Jennifer has been a doula, both for births and for the postpartum period, for about 13 years, and is now focused on just postpartum work. She’s worked with hundreds of families, including many sets of twins. We asked her for her insights about preparing for and parenting multiples in the postpartum period.
On what’s unique about parents of multiples. Surprisingly, Jennifer says, parents of multiples tend to be MORE prepared, with fewer unrealistic expectations about the birth and the postpartum period. They don’t expect to exclusively breastfeed or to bed share, for example. They have thought through the idea of premature birth and NICU stays, and even details of the birth plan. “There’s a kind of letting go of how we thought it was going to look.” Starting out with modified expectations can actually help people to better prepare for a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder, she says.
On the most common practical struggles she sees with parents of multiples: Jennifer noted that, not surprisingly, two (or more) babies means MORE than twice the work. “That idea of having a window of time in a 24-hour period when parents are off-duty is just not there” like it might be for parents of a single baby. Feeding and sleeping are the most common concerns, since the babies’ needs are not synched, at least at first.
On the emotional adjustments that parents of multiples need to make: Jennifer says that many adjustments are universal regardless of how many babies you have: your shift in identity, what it means to be a mother/father, as well as sleep deprivations, physical recovery from birth, dealing with medical complications, etc. But with multiples, it’s times two (or more).
Her top suggestions for coping in general?
1, Jennifer suggests that the parents have a consultation with a professional before the babies are born to set up a system to make caring for the babies easier. A professional like a doula can help you set up stations on each floor for changing, feeding, “parking” the babies, figuring out where they will sleep, and so on. And having an idea of where all the baby stuff goes can decrease anxiety for the parents.
2, Once the babies are home, she emphasizes getting the babies to feed at the same time. This can be hard at first, when the babies are still learning to eat. But Jennifer suggests getting help, with friends, families, or professionals to step in to help in feeding.
3, Be diligent about self-care. Jennifer stressed taking care of the adults in addition to taking care of the babies. “We tend to be good at caring for babies, but we fall short on taking care of ourselves.” This is especially the case with feeding ourselves. She suggested getting a meal train, having frozen food ready, or employing grandma’s cooking to make sure the parents are eating.
On what she wishes parents of multiples would know before they give birth. The most essential thing, Jennifer stressed, was to be gentle with oneself as the postpartum period unfolds. Know that there will be lots of stress, both physical and emotional. “We learn to tenderly take care of the wee ones, but we need to do so with the parents as well. Bring people onto the team who can help with that for the family.”
Jennifer tells all new parents to “front-load” self-care. Do more now, even when you feel great, to make sure your tank is full. Put your feet up. Take baths, cuddle in bed, accept food, linger in the “baby cave.” While you have people around helping, really use them. “If you can slow down in the early weeks, you do much better three months out, with much more reserve…It’s like putting money in the bank,” she says.