Sep 11, 2011

Tips and Tricks for Managing Twins

These ones are fairly easy

Now I have to warn you - I don't have much.

That's because, as I have learned, there are limits to what you can do, juggling two crying babies for example. (And what about triplets?? Eeek!)
Accept that there are limits, accept that it is sometimes hard, and get on with whatever you need to do until the difficulty passes. (And if doing what you need to do is shutting the door and sitting crying on the floor for 20 minutes, then do it. Been there, done that!)

So anyway, for what it's worth here are my suggestions. I hope they are helpful.
If you have twins and there are things you are struggling with, I would love to hear about them. What has worked for you? What would you like advice on?

Managing two crying babies
The biggie. When mine were bubs, this was my biggest problem, and one I searched for help with the most. I rang my parent co-ordinator in our twin club for some tips. Her advice? "I always made sure I had someone else with me." Hmm. Thanks. Good idea, not always possible!
I did finally come across some helpful advice on this - are you ready?:

Comfort the calmer baby first.
This is counter-intuitive but it is right. You will calm the less-worked-up baby quicker, and prevent her escalating to the point where you have two screaming babies (at which point, you are pretty much screwed).

Use equipment if you have it.
BEST THING EVER for me was my two simple rockers. I used these all the time and was so fervently thankful for them I don't know what I would have done without them. They cost us $70 each but at cost per use over 18 months probably worked out at about $0.000000001.

Yes, they're both girls.
But I loved that black and white growsuit!
They were great for settling or for popping the babies into for 'playtime' or relaxation, and you can rock them with your foot if you're busy on other things. I put them in the rockers and had them near the kitchen while I was cooking, in the bathroom while I showered, or in the loungeroom in front of a window while I showered. They were always happy in them and as they got older they could rock themselves.

When they were one and a half and sitting up in the rockers while watching TV, I had to admit to myself we had probably outgrown them.

A in the swing

Second best thing ever for me was a baby swing loaned to us by a lovely lady in my mother's group whose baby didn't like it (bless him!!). I swear we used that thing until M was 6 months old and the swing mechanism was groaning under her weight. By that stage I was willing to pay whatever it cost to buy a replacement if we broke it (we didn't fortunately).

Managing two screaming, really really upset babies
Fortunately this doesn't really happen very often. Mostly you will have one more upset than the other, or two crying but not both screaming and unmanageable. It does happen though.

There is no solution to this one. You just have to "choose" one baby and comfort it first, and leave the other one till next (in a safe place such as a cot of course). And yes, it's horrible. But here is where you use one piece of really useful classic wisdom that I used to chant in my head like a mantra:
"This too shall pass."

Settling two babies
Can I just say that having taken myself and my twins to sleep school as soon as we could get in and having only really cracked the sleep thing consistently when our girls were four, I am not in a position to offer advice here. But the following bits and pieces were genuinely helpful to me.
  • have them in the same room when they're little, especially if you are alone at nights a lot (as I was). It's so much easier to tend to two babies, go between two cots, sit and hold hands or pat backs, as well as read stories, use the change table etc, if everything is in one room
  • have them in seperate rooms when they're older. We found one definitely kept the other awake, and should have seperated them much earlier than we did.
  • try and always settle them in their cots, rather than faff about with bassinets, rockers, prams and the like as I did (thinking I was making things easier, when in fact I wasn't). You need a routine and you need it fast.
  • routine, routine, routine. But not one of those crazy regimented ones down to the minute. That will just make you feel inadequate when inevitably your babies don't fall perfectly into line. You also need to be able to accommodate the occasional trip out or unexpected event, so a routine that is a bit flexible is best (but don't hesitate to lay down the rules you need either - for instance I never went out in the morning with my babies as it didn't suit our routine and they were not 'morning' kids). My routine was "11-3-7" feeding times, "feed-play-sleep" with "play" after dinner being bath and cuddle, and the 11pm feed being the "sleep feed" in the bedroom. I had a cheap wicker rocking chair in the bedroom between the cots, and fed one at a time in my arms, or used the rocker for the second one if they were both awake. If my husband was home we'd feed and cuddle one each and whisper to each other which helped keep them settled. The nightime and 7am feeds were my favourite ones - both are a lovely time of the day, even if you are exhausted.
  • soft ambient music or lullaby music in the room works well and is relaxing for you too
  • however tempting it is when you're exhausted, try not to rush the settling because it will backfire and take you longer!
  • once we had the swing, I used to put M in the swing while cuddling A, sing them both a song then put A in her cot, then pick up M for a cuddle and put her in the cot (usually asleep). Yes I did feel guilty that A got more night-time cuddles than M on the nights I was on my own, but at the end of the day you need to get them both to sleep using whatever works, and this worked for us
  • dummies, especially once they're a few weeks old. Newborns keep dropping them out of their mouths and then they wake up.
  • logic. Remind yourself, "Eventually, they will sleep." When I was really exhausted and at my wits' end, I used to look at the clock and think, "OK, this will take me one hour, probably. So by .... o'clock I will be able to go to bed and sleep." Oddly enough I found this very helpful.

