Twin tricks: advice from a paediatrician and mom of twin girls

So you're expecting twins—congrats. Having twins is a very particular type of parenting adventure so we asked a paediatrician and mom of twins for her best advice on dealing with two babies.

Photo: Courtesy of YinYang via iStock

Like unicorns and fidget spinners, twins are officially “on-trend” for summer 2017 with George and Amal Clooney welcoming a son and daughter on June 6, and Beyoncé and Jay-Z welcoming Rumi and Sir a few weeks laters. Like all new parents of multiples, these A-list couples are in for a very particular type of parenting adventure. Here Khanh-van Le-Bucklin—paediatrician, author of Twins 101, and the mom of twin girls—shares her some practical tips, the importance of twin-dividuality and what she would give Beyoncé at a baby shower.

For a lot of new parent of twins the first worry is what if I mix them up? Does that actually happen?
I do know of cases of twins getting mixed up and often they only discover the mix-up because one twin has a medical condition like a hole in the heart or something that you can’t see. There are a lot of things you can do to avoid this. You can leave on their little hospital badges. With our twins, we painted their toenails—one was purple and one was pink. That was helpful with feeding, too, because I’d think, OK, I have fed the pink one, but not the purple one.

Sleep training one child can feel like a Herculean task. Is sleep training two twice as difficult?
It’s definitely a challenge—they wake each other up. Some parents will separate the babies, which is an option. We didn’t do that because ultimately they were going to share a room, so we wanted them to get used to that. When they were babies, we had them in a twin bassinette [a larger bassinette made for two babies]. It was definitely harder in the short term, but for us, it was worth it. For parents who want to keep their babies together my best advice is to put them down at the same time, so that they develop the same sleep cycles.

Where do you stand on dressing twins alike?
People debate this so much. When they’re young and you’re dressing them, they’re not going to notice the difference. Under two, I say do whatever you want. After that I recommend a choice. You’ll find that at times they want to dress the same and other times they want to be different. Two is when kids start developing their individuality, so it becomes a larger issue. It’s so important for parents to recognize twins as individuals, to call them by name, to try to spend time with each kid individually.

What about when they go to school and you have to decide if they’re going to be in the same class?
I put my twins in different classes because I wanted to encourage the teachers to recognize them as individuals and not compare them. But that meant I had to accept more work on my end because two classes meant different timelines and different homework. Other parents say heck no, we don’t want to do separate work, separate birthday parties and all of that. Part of the decision-making process is what makes sense from a practical standpoint for the whole family.

What do you do when one twin is ready for independence and the other is more co-dependent?
It happens and it’s totally normal. It’s the same thing you see in regular siblings, but with twins we have this expectation that they have this unusual bond. It can be a bit heartbreaking, but when one twin is exerting their desire to be more independent, I think the best thing is for a parent to encourage the other twin to do the same. So if one twin wants to go on a play date by themselves, or only one gets invited to a party…

That’s horrible!
I know, right. But it’s part of building independence. What I do is I say to the other twin, hey, do you want to invite a friend over? Turn it into an opportunity.

As twins get a bit older, how important is it that they be each other’s best friend? You see these Dr. