Up to 50% of twins are born prematurely and have to spend some time in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) or a Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU) if they need just a little bit of help.
Here are our top 12 tips to help new twin parents get through this tough time.
1. Set up a support network
Before you have the babies set up a support network of people who will help out when your babies are born.
If you have older children, organise who will look after them, who will supply you with frozen meals, who can help with chores and with hospital lifts if needed.
Don’t be shy to ask for help. People want to support you and appreciate being told how.
Even if your multiple pregnancy is going smoothly without any complications it’s still a good idea to prepare in case of early arrivals. You could set up a network yourself or ask a good friend or parents to organise one for you.
2. Look after yourself
Having babies in NICU is hard. Emotionally and physically.
As well as constantly worrying about how your babies are doing, you’re still recovering from giving birth! New mums are most likely up every three or four hours during the night pumping breastmilk and also spend long hours in the hot, temperature controlled rooms of the hospital. It becomes very draining.
Make sure you get outside and have a little bit of time for you each day, even if it’s just for half an hour. Take a little walk, meet a friend for coffee, watch a silly TV show.
There’s no need to feel guilty if you’re not around your babies ALL the time. Sometimes less is more.
3. Use a good hand cream
You will wash and disinfect your hands about 20 times a day in NICU. Splurge on a good hand cream to keep your skin from cracking.
4. Be prepared for the commute
Most likely you will be discharged from hospital earlier than your babies.
If you live close by you’re expected to commute and come in every day. If you live further away, look into accommodation options that the hospital may provide or make contact with your local Multiple Birth Support network as they may be able to help you find somewhere to stay while your babies are still in hospital.
If you had a c-section you won’t be able to drive yourself for a while so factor this into your planning.
Make sure you get the help you need!
5. Eat well
It’s easier said than done but you need to keep your strength up, especially if you’re breastfeeding/pumping.
Say yes when friends or strangers offer to drop food off! Have healthy snacks handy. Stock up on oat biscuits or muesli bars, nuts, fruit, protein bars and shakes like Complan. Always carry a water bottle with you so you can keep hydrated in the warm hospital rooms.
If you’re struggling, ask for help from your local multiple birth club. People are always happy to help!!!
6. Ask questions
If you’re not sure what is happening, ask!
The doctors normally do their rounds some time in the morning. Ask when that is and try to be around. If you can’t make it, the nurses are your allies. They can explain everything that is happening with your babies.
If you’re not sure you’ve understood, ask again!! And again until you feel you know what’s going on. Don’t feel like a nuisance. You’re the parents and you have every right to know what is happening with your babies!
7. Talk your heart out
Find somebody you can talk to. Talk to your partner. Talk to your mother, your friends, your multiple birth club or join the NICU/SCBU support group on Facebook where people can relate to you.
Most NICUs have a weekly morning tea or lunch to meet with the other parents. Start a conversation in the expressing room (the milking shed!) or in the kitchen.
Don’t be shy. Most parents want to share their experiences and lighten the load. There are also social workers around who can help. If you feel like you’re struggling, talk to your midwife about postnatal depression.
8. Take one day at a time
If your babies are born very early you will probably have a long journey ahead and nobody will be able to tell you when you’ll be taking your babies home. It is thought that the development of a baby outside mummy’s tummy is half as quick as inside.
So be patient, nothing will happen in a hurry. Sometimes you’ll feel powerless and this slowness can be frustrating!
9. Get to know your babies
It’s not easy to bond with premmies. They don’t look like the plump babies you’ve been dreaming of and you can’t just cuddle them whenever you want to.
On top of that you don’t have just one premature baby but two (or more). Don’t feel guilty if it takes you a wee while to bond.
Find a way to communicate with your babies and get to know them. Do kangaroo cuddles, touch them softly, sing and read to them. Depending on how stable/mature your babies are, you’ll also able to try breastfeeding and bathing them.
10. Be kind to each other
Having babies in NICU is stressful for both you and your partner (if you have one). You will both be tired and exhausted! Remember to be kind to each other and talk about your experience and what you expect from each other.
A lot of partners have to return to work and can only be around a limited amount of time. Show your partner what your babies like, keep them in the loop about what is happening and offer them the chance to do kangaroo cuddles when they’re around.
11. Celebrate successes
Celebrate every little success and progress your babies make. If they start to breathe on their own, latch on for the first time or come off the jaundice lights take photos and then tell everybody and eat some cake!
You might want to have a diary recording all the steps in your children’s NICU journey.
12. Look at the positives
Starting their lives in NICU is not what parents hope for their babies, but let’s look on the bright side. The NICU nurses are amazing. Make sure to take some of their experience and wisdom home. There’s a lot you can learn during your hospital stay, especially if the twins are your first children – how to change nappies, how to tuck them in, how to feed them and so on.
NICU babies have a strict feeding routine which often can be continued at home. You can also use the time in the hospital to establish breastfeeding with the help of a lactation consultant (if that’s what you want to) and take things a bit slower.
No matter how long your NICU stay is, it’s never an easy time for new parents. Take all the help you can and know that it will get easier.