During pregnancy and childbirth, it is not unusual for the other partner to feel somewhat left out and unimportant. In reality, nothing could be farther from the truth!
Dad’s role as supporter, labour coach, listener, evaluator of when Mom may be in (preterm?) labour, baby handler/changer, cook, cleaner and, did we mention listener? – is not to be underestimated. Children thrive under the guidance and nurturing of both of their parents. However, when children are born two or more at a time, it is imperative that Dad become proactive in the care of the babies. Multiple birth babies can cause a lot of stress in the family and being aware of this ahead of time can be important. Taking the initiative in child care, communication and sharing of thoughts and tasks is essential for the well-being of all concerned.
Note: The following has been prepared in order to assist the partner in being supportive of the pregnant woman. It is acknowledged that not all relationships are composed of a mother and father. For ease of writing, the “partner” throughout this article has been referred to as “dad”.
It may take several days before you find a routine which works well for the whole family. One family of twins worked out a system whereby when a baby awoke, Dad would get the baby, change him and bring him to Mom to feed in their bed. He would ‘sleep’ until they were finished, take the baby back to his crib, wake the second baby, feed her and bring her to Mom to feed and then return her to her crib when feeding was finished.
A variation of this style of feeding would be to wake both babies and feed them simultaneously, thus shortening the awake time.
Some families agree that since Dad probably works in the daytime, he needs to sleep the night through. Two possible scenarios could help you if this is your decision:
- If bottlefeeding, Dad could do the last night feeding, say at 11:00p.m. and the first morning feeding, say 6:00a.m. Both parents can there get some extended sleep time.
- If breastfeeding, Mom could get up to do the night feedings and try to catch up on some of her sleep during the next day when the babies are also sleeping.
Some families have hired a night time nanny instead of a daytime nanny. This could be especially helpful for parents of higher order multiples.
Another breastfeeding twin family used this idea, which worked for them. Mom would continue pumping her breasts after each feed during the week, collect and freeze the milk. Friday and Saturday nights, each parent would take a child to a different part of the house and Mom would breastfeed while Dad bottlefed the baby the expressed breastmilk. This guaranteed each parent longer periods of sleep time at least two nights a week.
You will need to communicate often with each other and establish a routine which works not only for you but for your babies too. It may take some time to work out, but don’t give up. Ask other parents of multiples how they worked out the night feedings and be creative with what will work for all of you.
Some Things Dads Need to be Aware of
It is important that each parent remember that in times of stress and sleep deprivation, things may be said to one another that are unintentionally hurtful. If Dad is the main source of family income, he has the opportunity to leave the home, engage in adult conversation, have uninterrupted bathroom and coffee breaks and he receives positive feedback for achievements. Mom, at home, doesn’t have these small, but important, luxuries. Further, Dad leaves his work and comes home to a new routine. As the stay-at-home Mom, she is on duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It is not unusual for Mom to be waiting at the door for Dad and to thrust a baby into his arms. Getting away to shop for groceries or run errands can provide a much needed change of scenery for Mom.
Sick, cranky or colicky children can cause tears, anger or venting by Mom when Dad returns home at the end of his workday. If you find yourself in such a situation, please remember not to take it personally. An acknowledgement of the situation: “It sounds as if you have had a long and tiring day” or “My how did you manage to do all of that?” is an important validation of what Mom has been dealing with all day. Nothing is going to change, the children aren’t going to “be returned”, but sometimes a validation of our exasperated feelings and a realization that we are together and not facing the situation alone, can make a huge, positive world of difference to all. Listening and acknowledging another’s business in any situation can never be the wrong thing to do.
Remember that each of you are learning how to take care of children from Day One. Women are not born knowing how to look after children and babies don’t arrive knowing how to suckle. Child rearing is an on-going learning situation and Dads are learning too. He needs to learn to diaper, bathe and dress babies. While of course you are assisting your partner in taking care of your children, you are also developing a close rapport with your babies. This is an extremely important and beneficial side effect for all of you.
Little Things Mean a Lot
- If your partner has had a cesarean section, you may need to do all of the shopping and carrying for the first few weeks;
- This may be the time to hire someone to cut the grass or shovel the snow. Make your life as simple as possible over those first few weeks;
- If there is another child(ren), take her grocery shopping with you. This changes the dynamics at home and provides quality time with your other child(ren);
- You might take one baby grocery shopping. Strap him on into a baby Snuggli and away you go. This is helpful for everyone and allows for important one-on-one time with each child plus encourages each child to become independent and separate from the others;
- Bring home supper once in a while;
- Hold/pick up a baby whenever necessary. Don’t wait to be asked to do so;
- Give Mom a chance to bathe or take a shower, uninterrupted and at her leisure;
- Learn how to work the washer and dryer and throw in a load of laundry;
- After the babies are in bed, take some time to be together. You can talk, cuddle, share a glass of wine, offer a back rub to each other or simply sit together. It is important to remember how you got to this place and to take time and space for each other as well;
- Listen to each other! This cannot be emphasized enough;
- Provide time for your partner to go out somewhere with friends, alone or to a multiple birth support Chapter meeting;
- Bring home flowers once in a while;
- Keep a sense of humour;
- Join a fathers of multiples support group;
- Enjoy your children. They will make you feel very special and proud.
The Art of Parenting Twins by Patricia Maxwell Malstrom and Janet Poland
Twins, Triplets and More: Their Nature, Development and Care, by Elizabeth Bryan, published by the Multiple Birth Foundation, London, England
Twin Care: Prenatal to Six Months, Multiple Births Canada
Finding our Way: Life with Triplets, Quadruplets and Quintuplets, published by Triplets, Quads, Quints Association: http://www.tqq.com
The Joy of Twins and Other Multiple Births by Pamela Patrick Novotny
Written and Developed by Lynda P. Haddon and Sandra Tompkins, 1998