Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Twin Advice: Shopping with Twins

Shop on-line. You can get almost anything on-line these days, and many sites offer free shipping. This allows you to do your shopping in bits and pieces as you have time, and everything is delivered straight to your door which is especially great for bulky or heavy items like diapers and formula. Depending on where you live, you may even be able to order groceries on-line for delivery or pick-up.

For days when a trip to the grocery store or Target with the whole crew cannot be avoided, here are some strategies:
-Be sure that you make a list in advance and prioritize your shopping.  You never know when a baby will poop or have a total meltdown, forcing you to cut your trip short.
-If you are just picking up a few things, use the double stroller and put your purchases in a basket or the cargo area of the stroller.
-Put one baby in the cart and one in a baby bjorn or other baby carrier. This is my personal favorite since it gives you a mostly empty cart while only having to maneuver one thing.
-My husband liked to use 2 carts with a kid in each cart.  This seems like a nightmare to me, but it worked for him (plus I think it got him a lot of attention from fellow shoppers).
-There is a window (after the babies are sitting up well and before they get too big) where you can actually put both children in the front of a regular cart.  The trick is to put them slightly angled towards the center with the outside leg of each baby in the leg hole on their side and the inside leg across the seat itself towards the other twin. The legs on the seat will overlap a bit. How long you can pull this off will depend on how big your twins are and how tolerant they are of being squished together in this position.
-When the babies are sitting up well, warehouse stores (Sams, Costco) often have extra wide carts with room for 2 children to fit in the front portion.
-For toddlers/preschoolers, many stores have special carts (often in fun shapes like rockets or cars) that are made for 2 kids.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Twin Advice: Preserving Memories

Photo sites (Snapfish, Shutterfly, Kodak Gallery, etc) are a great way to organize and share pictures. 
They also allow you to easily make calendars, photobooks, holiday cards, greetings cards, etc. featuring your adorable twins. 

Write down important milestones. 
When the babies were born, my older girls started asking when they had walked, talked, etc. and I was horrified to realize that I had absolutely no idea.  The sleep deprivation will make that first year a total blur, so find some way - baby book, journal, blog - to record milestones and cute stories.

Get a camera  with high speed burst mode.
It is nearly impossible to get 2 little people looking at the camera at the same time, let alone with their eyes open and smiling.  High speed burst allows you to shoot continuously (in my case 8 shots a second) without having to re-press the shutter so you don't miss that millisecond where everyone is actually cooperating.  This is the only way we got a half decent holiday card photo this year.  I literally took 322 photos in 10 minutes. Even then, I didn't get one with everyone smiling, but at least they were all looking at the camera with their eyes open. Here is the camera I have, although there are other makes/models with similar features (Canon PowerShot ELPH 310 HS 12.1 MP CMOS Digital Camera with 8x Wide-Angle Optical Zoom Lens and Full 1080p HD Video (Silver)).

Be sure to take plenty of pictures of the twins individually as well as together. 
Pictures of twins together are often doubly cute, and it is easy to fall into a pattern of taking mainly shots with both kids. However, as your children get older, they will increasingly appreciate being able to see individual pictures of themselves at all stages.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Twin Advice: Twin Baby Play

One of the great pleasures of having twins is watching them interact.  Here are some of my favorite ways to let the babies play with each other.

Double tummy time in Boppy pillows.

Face-to-face Bumbo seats.

Back-to-back in bucket swings at park.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Twin Advice: Older Siblings

My older girls were 3 1/2 when the babies were born.  Even though I was fortunate that they had a build in playmate, it was still a big adjustment for them, and it was very challenging to keep them happy and occupied during the first few months when I was constantly busy feeding or taking care of the babies.  I think this was actually the toughest part of having a second set of twins.  The good news is that it gets much easier as the babies grow, their needs become less all consuming, and they become more interactive.  The babies adore the big girls and the the big girls are a huge help with entertaining the babies - they even routinely go and play with them in the mornings while they are still in their cribs so I can get a few extra minutes of sleep!  Here are some things that helped me through those early months:

Get your older children involved in taking care of the babies.  What form this will take will obviously depend on the age of your kids.  For us, with 3 1/2 year olds, this meant sending them to run and get a diaper or burp cloth and having them make faces or sing to keep one baby amused while I was busy with the other.  With close supervision, they were also able to hold and help feed the babies. On top of making the big girls feel useful and encouraging sibling bonding, they were actually surprisingly helpful.

