Raising Twins: Interview With Christina Tinglof

Image of the cover of "Innately Good"

Christina Tinglof, author of the recently released handbook Parenting School-Age Twins and Multiples, took some time to offer LoveToKnowKids' readers some insight on raising twins.

What experience do you have on the subject of raising twins?

As a freelance writer for more than 20 years, I've written extensively on travel, education, women's health, and parenting. Yet after the birth of my fraternal twin boys, my focus shifted, and I began to research and write on the care and rearing of multiples. In my latest book, Parenting School-Age Twins and Multiples, I reviewed dozens of controlled research studies focusing on older multiples and the challenges they face. I also interviewed more than 40 parents of older multiples.

What can pregnant women expect during the pregnancy, labor, and delivery of twins?

  • Check-ups-Doctors watch a multiple pregnancy more closely than a singleton pregnancy. Moms-to-be see their physicians more often for ultra sounds and check ups--usually every other week during the second trimester and every week during the third--to make certain the babies are growing and to watch for signs of pre-term labor, one of the most common risk factors of a multiple pregnancy.
  • Nutrition-A mother-to-be needs to concentrate more on nutrients during her multiple pregnancy, too. Her doctor may recommend that she increase her protein intake (an important nutrient that helps plump up growing babies), folic acid, calcium, and iron. She should also expect to gain more weight than that of a singleton pregnancy (I gained 65 pounds with my twins!). And with all those extra hormones, moms expecting multiples usually have more intense side effects, such as nausea and back aches.
  • Complications-While it's true that moms expecting multiples have a higher incidence of pre-term labor and birth, high blood pressure, and even Cesarean delivery than singleton pregnancies, the vast majority of moms do just fine. With advances in medical technology almost daily, even if a mom experiences complications, she and her babies are sure to thrive. Remember that knowledge is empowering, so moms should educate themselves on the risks as well as prevention of complications and listen to their doctors as well as their own bodies.

How can a new mom be successful at breastfeeding twins?

Nearly every mom can successfully breastfeed her multiples (even moms of triplets and quads can breastfeed). The trick here is education and support. Before the birth of her twins, for instance, a mom should seek the advice of a lactation consultant or at the very least, pick up a book on breastfeeding and read it cover to cover to help her distinguish between the myths and the facts of breastfeeding. She might want to attend a meeting at La Lech, an international organization that offers support and advice to breastfeeding moms. But most importantly, she needs to understand that although breastfeeding is natural, it doesn't come naturally. It's a learned art and takes lots of patience and practice, especially when you have two at the helm at the same time. But once good breastfeeding habits are established (it usually takes about a month), breastfeeding is a wonderful way for a new mom to connect and bond with her little brood.

What are some great tips for handling twins in the first few months after birth, especially regarding feeding, sleeping, etc?

Most of us moms of multiples don't remember the first few months with our babies--we were all in a fog! Yes, the first few months can be challenging (not to mention exhausting) as everyone is trying to adjust to a new way of life. But it doesn't last forever, and there are a few tips to help ease the way. First and foremost--get some help and support! You don't need to hire a full-time doula or nanny (although if you have the funds, go for it), the teenager down the street looking for a part-time job would be a tremedous help for a few hours in the afternoon.

Family members and even close friends are a wonderful resource, too, so don't be shy in asking for their help. Try to schedule each person for a certain time and day before the babies' arrival. For instance, pencil in your mother-in-law for Monday mornings; your best friend on Tuesday afternoons. When you have someone else around to care for an older child or start the evening meal, you're then free to bond with your babies, take a quick nap or get that much-needed shower.

When it comes to feeding and sleeping arrangements, it's really a personal choice with no right or wrong answer. It just takes a bit of trial and error before a family finds the right combination that works for them. For instance, some moms choose bottle-feeding as it reduces their personal stress since anyone can give the babies a bottle; others feel breastfeeding saves time since they have no formula to mix or bottles to wash. If a mom chooses breastfeeding, however, she should definitely invest in a double nursing pillow so that she can nurse both of her twins at the same time. Moms who choose bottle feeding have a few gadgets to help them as well such as bottle holders that rest on babies' chests, leaving mom with two free hands.

Some parents have their twins co-bed with them making nighttime feedings a bit easier; others prefer to have their babies bunk and nurse in a different room so midnight feedings don't bother the sleeping spouse. I used a combination of the above--on some nights when one twin cried, my husband would fetch him from the nursery and bring him into bed with us. I'd nurse him there while we both dozed back to sleep. When his co-twin woke up ready for a snack, my husband would trade boys and we'd start the process over again. Other nights when one would wake up, I'd wake both of them and double nurse sitting up in my mommy rocker with my double nursing pillow in my lap.

