Author: Sarah Lavis
As I reflect on my twin journey so far, there are so many things I wish I shared with friends and family before my girls came into the world. It would’ve helped make my journey an easier one.
I have put together some of my top tips on supporting a family member or friend who has twins or multiples. I truly hope these tips shine a light on how challenging it can be and how you can make someone’s life just a little bit easier. Simply put – bringing multiple babies home is a different experience to bringing one child home.
Being a parent of multiples comes with its own unique stuff – higher rates of PND/A, longer hospital stays and challenges like feeding multiple babies at once (don’t worry, there’s a special cushion for that!) or getting multiple babies into a cafe that isn’t pram friendly.
Be an awesome friend and provide some support. A little goes a long way! And, don’t forget that the support needed doesn’t just stop at the newborn stage.
1. Whooping Cough Jab
Whooping cough is extremely dangerous for newborns. And newborns don’t have their first immunisations until six weeks, so it is about eight weeks until a baby is considered immunised.
The whooping cough jab lasts ten years, is inexpensive or free and helps minimise risk of a newborn getting sick. So why not get it? Many families instate a no vax, no visit rule to avoid whooping cough complications.
What’s worse than one sick baby? Two or more sick babies and their parents.
2. Supporting a family member or friend who has twins or multiples as they recover from the birth
More than two thirds of twin births are via c-section. C-section recovery is rough! Six weeks of not being able to drive, extreme abdominal pain, a lot of pain medication, etc. It is not the easy way out. Understand that the family is not just supporting multiple babies, but likely to be supporting a recovering mother.
3. Hospital time
Multiple births generally require more hospital time than a singleton birth. Many families are in hospital for about a week and having visitors is the last thing on their mind. The hospital environment is hectic – when you think you’re going to get some rest, you’re woken up at 3am for blood pressure checks.
Please do not hassle for visitation. It’s unlikely the family even knows when they’re going home and when they will be ready for visitors.
Recognise that instead of the high that many mothers experience after they give birth, mothers of multiples often leave hospital on a low as they are so exhausted.
4. Supporting a family member or friend who has twins or multiples in the NICU
Multiple births can come with complications, and it is common that babies will spend some time in the NICU. This often means the family might come home without their babies. And it also means they are travelling back and forth daily to visit their babies, provide breastmilk etc.
There’s been a lot of research done and there are strong links between PTSD and NICU time. Please be aware of this and that your friends may have trauma from the NICU experience. Seeing a newborn hooked up to a wires, monitors and breathing support is a pretty unsettling experience.
Instead of celebrating the birth of the babies, the family is coping with so much stress, guilt, anxiety. The last thing they need is any pressure from anyone; their focus is supporting their babies and getting them home.
When the family is home and settled, they may opt to have one visitor per day maximum. With the crazy newborn feeding schedule and lack of sleep, it is pretty draining to entertain visitors. So be the type of visitor the family doesn’t need to host.
If you commit to visiting, then stick to it and don’t bail at the last minute. And if you bail, don’t expect to be chased up on when you’ll be able to visit. There’s simply no time or energy to be chasing visitors who don’t reschedule.
6. Response time
Families with multiples may be a wee bit busy. Don’t be offended if they don’t respond to your message right away or ever. They truly have their hands full and are doing the best they can. It’s not about you, it’s about them trying to get into a routine and learn about their little ones.
Do not visit when sick. Do not visit when your family members are sick. Stay home. Organise to catch up via FaceTime or Zoom instead. Even if you can’t come, make the effort to show that you are part of the team.
What’s worse than one sick baby? Two or more sick babies and their parents.
8. Its not just about the babies!
When visiting, make sure to focus on the parents. Yes, the babies are cute as but make sure you truly support the parents. Spend time with the parents, tell them they are doing a great job, focus your energy on them.
9. Supporting a family member or friend who has had twins or multiples by bringing food
Help a family out by preparing some meals for them or ordering takeaway. There’s nothing worse than being hungry in the middle of all the chaos that is the newborn stage. Anything that can be frozen, an UberEats gift card, some doughnuts (postpartum doughnuts just taste so much better!), a voucher to The Dinner Ladies, a date night box, anything.
While everyone tries to stock their freezer pre-birth, so many multiples come early and many families run out of time to prepare. Even dropping off a meal, cupcakes or some takeaway coffee without the expectation of a visit goes a long way.
Does the family have a dog? Offer to take it for a walk. Laundry need to be done? Offer to wash and fold. Just do something.
11. Older Siblings
Offer to take them out to the park, Maccas, wherever. Get them out of the house so the family can focus on their multiples and the older child/ren can have some extra special attention.
12. Supporting a family member or friend who has twins or multiples by helping with a feed
When in the newborn stage, the schedule looks something like this. Change the nappy to wake a sleepy baby, feed the baby (may need to prep a bottle!), settle the baby, pump…and do it again every three hours times two. That’s SIXTEEN feeds in a day. I’ll let you work out what that is in a week.
13. Hold a baby / babies
Many parents feel ‘touched out’ quite early on. Letting someone else hold a baby so the parent can walk around, have a shower, do something besides cuddling a child is a huge help. And yes, newborn cuddles are the best!
14. Offer to take a bin bag home with you
Sixteen nappies a day means a very full bin. Like very full. It’s a little stressful to even try to hide so many nappies in a neighbour’s bin, so just offer to take a bag of wee and poo. Your friends will thank you.
15. Just do, don’t ask!
Messaging a family with newborn multiples with, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help” is pretty useless. Why? Of course they need help. And truthfully, they probably don’t have time to think about what they need or the energy to delegate tasks.
Caring for multiple babies is demanding, both mentally and physically. It can be incredibly isolating. Find ways to help get your friend out of the house, perhaps a coffee date or a dinner out. Offer to help with packing the nappy bag, getting the kids into their car seats, etc.
17. Supporting a family member or friend who has twins or multiples who may be suffering from depression
Only 1 in 7 mothers of multiples have 6 or more hours of sleep a night in the first year which can lead to depression. Further, mothers of multiples have a 43% greater odds of having moderate/severe, 9-month postpartum, depressive symptoms, compared with mothers of singletons. It is estimated that 1 in 10 fathers/partners also experience depression, and it is likely higher for multiples.
Sadly, many do not seek help. The truth is, our health care system isn’t really set up to support families with multiples and PND/A is so common. Be aware of these statistics and if you suspect your friend is struggling, support them.
Joining a local multiple birth association is such a ‘safe place’ for families with multiples. Encourage your friend to join (or sign them up!) and offer to go with them to an event if they are not comfortable going on their own. The anxiety of trying to get out of the house with multiple babies is immense! Even experienced parents struggle with having multiples and getting them out of the house.
Not ready for in person events? Encourage your friend to join an online group. There are plenty of groups on Facebook for families of multiples.
19. Supporting a family member or friend who has twins or multiples by just by checking in on them
The newborn stage is hectic, but every stage comes with its own stuff. Keep checking in, text over calls, keep visiting, keep helping out. And never ever call during the witching hour!
20. Just be there….and be patient
Life will return to a ‘new normal’ for the family, eventually. Be there for your friend and be patient, as it can take a long time to find balance and a new normal.
I hope these tips help you if you are ever lucky enough to help with supporting a family member or friend who has twins or multiples.
Twinfo is Australia’s largest, most supportive, online community for parents of twins and triplets. Twinfo offers advice, products and services that make raising your babies easier, freeing you up to enjoy all the precious moments.