Get some small activities for your older children to do while you are feeding the babies.  I would feed the babies in the living room and try to set the big girls up at the coffee table with a coloring book, stickers, craft etc.  If I was lucky, this would keep them occupied until the babies were done eating.

Set aside some protected time each day to spend with your older children and stick to it. This way your older children will know that, no matter how crazy the day gets, they will have some "mommy" (or "daddy") time with you.  I made it a priority to read bedtime stories to my older daughters every night, even if it meant that the babies fussed for a few minutes while waiting to eat, and I know that it was a time that all 3 of us looked forward to each day.

Find some children's TV programs/movies that you are OK with.  I did not let my older girls watch much TV at all when they were little, to the point where my mother-in-law found it borderline abusive and would try to sneak them cartoons whenever she had an opportunity. However, once the babies were born, it was invaluable to have them occupied quietly for a few minutes so that I could take care of the babies or take a much needed catnap myself.  Although I still limit their screen time, there are actually some surprisingly good and educational shows out there.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Twin Advice: Managing 2 Babies Solo

Bouncy Seats.
As I have mentioned before, bouncy seats were crucial to my ability to take care of both babies by myself. I used the bouncy seat as an extra pair of hands to hold a baby while I was busy feeding, changing, bathing, etc. the other baby (or both babies so that I could eat, run to the bathroom, etc). I had them scattered throughout the house so one was always close by. As the babies get bigger, Bumbo seats and Exersaucers can also serve this function.

If you are nursing, tandem feed.
On top of saving you lots of time, this will also save you from having to try to keep the other, often starving, baby happy while you feed his or her twin. When I was able to figure out logistics of doing this, it significantly decreased the amount of crying in my house - and my stress level.

At some point, you will find yourself alone with 2 fussy babies who both want your undivided attention. Here are some strategies:
- Hold one baby in the crook of each arm. This is the most simple and straightforward way to deal with the situation. You are able to hold both babies close and walk, sway, rock, sing, etc. to soothe them. However, even with very small babies, your arms will get tired after a while, and sometimes a super fussy baby will not put up with the divided attention, so it is important to have some alternatives.
- Hold the fussiest baby in your arms, and put the less fussy baby in a bouncy seat in front of you so that you can use your foot to gently bounce the baby.
- Hold the fussiest baby in your arms, and put the less fussy baby on the couch directly next to you. This way, while not being held, the less fussy baby can feel you right next to him and you are close enough to stroke his head
- Hold fussiest baby in your arms and put less fussy baby on your lap, resting on your legs, facing you. This can be done in a regular seated position, or, my personal favorite, while reclining on the couch with your knees pulled up (so that you can fall asleep yourself once you get the babies asleep!). This way, the less fussy baby still feels like he is being held, and you can move your legs gently from side to side to "rock" the baby on your lap, stroke his head, etc.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Twin Advice: Great Gear

San Diego Bebe Twins Nursing Pillow (San Diego Bebe ECO Twin Deluxe Nursing Pillow - Lime). I didn't buy this when I was pregnant with my first set of twins because I was totally freaked out (horrified, actually) by the pictures of mothers tandem nursing. Then I ended up rush ordering it when the girls were 6 weeks old and I needed to figure out a way to feed them at the same time when I was at home by myself. This was the answer. It positions the babies correctly and provides enough support that you can nurse basically hands-free, plus it provides a stable enough "shelf" that you can put one baby down on it and be able to let go and put the other baby on if you are by yourself.

Kiddopautomus Swaddle Blankets (Kiddopotamus SwaddleMe Microfleece, Small, Ivory). These are basically an idiot proof swaddling system which allows you to get a very tight swaddle and then keeps it tight with velcro. When we started using them with our first set of twins, it added 2 hours to the amount of time they slept at night. Life changing!

Bouncy seats (Fisher-Price Rainforest Bouncer). I love bouncy seats! I got 4 when I was pregnant the first time around between hand-me-downs and shower gifts. I was planning on returning 2 of them, but one of my friends with twins convinced me not to. I thought she was crazy at the time, but I used every one of them, and occasionally, when moving them from room to room, found myself wishing for a couple more. There are hundreds of these to match every taste, but I highly recommend getting one of the bouncers with a baby-activated mode in which the baby's movements activate lights and sounds. It is really fun to watch the babies figure out cause and effect, and it keeps them much better entertained.

Bumbo Seats (Bumbo Baby Seat, Blue). This is a molded plastic seat that allows babies to sit upright before they are strong/coordinated enough to do it on their own. My kids all really enjoying being able to sit up and look around, and it is a great place to keep the babies happy and safely contained once they start outgrowing the bouncy seats. You can also put them face to face and the babies can start playing together.

Dispensing Spoon by Boon (Plum Organics Dispensing Boon Spoon, 2-Count Packages (Pack of 4)) This is genius! I wish I had thought of it. It is a spoon head with a small hole in it that screws on the pouches of baby food. When you squeeze the pouch, the spoon fills up. This allows you to go from baby to baby without having to dip back into the bowl, speeding up the feeding process. That few seconds may not sound like much, but is key when you have 2 ravenous babies screaming for their next bite. They also make clean-up a breeze (no bowl or jar to clean) and are super convenient for on-the-go feeding.  

Baby Bjorn (BABYBJĂ–RN Baby Carrier Original - Black, Classic). We had two of these front carriers and used them all the time.  The babies loved being in them, especially facing forward, and it gives you back both hands to use to grocery shop, hold the hand of a sibling, prepare bottles, clean, etc.

First Years Newborn to Toddler Reclining Feeding Seat (The First Years Newborn to Toddler Reclining Feeding Seat).   I used these instead of high chairs. They take up a lot less room, are much easier to clean, and are much less expensive than high chairs. Plus, they are portable, so you can use them when you travel. 

Double stroller. You will definitely want at least one of these. Which one is best will depend a lot on where you live and how you will be using the stroller, so my advice is to test drive a few of these, keeping in mind where/how you will be using the stroller most. I personally preferred the side-by-side variety. I found these much more maneuverable than the front/back set up, and, when the babies got bigger, it allowed both of them to have an equally good view and prevented the twin in the back from torturing the twin in the front by taking off hats, pulling hair, etc. Even though the side-by-sides are wider, with the slimmer versions of these, I have not had any issues fitting through doorways or the narrow sidewalks near my house. My favorites are the Maclaren Twin Techno (Maclaren Twin Techno Stroller, Black On Black Frame) and the Baby Jogger City Mini Double (Baby Jogger 2011 City Mini Double Stroller, Black/Black). Both of these also recline fully, so they can be used even with infants.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Twin Advice: Sleep

Both of our sets of twins were sleeping 6+ hours a night by 6 weeks and 8+ hours a night by 8 weeks. I'm not sure how much we had to do with accomplishing this - it may have been a miracle or an act of pity and/or self preservation on the part of the babies - but I will tell you some things that I think helped.
I am a huge fan of swaddling in general, and the Kiddopatamus SwaddleMe blanket (Kiddopotamus & Co. Organic Cotton SwaddleMe Small/Med 7-14lb - Ivory) in particular for nighttime swaddling. The SwaddleMe blankets are basically an idiot proof swaddling system which allows you to get a very tight swaddle and then keeps it tight with velcro. When we started using them with our first set of twins, it added 2 hours to the amount of time they slept at night. Life changing! For daytime swaddling, we used regular blankets to allow for a bit more wiggle room. The hospital nurses can teach you their tried and true techniques for doing this. It takes a little while to get the hang of it, but in my experience, it definitely leads to calmer, happier babies.
Let the babies sleep in car seats, bouncy seats, swings - whatever works. 
I figured out that the older girls slept much better propped up, so I put their car seats in their cribs, and they slept in those until they were 4 month old. I felt guilty about this until I talked to our pediatrician (a father of twins) who said that his kids slept in bouncy seats until around the same age. I did the same thing, with similar success, the second time around. In those early months, any extra sleep you can get is much more important than getting them sleeping in their cribs. In my experience, around 4-5 months, they were ready, and the transition was relatively easy.
Keep the babies on a regimented feeding schedule.
We did this with both sets of our twins because the babies were small and slow to gain weight, but I think it may also have had something to do with making them good sleepers. Initially, our pediatrician had us waking the girls up to eat every 3 hours. This was eventually spaced out to every 4 hours, and then, around 6 weeks, he gave us permission to let them sleep as long as they wanted at night, while keeping them on a strict feeding schedule during the day. As soon as we gave them the opportunity, they slept through the night and they never looked back. I think they were thrilled that we finally stopped bothering them and let them sleep!  The first time, I thought it was a fluke, but since the exact same thing happened the second time around, I'm a believer.  If (in some alternate universe) I was to have another set of twins that was gaining weight well, I would not necessarily wake them up at night (I don't think there is any way that I could drag myself out of bed unless I felt it was absolutely necessary), but I would certainly keep them on a regular feeding schedule during the day.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Twin Advice: Bottles/Solid Food

When I fed the babies bottles by myself, I found it worked best to put each baby in a Boppy pillow or bouncy seat facing me and then to sit between them on the floor with a bottle in each hand. 
If you turn the babies so that their feet are resting on your lap, the Boppy pillows also work well on a deep couch.

When feeding solid food, use a single bowl and spoon and to go back and forth from baby to baby. 
This is much faster than trying to manage two sets of spoons and bowls, and hungry babies do not like to wait for their twin to be fed. Plus, there is less to clean.

Do not stress about keeping bottles, spoons, pacifiers, sippy cups, etc. separate for each baby unless someone is sick.
And, honestly, even if one is sick, it's pretty much inevitable that the other one is going to sick anyway, so don't stress too much about it then either.

Try Boon Dispensing Spoons (Plum Organics Dispensing Boon Spoon, 2-Count Packages (Pack of 4).
These came out in between my two sets of twins and are genius! It is a spoon head with a small hole in it that screws on pouches of baby food. When you squeeze the pouch, the spoon fills up. This allows you to go from baby to baby without having to dip back into the bowl, speeding up the feeding process. That few seconds may not sound like much, but makes a difference when you have 2 ravenous babies screaming for their next bite. They also make clean-up a breeze (no bowl or jar to clean) and are super convenient for on-the-go feeding.   
Use a feeding seat that straps on to a regular chair instead of high chairs (The First Years Newborn to Toddler Reclining Feeding Seat). 
They take up a lot less room, are much easier to clean, and are much less expensive than high chairs. Plus, they are portable, so you can use them when you travel.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Twin Advice: Pumping

Get a hands-free pumping bra.
This is a bizarre contraption (as if pumping isn't bizarre enough), but if you are pumping regularly, it is wonderfully liberating as it allows you to multitask while you pump. There are multiple types, but the one that I found most convenient and secure was basically a strapless bustier with 2 holes to put the breast shields into (Simple Wishes Hands-Free Breastpump Bra, Pink, XS/S/M). This was especially great when I went back to work because I could just keep it in my pump bag and use it over an unbuttoned shirt and whatever nursing bra I was already wearing.

If you end up having to pump frequently for any length of time, buy enough pump sets to get you through the day without having to wash them.
This way you can put them in the dishwasher and clean them all at once. The last thing that you are going to want to do when you are pumping 6-8 times a day is hand wash pump pieces, and all the constant washing can add up to a significant amount of lost sleep.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Twin Advice: Nursing

Be gentle with yourself and flexible with your feeding plans.
Many, if not most, twin moms (and some singleton moms) are not able to keep up with the amount of milk that their babies need and end up needing to supplement with some formula. If this is the case with you, do not beat yourself up about it or make yourself miserable trying to keep up. Just know that you are doing the best that you can for your babies, and that whatever you can provide for them is beneficial.
Make use of the lactation consultants at the hospital.
Breastfeeding did not come as naturally to me and my babies as I expected it to. From talking to friends, I have found that this is not unusual. Trying to breastfeed twins adds another degree of difficulty. I found the lactation consultants invaluable in getting through some of the initial rough patches.
Tandem feed.
This takes a little practice, but is a huge time saver and has the added benefit of keeping the babies on the same schedule and preventing the hungry, waiting one from going totally nuts while you are trying to feed the other. In my experience, it worked best once each baby was nursing well individually. I found that the double football hold (each baby tucked under an arm with feet pointing towards the back) worked best.

