Helping out parents with an infant is an act of love — we all know how overwhelming those first weeks and months can be. When two or more babies arrive at once, that many more hands are required every minute of the day.
If the multiples came prematurely, they’ll require smaller, more frequent feedings than other infants do. Even if one parent is at home full-time, the family will need help at night until their sleeping habits calm down. As a support person, encourage both parents to get some sleep.
Watch for signs that either parent is becoming overwhelmed. Postpartum depression may be more common in mothers of multiples, and fathers can fall into a funk as well. You can help by encouraging the parents to take time for themselves as a couple, even if only for a few minutes a day. Step in by paying special attention to a sibling, or taking over other tasks so Mom or Dad can do so. Siblings, of course, often feel left out and angry at a new arrival — and twins or triplets, like disabled children, soak up even more attention.
Some multiple newborns can be hard to tell apart, and in the first weeks a parent may feel that one of them is the “favorite.” Reassure them not to worry; their “favorite” may vary from week to week as each child’s needs evolve. As the extra hand, you can focus on a baby who isn’t the favorite that week.
Multiple babies are expensive, so you might offer to help raise funds. Because multiples are increasingly common, it’s harder to get help from employers. Paid leave will be the same number of weeks for multiples as it would be for one baby even though the parents’ costs are much higher. Remember that the family will need multiple cribs, car seats, high chairs, and so on, all at once. However, some stores give discounts for multiples, and everyone can be on the lookout for lightly used items in thrift shops or at garage sales. Ask friends and family for donations.
As the children grow, stay involved. Help from friends and family is usually temporary; it may make sense to decide that your sister, say, will help out at one stage and you’ll do more later on. At every stage — teething, potty training, on up — parents will be splitting their attention between children. Each child may need a different solution or kind of attention, yet parents must be careful not to seem unfair.
As the children grow, they may become intense squabblers, and parents may find themselves constantly breaking up fights, refereeing, or defending themselves against charges of favoring one child. Again, as an active helper, you can offer to intervene and point out that the parents are doing their best to meet everyone’s needs.
Keep reaching out even if Mom says she has everything under control. Encourage the parents to find support in groups, which may be able to offer discounts as well as information and empathy.
February 29, 2016
Janet O’Dell, RN