Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Let's Talk About Twins (Triplets, Quads, etc.) Part 2: Bonding with Multiples

My mom grew up as a twin and has shared fond memories (and the usual stories of sibling rivalry) with me as I grew up. Though my mom is a fraternal (not identical) twin, she has many similarities with her sister and shares a special closeness with her to this day. Growing up, each sister knew when the other one was in trouble or hurt. When my aunt married and left the house before my mom did, my mom’s heart broke over the separation. There is no doubt that twins and multiples share a special bond, and that this connection begins in the womb. In this post, we will talk about the unique bond between twins and multiples as well as the bond between caregivers and multiples. We’ll also share some ideas to help parents of multiples bond when their attention is divided among multiple babies.

The “Womb-Mate” Bond
After being “womb-mates” for approximately 9 months and coming into the world together, multiples have forged a strong attachment to each other. Several studies have shown that multiple’s have the ability to comfort each other. In one study, researchers observed the interaction of twins in utero. They found the twins’ movements and behaviors to be in synchrony 94.7% of the time! Ultrasounds have also shown that womb mates touch each others’ faces and even suck on each other’s hands in utero. When multiples are born, and leave the safe confines of the womb, they are sometimes separated. This separation can be stressful because they are so used to each other’s presence. Keeping twins or multiples close to each other after birth can also help regulate their breathing and heart rhythm. (Robin 1996)

Development of the Parent-Infant Bond in Families with Multiples
While multiples develop a distinct bond with each other, they also develop a special bond with their caregivers. For primary caregivers of multiples, this bond can be more challenging to develop simply because of the time and work it takes to care for multiple babies. External factors, such as each baby’s health status, can also affect the development of the mother-baby or caregiver-baby bond. Oftentimes multiples will come home from the hospital at different times based on their health and feeding status. This can be challenging for parents because they have a baby (or babies) at home to care for and a baby (or babies) at the hospital to visit and care for as well. Thus, it makes perfect sense that parents would forge a bond with each baby at a different pace. (Robin 1996) Be patient, the bond will form, it just may take longer than you planned it to.

Forming an individual bond with each of your multiples can be challenging. Before you can form individual bonds with each baby, you must recognize them as individual children. “Collective Mothering” occurs when a mom responds to the infants as a group rather than as individuals. In a study of mothers of multiples, researchers found that when mothers were fatigued they were less likely to provide individualized care for their babies. (Robin 1996)

Caring for Multiples
To cope with the overwhelming burden of caring for multiples, caregivers develop patterns or routines to curb the chaos. While we recognize that routines are important , this study showed that sleeping and feeding routines were carried out uniformly in 80% of the families by one year after birth, without consideration of the children's individual needs or patterns. (Robin 1996)

There are several ways for parents to individualize the care of their multiples and create a special bond with each baby. Here are some tips to do just that:

Allow yourself time with each baby one-on-one
After delivery, allow other close family members or friends to spend one-on-one time with each child. This will not only allow them to create a special bond with each baby, but it will allow you to spend time with each baby individually as well. (LaMar 2004)

Accept help from others
I know this is a common recommendation on our blog, but help is essential when caring for multiples. In one study, almost ¼ of mothers of twins refused help after their babies’ birth. (Robin 1996) Coping with different sleep, feeding and crying patterns in 2 or more infants can be overwhelming and exhaustion is common. We know sometimes it’s hard to ask for help, but keep in mind that levels of depression and fatigue are higher in caregivers of multiples. (Thorpe 1991) Developing a support network will be invaluable.

Watch for each baby’s individual cues
Recognizing and responding to each baby’s individual cues will help your babies feel safe and happy. Remember, babies get better at communicating their needs to caregivers when they get practice giving cues and having their caregivers respond appropriately. For more details about responding to infant cues, click here.

We hope this series on twins and multiples has been helpful to those of you out there parenting (or preparing to parent) these special little ones. For the rest of you, let us know what other topics would be useful to you in your own parenting journey!

Next Time: We’ll share a short series on easing the stress of separation from your baby.

Robin, M, Corroyer, D, Casati, I. Childcare Patterns of Mothers of Twins during the First Year. J. Child Psychol. Psychiat. 1996; 37(4): 453-460.
LaMar KL, and Taylor CR. Share and share alike: incidence of infection for cobedded preterm infants. Journal of Neonatal Nursing. 2004;10(6): 6–9.
Thorpe, K. Golding, J, MacGillivray, I. & Greenwood, R. (1991). Comparison of prevalence of depression in mothers of twins and mothers of singletons. British Medical Journal. 1991; 302: 875-878.


  1. Thanks for this post. As an expectant mom of twins, I'd love to see more posts related to twins - especially regarding sleep schedules.

  2. Just took a quick look at this posting, as I'm a twin. The "womb-mate" term caught my eye, as we've used that term for years. In fact, our birthday cake this year (at 47!) read "Happy Birthday, Womb-mates".

    I'll be sending this to both my sister and a friend whose twins are just 10 days old!