Invest in a specialized twin nursing pillow.
This is a huge help in positioning the babies comfortably, quickly, and securely. This is the newest version of the one I used: San Diego Bebe ECO Twin Deluxe Nursing Pillow - Lime.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Twin Advice: The First Few Months

Keep the babies on same schedule.
This is key to your sanity and any hope of getting some sleep. I know it may seem mean, but if one baby wakes up, wake the other one up and feed them together to keep them synchronized.

Sleep when the babies sleep.
Everyone says this, and it is very true, although much easier said that done. After you finally get the babies both to sleep, you will look around and see everything that needs to be done (dishes, laundry, birth announcements, thank you notes, etc.) or be tempted to take a few minutes to catch up on email or flip through a magazine, but fight that urge and go to sleep!!! Remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint, and you will need your rest. Everything else can wait. Really, it can.

Divide and conquer.
If you are anything like my husband and me, when you bring home your babies, you will be so in love with them that you won't want to miss a single yawn or coo. We initially both wanted to be there for every moment. While great in theory, we soon realized that this was a recipe for severe sleep deprivation (and crankiness) for the whole family. Certainly enjoy your time as a family, but if one parent can hold down the fort, send the other off for some much needed rest. 

Keep a log. You'll be amazed how quickly you will forget which baby you just changed or fed when you are sleep deprived, and having a log makes it much easier to keep track of everything and to pass off care to the other parent or another caregiver. Initially we had a log with a column for each twin and a row for each hour. We would write down on the appropriate line when they had a wet or poopy diaper (important initially to make sure that they were getting enough to eat, especially since I was breastfeeding and it was hard to tell how much they were getting), which side they ate on (so I could alternate which baby got which breast in case one was a more vigorous eater), and how much they drank if they were getting any by bottle. The log got considerably simpler as we went along, but we continued to use some form of log for the first few months. This was especially helpful when I went back to work since I could come home and have a snapshot of the day.

The 5 S's (Swaddle, Side/Stomach, Shush, Swing, Suck). This is Harvey Karp's method for soothing babies (detailed in The Happiest Baby on the Block) and was my mantra for the first few months. It really does work and provides an easy to remember series of steps to follow when you are exhausted and dealing with a fussy baby.

Accept all offers of help.
This was hard for me since I like to be self-sufficient, but the generous help that we received from friends and family was invaluable during those first few months. I found the most helpful things to be those that allowed me to focus on the babies and/or get some rest (bringing meals, having our older kids over for a playdate, making a trip to the grocery store, holding the babies while I took a nap or shower).   

Prepare yourself for the curious public.
Going out with twins in public (especially both sets) has made me empathize with celebrities. Despite the fact that twins are actually quite common these days, people seem to be endlessly fascinated with them, and the younger the twins are, the more fascinated people are. If everyone is in a good mood and you are not in a hurry, it can be fun to have people "Oooh" and "Aaah" over your babies and amusing to entertain their questions, but there will be times when you just want to do your grocery shopping and go home. In these cases, I have found that a pleasant aloofness works best. I just smile and move along, trying to engage as little as possible.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Twin Advice: Setting Up The House

Create a changing station on each floor.
This will save you numerous trips up and down the stairs. We just used one of the changing pads anchored to the back of a dresser instead of investing in a whole separate piece of furniture, both in the nursery and downstairs (Summer Infant Contoured Changing Pad). If you don't have room to have a full changing station, it could be as simple as a basket with diapers, wipes, and a changing pad that you keep downstairs. 