Controlling two (or more) mobile babies while busy, or taking one at a time to the car
Use a playpen. Don't even try not to.
If I was taking one baby at a time to the car, or if I needed to go to the toilet, or if I was ironing (I believe I did do that once), I put the babies in the playpen while I was out of the room or busy with the other one. They weren't crazy about it, but it was only ever for a few minutes at a time, and was instant peace of mind.

Feeding two babies: bottle feeding
One word: rockers!
I used to hold one baby in my arms and feed her, and have the other in her rocker, rocking it with my foot, while she fed. Then halfway through I'd burp the first baby and pop her in her rocker to finish feeding, then pick up the second, burp her, and finish feeding with her in my arms. So each got a turn in the rocker and in my arms. These were the times I always felt most competent and kick-arse as a twin mum.
When the babies were really little I just used to feed one at a time, in my arms.

Feeding two babies: breast-feeding
Have to say I did not rack up much experience in this so am not qualified to give advice. But you basically experiment until you find what works. You can feed one at a time but as breast feeding tends to take longer than bottle feeding, you might not be able to do this - eventually most twin mums prefer to find a way to feed both together. Sitting on a couch or propped up on a bed with lots of pillows and twins propped up is the way most go. It takes some getting used to.

Most mothers I know ended up doing a mix of breast and bottle feeding, as breast feeding twins (or more) exclusively can be very difficult.

Taking twins to the supermarket
Avoid where possible. In a word, horrendous. You can have one baby in a sling and one popped in the baby seat in the trolley, or somehow manage to juggle both of them out of the car and all the way over to one of those twin baby trolleys (to this day I can't figure out how you're supposed to do that - leave babies in the car, go into supermarket, find the one trolley with two baby seats in it, and bring it back to the car?). I took my twin pram in, and limited my shopping to what could fit in a basket - but carrying a shopping basket while pushing a pram is not as easy as you may think. Factor in one or both babies crying and it is a nightmare.

Once they're too old for the pram, it's one sitting in the toddler seat in the trolley and one in the main part of the trolley, sitting on the sturdier groceries as their balance is not the best at that age.
My girls are nearly six now, and I can honestly say I have only recently not absolutely hated every second I was inside a supermarket with them. They're quite good now - but I still go on my own unless completely unavoidable.

Keeping track of feeding, medication, who had which breast, who had what solids, who did what bowel movements, etc.
Keep a diary. I had exercise books I just ruled some columns down, one double-spread page per day (one page per baby). Each day I ruled up the columns and wrote in my little heading initials, I toyed with becoming an internet mumpreneur, sourcing and selling custom-made baby diaries so that I wouldn't have to write up the columns and headings every day.

But they were very helpful and also made entertaining reading later on, when I could chuckle at my foggy panic over quite normal little variations in their day to day lives. ("A had very loose poo and looked unhappy. Sick???!")

Even keeping a diary I did suddenly realise one day that on the previous feed I had inadvertently fed one baby twice and the other not at all. No lasting effects thankfully.

Feeding Solids
Unless one of them is sick (and sometimes even then), just use one bowl and one spoon, and feed alternate mouthfuls to each. Have the odd spoonful yourself if it's an especially delicious mix of mashed veg. On the other hand, use seperate bowls if you find that one is eating faster than the other and you want to make sure you don't short-change one (see paragraph above).

On solids, two great pieces of advice from Robin Barker, whose book Baby Love I adored:

(1) Don't bother freezing mash into ice cube trays, as it is a lot of trouble and they don't defrost well. Just make a big bowl of mashed veg and keep in the fridge for 4 days. This is excellent advice and I would add, to make your busy lives as easy as possible, make an extra large bowl, and each evening for dinner the parents eat a piece of barbecued or grilled meat and a big helping of the mashed veg. Delicious, easy dinners.

(2) Her avocado recipe (great simple recipes in this book by the way) goes like this:
"1/2 a ripe avocado (you eat the other half mashed with garlic and lemon juice or just splash in some balsamic vinegar). Mash avocado with a fork."
I love that - love that she thinks of the mum too, with a quick and healthy pick-me-up that is also a practical way to use up all the avocado. Thanks Robin Barker!

Non-Matching but Similar Outfits
Not easy you know. You don't want them to be dressed the same, but you have to get TWO (or more) of each KIND of thing. For instance, 2 long-sleeved tops. 2 pairs of soft pants. 2 coats. 2 sets of summer pyjamas, preferably low fire danger, and of same type (2 shorts and tees, OR 2 nighties) and similarly cute motif /colour to avoid arguments. But, if you have the energy to be fretting over outfits, you have mastered the harder stuff, right?

A couple of other things
Warming bottles without using a microwave
Boil water, pour half a cup into a plastic jug, and sit the bottle of formula in the jug for half a minute. Shake gently before testing. Very easy. Naturally you need two plastic jugs.

