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All babies grow and develop in their own sweet time, and this is as true of multiples as of any other group of siblings.
Most twins, triplets and more grow and develop along roughly the same lines as their singleton peers – even those who start out much smaller will catch up in time. But there is nothing to say fraternal twins, triplets or more have to reach milestones at the same time.
The exception is for identical twins or triplets, where you can expect the babies to have a pretty similar pattern of growth and development. Children born with special needs will also have their own pattern, and the difficulties of handling this may be particularly stark where their twin or other multiples are not affected.
Tamba runs a group where parents whose children have special needs can share experiences and offer each other support. Find out more.
A few areas of development can be slightly different in multiples, and one of these is language. On average, pre-school twins are about six months behind singletons in their language development. This is only an average: many multiples have no delay, and among those that do it is generally minor and resolves by the time they are 6 to 8 years old.
Language delay in any child can be caused by premature birth, low birth weight, siblings close in age and being part of a large family – and all of these factors are more common in multiple birth families.
But there may be additional factors at work. Multiple birth children often use their sibling/s as role models for speaking and because they are the same age they copy each other’s baby language. So-called ‘twin language’ is just the use and reinforcement of this undeveloped language, which leads to multiples using different words between themselves.
Some delay may also be caused by one sibling tending to speak for the other, so the quieter one gets less practice at talking. It may be that getting less individual time from parents also has an impact: with twins, for example, conversations tend to be three-way because one twin may not want the other to have the parent’s attention, and because parents often talk to both at the same time.
Most of these issues are not serious and will clear up with time. Multiples can sometimes suffer much more severe language problems, and for these children the earlier they can have help, the better the outcome.
Helping with language development
It’s a good habit to turn off the TV and radio for at least 30 minutes a day so babies can listen to background noise with no distractions. Try to look at books with the babies individually, and address comments to the babies using their names and making eye contact.
If you have concerns about your children’s language development you can talk to your health visitor or doctor. Tamba members can also get advice from our Honorary Consultants.
Helping with general development
The most important thing for babies is a close emotional bond with a caregiver. This secure attachment gives them a feeling of safety which acts as a base from which to explore and learn about the world. It is also where they experiment with communication.
In the early weeks, make time to talk to your babies by incorporating it into the daily routine. For example, tell them everything you are doing as you change their nappies: this is how babies pick up words. Try to listen to your babies’ signals too, and when they start to make sounds, listen and respond.
Some parents like to have a day each week which is ‘one-on-one day’: on Saturdays, for example, one of you could take one of the babies out for the morning, then swap over in the afternoon. That way each child gets some individual attention and a chance to develop their unique bond with a parent.
Play is serious stuff for children. This is how they learn about the world and develop new skills. It is also how they have fun and learn to express emotions.
Talk and sing to your babies while you do activities, with lots of touching and stroking when you are changing or washing them. Use nursery rhymes and bedtime stories to expand vocabulary and to develop a feel for the rhythms of language. Share picture books with each child individually, let the others look on but concentrate on one at a time.
Try to give each baby 30 minutes lying on their tummies each day when they are awake, either on your chest or using a playmat, to develop their strength. Newborns will need to be supervised until they can turn their heads from side to side.
It can be hard for parents of multiples to provide opportunities for free play. It helps to develop an area of the house where the babies can play safely without being told ‘no’ all the time.
Find out what’s going on locally that you can join in with, perhaps at the library or Sure Start Children’s Centre or twins club. You’ll get ideas and learn songs to sing to them, whilst meeting other parents.
Intellectual development is pretty similar for multiples and singletons, except in language. Any other differences are thought to be insignificant, and probably relate to prematurity. However, it highlights the importance of multiples being given individual attention from the start.
Try not to compare your babies with others – multiples sometimes take longer to reach milestones, especially if they were premature. Health professionals will make allowances for this when they monitor development. A standard pregnancy usually lasts forty weeks, so if, for example, your babies were born at thirty five weeks, their progress will be monitored as if they are five weeks younger than they are.
Even when premature babies are no longer small and vulnerable, it is hard for parents to stop worrying. Try not to over-protect them as they grow. Some babies suffer permanent effects of prematurity, causing them lasting problems. Tamba has a specialist group to support families with special needs.
For more on your babies’ development, download 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 concerns.