Have an area for the babies to nap downstairs for the first few months.
During the first few months, the babies will be in a constant cycle of eating and sleeping, and it is nice to avoid constantly going up and down the stairs. At various times, I used Moses baskets, bouncy seats, and a Pack and Play, all of which worked well. Once the babies are a bit bigger and you are trying to get them onto a schedule, I found that putting them in their cribs worked best.

Have places throughout the house to safely keep one baby while you are are busy feeding, changing, comforting the other (or both babies while you try to eat, shower, etc).
What form this will take will depend on the developmental stage of your babies. Bouncy seats work well for the first 4 months. I literally think at one point I had at least 4 scattered throughout various rooms of my house. We gradually moved on to Bumbo seats, followed by Exersaucers, and then were able to eek out a few more weeks with Jumperoos before they refused to be restrained in any way.
Instead of the typical rocker or glider for the nursery, consider getting a bigger chair or even a  loveseat if you have room.
We have a chair-and-a-half that has worked really well. It is large enough that I could comfortably tandem feed using the big nursing pillow and has allowed me to comfortably cuddle with both kids for bedtime stories as they have gotten bigger.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Twin Advice: Pregnancy

Enjoy these last few months before the twins are born.
Go out to dinner, sleep in, take a vacation if you feel up to it, etc. It's so easy to get caught up in the pregnancy and getting everything ready. Your life with the twins will be great, but it will require a ridiculous amount of planning and scheduling to do even very simple outings, so enjoy the freedom and spontaneity while you still have it!

If these will be your first children, read books about caring for infants now, since you won't have time or energy after the babies arrive.
The ones that I found most helpful were:
-Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Marc Weissbluth

Enlist help.
You will want as much help as you can get for the first few months after the babies are born, and this is the time to arrange it. If you have family that is willing and able to help (and who won't drive you crazy), that is wonderful. If you can afford it, I highly recommend hiring a baby nurse for a while, particularly at night. I was very resistant to this idea the first time around.  On top of concerns about the expense, I really wanted to do everything myself and wasn't sure how I felt about having a stranger in the house for our first few weeks as a new family.  My mother-in-law gave us the services of a baby nurse as a gift, and it ended up being tremendously helpful and less intrusive than I was afraid it was going to be.  With the second set of twins, we had nurses come in several times a week at night for the first month. Even though I was breastfeeding and still up every 3 hours for feedings, it made a big difference to have someone else change the babies and get them back to sleep so I could simply feed them and go back to bed. If you call the labor and delivery floor of your hospital or talk to local mothers of multiples, they can give you suggestions about good people to use. Definitely spend some time interviewing anyone you are thinking of hiring to make sure that they are a good fit for you and your family.  

Take advantage twin discounts.
Many baby stores (including BabiesRUs, Pottery Barn Kids, and Restoration Hardware Baby & Child) have discounts if you buy two or more of the same item at the same time. This can save a lot of money when you are buying big ticket items like cribs. Some smaller, independent stores have similar programs, including a local shoe store, which has kept us coming back to them for what seems like a never ending parade of shoes. There are even some colleges that offer twin discounts on tuition!

Get a few premie or newborn sized outfits.
Most 0-3 month size clothes are sized for babies over 7-8 pounds. Since many twins are born early, and even those who are full term tend to be on the small size, it is nice to have a few of these smaller outfits on hand so your babies won't be totally swallowed up in their clothes for the first few weeks. You can always leave the tags on them and take them back if you are fortunate enough to have big, full term babies.

Get one of the full body pregnancy pillows.
I resisted for a long time because they are bulky, look ridiculous, and seemed like an unnecessary expense, but I definitely slept better when I started using one. Any investment you can make in getting sleep before the little ones arrive is a good one, since you won't be getting much afterwards. This is the one that I used, but there are several manufacturers that make similar products: Boppy Prenatal Total Body Pillow.

Elasticity Belly Oil by Belli.
Although 99% of my worries were focused on having a healthy pregnancy, I did find time to obsess about getting stretchmarks, and started using this oil. I have no idea whether it really helped me or whether I just have good genes, but I managed to make it through 2 full term twin pregnancies without a single stretch mark, so I am a believer. Plus it smells really good. Belli Elasticity Belly Oil, 4 FL. OZ.