Do you have any moneysaving tips for raising twins?

No doubt about it--twins cost money! Lots of money. Fortunately there are a few tips to take the financial sting out of multiples.

  1. Breastfeed-First, breastfeeding saves a significant amount of money because it's free. Yes, it takes time and patience to learn, but once established, a new mom can nurse her children just about anywhere (using a degree of modesty, of course), anytime, and bank the savings.
  2. Bulk purchases-Next, buy in bulk.''' Whether it's baby formula or diapers, buying by the case saves money and time since you won't be running out to store every day to replenish your supply.
  3. Equipment and Supplies-And when it comes to equipment--baby swings, playpens, and so on--you won't need two of everything. Many parents of multiples buy or borrow just one swing, one vibrating bouncy seat and so on, to first see how each baby responds to each item. Hit the internet to look for deals on pre-owned equipment, too. The message boards at Twins Magazine for instance, has a category specifically for used items.
  4. Join a club-Another trick? Sign up to become a member of your local twins' club. Not only will you get support from other moms of mulitples but you'll make out like a bandit at their bi-yearly consignment sales.
  5. Share clothing-And finally, when it comes to clothes, twins don't need double the wardrobe. Actually they can share clothes as long as you don't dress them alike.

Should twins be placed in the same class at school?

It's a personal decision that should be examined every year and adjusted as multiples grow and change. Parents know their children best and should make the decision based on their twins' personalities and their relationship. For instance, when my fraternal boys hit kindergarten, we knew it was time to separate them. The prior year in preschool, one twin kept trying to "save" his co-twin when the latter would get in trouble. My boys were also tired of their classmates grouping them together as one child. They remained separated in school for four years but were re-united in the same class in fourth grade and fifth grades.

Both fourth and fifth grade have been fantastic. Both teachers told me that they were very cooperative with each other and never competed for attention. They enjoyed being together as well. And personally, it was easier for me since homework assignments and projects were the same, and class trips and parties were on the same day, too. Yet, we will separate them next year in sixth grade for no other reason than each boy is beginning to need his own space, privacy, and unique experiences that he can call his own. No more racing home to see who can tell me the days' events first.

Should twins be dressed alike?

All moms and dads are proud of their multiples and often show them off by dressing them alike. And while there's really no harm in dressing them alike during the first few months (or even years), parents should proceed with caution. First of all, identical dress wrongly perpetuates the myth to outsiders that all twins are alike. They're not. They came into this world each with their own little minds and personalities. For identical twins, dressing alike can sometimes be confusing to others who are trying to identify them separately but can't. Instead, they relate to the pair as one. Older, female twins who dress alike often have a harder time with identifying their own body image, too, since they view themselves through their same-dressed twin. But from a mere practical point of view, dressing twins alike is just an added chore that busy parents don't need! If you dress your pair in matching outfits and one gets dirty during your trip to grandma's (and he will), are you going to change them both so they'll continue to match?

Do you have any other specific tips and information for raising twins that you'd like to share?

  • Kid Chaos-One of the best ways to cut down on the kid chaos is to color-code twins. Assign each child and their personal belongings--such as binkies, blankies, and tooth brushes--a specific color. Although my eleven-year-old twins have outgrown the necessity to color-code, they still hold tight to their original colors. One son prefers everything in red from backpacks to t-shirts while his co-twin looks for things in blue. It still helps me, too. Now when a backpack is lying on the dining room floor, I don't need to yell, "Whose is this?" I already know.
  • Interests and Hobbies-Like most twins, my boys share many of the same hobbies and participate in the same sports. It's only natural for twins to gravitate towards the same interests (not to mention easier on busy parents who'd rather not play taxi driver every afternoon). Yet we also encourage each child to find a creative outlet of his very own--something where he can excel solo. When it was time for music lessons, for instance, we encouraged each to try a different instrument. (You guys can form a band!)
  • One-on-One Time-Every parent should find the time to spend with each twin individually. Every child needs to feel as though he can function independently from his co-twin. Not only is it important for a multiple to feel comfortable on his own, but alone time allows the bond between parent and child to grow, too. It's amazing how different "the pair" personality differs from the "individual" personality of each twin. Parents have found lots of different ways to carve out individual time for their children. I take turns taking one of my boys out every Saturday morning to run errands. I always top it off with a treat or lunch out at the fast-food spot of his choosing.

More Info

For more info on raising twins, be sure and check out Christina Tinglof's handbook Parenting School-Age Twins and Multiples and her Website Talk About Twins.

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Raising Twins: Interview With Christina Tinglof