember that doctors and health visitors have heard it all before, and they will almost be expecting you to come in for help. So never hesitate before seeking help if you feel things are becoming overwhelming. Your doctor, health visitor, midwife or children’s centre will know what to do to help you get through any difficult times.