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Coping when one or more of your babies is poorly can be a real challenge. At one level, the same basic rules apply as for all babies: trust your instinct (you know your babies better than anyone) and make sure they have plenty of fluids and don’t get too hot.
But when two or more are ill at the same time, it is hard is to know how to divide yourself between them. Or it may be that as soon as one baby gets better, the next baby gets ill and you find yourself bogged down in a spiral of sickness.
However useful your usual routine is, it may be that you have to let it go when the babies are ill. Often babies who feel grotty just want to be cuddled: it may help you all to cuddle up in front of the telly and have ‘duvet days’ until the illness passes. If you can get someone to make you a sandwich and a flask of hot drink so you don’t have to cater for yourself as well, so much the better.
A parent of triplets told us: ‘We try to focus on the essentials – food, sleep (when you can) and trying to keep whoever is unwell as comfy as possible. We always try to have our freezer stocked with some good basics and plenty of calpol/nurofen in stock. We do call on friends at times of real need and they have always been amazing. We try and repay them when things are back to normal – have them for a meal, children for playtime etc.’
Seeing the doctor
Getting out of the house when one or more of your babies is poorly is even more of a challenge than usual. Most healthcare professionals will understand this and will try and see infants at the start of surgery or make other arrangements. You can also request a home visit if you think it’s necessary.
Don’t hesitate to ring your local surgery if you are worried about your babies. Your GP should be able to ring you back in between appointments and discuss your concerns on the phone. They can advise on how you should care for the babies or, if necessary, make an arrangement to see them. It’s always better to speak to the doctor and put your mind at rest than to worry in silence.
No one knows what causes colic. Doctors say it is like a tummy ache: your babies cry and you are unable to comfort them. It comes in waves and some babies seem to be affected more than others.
Colic doesn’t cause any actual harm and it does get better, usually by the time the babies are twelve weeks old or thereabouts. But it’s very hard to deal with – even more so as there is no magic cure.
With colic, the main thing is to take care of yourself so you can cope, and to think of ways you can manage the times when the crying is at its worst. Colic often gets worse in the late afternoon. Walking with and cuddling colicky babies may help. If you can, arrange to have someone drop in so you can draw on their practical and moral support.
If it all gets too much, place your babies safely in their cots and step into another room or into the garden for five minutes. Take some deep breaths and calm your nerves. Better still, ring a friend and let off some steam. You can always ring Twinline, Tamba’s freephone confidential listening service, on 0800 138 0509. All calls are answered by trained volunteers who are parents of multiples themselves and know what you are going through.
Babies wake up and cry for all sorts of reasons. They may be hungry, hot, cold, lonely, scared, ill or in pain. They may need their nappy changed. A baby who cries all the time is hard to cope with – two or more doubly or triply so.
Start by ruling out the obvious causes listed above. If your babies are still upset you can experiment with other ways of comforting them. It is perfectly possible to cuddle two babies at once, although you may need to practice getting them into a comfortable position. Try carrying one in a sling while cuddling another, or taking them out for a walk or a drive in the car. Some parents swear by dummies, which can offer instant comfort to an unhappy baby. You could also try putting on music or a constant noise in the background like the vacuum cleaner or the washing machine.
It may be worth seeing if the babies are disturbing each other. You could try putting them in separate rooms, then, if you can, spend five minutes with each in turn.
As with a colicky baby, don’t let yourself get desperate. You can take time out to calm down by putting the babies safely in their cots or a playpen then leaving the room. Close the door and ignore them for a short while. When you go back to the babies after a few minutes, you may find that they have stopped or have cried themselves to sleep.
You could also ask a friend to come round and look after the babies for half an hour so you can go out. Even if you just walk around the block, the break will refresh you and make it easier to cope.
If the problem persists, talk to your health visitor or GP, or ring Tamba’s freephone listening service Twinline on 0800 138 0509, or CRY-SIS, a national helpline for parents whose babies cry excessively, on 08451 228 669.
Feeling guilty – and being ‘good enough’
All parents feel guilty sometimes. It’s rarely justified so don’t let it swamp you. Remember, you are doing the best you can, with the best of intentions, and that is good enough.
You may feel that you are a failure compared to parents of singleton babies. Don’t make comparisons. You have more babies, more work and less time than they have.
You may feel guilty because you blame the babies for your tiredness, loss of liberty or change in lifestyle. Remember that as the babies’ need for round-the-clock care diminishes, you will have more freedom.
You may fear that you are playing favourites, finding one baby more likeable than the other. Perhaps your feelings stem from difficulties at the birth, or from a delay in bonding. Perhaps one baby is ill or demanding, while the other is charming and sleeps all the time. It is not uncommon to feel like this. Parents of multiples often find that babies take it in turns to be difficult, so that today’s ‘good’ baby is tomorrow’s ‘bad’ baby. Try to identify good points about each baby, and avoid comparing them with each other or labelling them too much.
You and your partner
Having twins, triplets or more is wonderful – some of the time. But every parent has bad patches, too.
In Tamba’s 2004 survey, parents said the aspect of their lives most affected by having multiples was their relationship with their partner, and the greatest strain was in the first twelve months. It is hardly surprising that finding time to spend with each other is hard. But taking care of yourself and your relationship means you will be more able to care for your babies.
Recognise the pressures you are both under, make allowances, and share the joys and burdens of parenthood. The babies are small for a very short time, so enjoy it and make the most of it. Keep the channels of communication open and as they grow older, the pressures on you will lessen, and you can resume your lives as a couple.
Meanwhile, do look after yourself: get out every day – even if only briefly. Post a letter, meet friends, join a twins club or a mother-and-baby club, visit the park or do a bit of shopping. Anything to get out of the house. Even if you only make it as far as the end of your road or the bottom of your garden, this is beneficial.
You can also make contact with other parents of multiples on Tamba’s online members-only messageboard. You will find a great deal of wisdom, experience and support there.
You can read more on dealing with common problems in the first year by downloading our guide, Twins, Triplets and More: The First Year.
Follow the links to find out more about managing in hospital, coming home, feeding, bonding, sleep and co-bedding, and development.