Formula out and about
I used to boil water, let it cool slightly and fill the bottles while it was still quite hot, then take formula with me in one of those little formula dispensers. By the time I had arrived where I was going the water had cooled to room temperature, and I just mixed the formula and away we went.

Sterilising bottles
I keep waiting for new advice that tells us we don't need to do this. Because what we do does not really end up with the bottles being sterile. What do you dry them on after sterilising? A sealed vacuum? A tea towel? The draining rack? (I used paper towel, but that's still not sterile. Sometimes I even tore off a couple of squares first to get a really 'clean' square that hadn't been exposed to the air! Even while I knew this was silly). Do you meticulously wash your hands with soap and hot water every time before touching the sterile parts? Do you really use those little tongs to pull the whole teat completely through the ring? C'mon, admit it! If you make up formula in a jug (which the hospital recommended to me, so I did for awhile, until I realised how much easier it is to make up the bottles), do you sterilise the knife that you stir it with every time before you pour?
But, of course, until they come out and debunk it, we're not game to stop sterilising, when the babies are little.
I stopped sterilising around 5 months when we started solids, because no one sterilises bowls and spoons!

So anyway, those are my suggestions and opinions. I hope they are helpful, or bring back memories.

If you have twins (or more!) and there are things you are struggling with, I would love to hear from you.
What has worked for you?
What would you like advice on?


  1. Just an only child for me and that was hard work and a big enough shock. I'm in awe of you!

  2. Kath, I reckon I would have struggled as much whether I had one baby, two babies or ten - however few or many you have they tend to take up all your time!
    I hope I do as good a job as you have obviously done with your lovely daughter.

  3. Thank you so much for your awesome tips. I recently became a mommy of twins and felt real scary ho I'd manage. Your insight is remarkable and would surely help me handle things!

  4. Hi Karen,
    Thanks so much, that means so much to me! Good luck and I am sure you will find your own ways to manage your beautiful twins. It is hard when they are babies but I always loved having two! Let me know how you go!

  5. Hi Karen,
    I don't know if you'll read this as it's years after the last post but if you do, I wondered at what age you separated your girls into separate rooms and what age they went back in together (if they did at all)? My boys are coming up to six months and really starting to disturb each other when sleeping so we're going to try one in our bedroom (wish we had a three-bed house! ).

    Thanks so much. Have enjoyed reading your blog, it's the most useful and reassuring writing on twins that I've read :-D

    Best wishes, Helen x

    1. Hi Helen
      My reply is below but I also wanted to say thank you so much for your comment, that is so great to hear!
      Best of luck and let me know how it goes!

  6. Hi Helen
    I'm sorry I'm a couple days late in replying. We separated our girls somewhere between 18mo and 2 years but wish I'd done it earlier. One of the kids has always needed more sleep than the other and the other one was keeping her awake. They were so starting to play and keep each other distracted at bedtime.
    Six months sounds like a good age to do it, because they're still young enough they probably won't mind being separated, whereas if you leave it as late as we did we had one girl who took quite awhile to settle into her new room without her sister (her sister was just relieved to get her sleep!)
    Hope it goes well for you - if you find any good tips for how you did it please comment again and let me know!

  7. My twins are a month old. One twin gets up every two hours while the other twin gets up every 3 hours. I am getting no sleep and I do not have help at night. Did you experience a similar situation? When can I epect it to get better?

  8. I have one month old twins. One gets up every two hours to feed while the other gets up every three hours to feed. I am not getting any sleep and have no help at night. When can I expect it tonget better?

    1. Hi Vannessa,
      It's just awful isn't it - of course every baby is different but you could look into or try these things:
      - feed the first, settle them and put them back to bed then wake up and feed the second and then settle them
      - if you are breastfeeding use a bottle at night? (idea is they drink a bit more and hopefully sleep longer)
      - if they're on formula is the formula OK for them? no reflux etc?

      At one month old they're still really little and in that first 'demand feeding' stage, and this WILL get better. I needed help when mine were 5 weeks old as I was on my own many nights and it was really hard, we went to a sleep school that was partly covered by our health insurance, but had to wait 4 really hard weeks to get in!

      Of course babies need to be comforted and fed etc, but you also need to stay sane, in order to look after them and keep going, so don't feel guilty about letting them cry sometimes. Especially if you are bottle feeding you can be 'strict' on times and let them cry between scheduled feeds, at least sometimes (easy to say I know - and I was terrible at sticking to this, so don't get the impression I managed this myself). They will be fine - and no lasting damage, really! It's what most of our parents and grandparents did after all.

      Can I also suggest, make an appointment with your health nurse or your GP and discuss it all with them - they'll probably have some ideas or at least some ways to help you cope.

      Let me know how you go, you can email me if you like - see contact page.

  9. I have read your post. Great article! A true resource for expecting parents! I will definitely recommend this to friends who've recently become parents. Thank's for sharing. babychortle



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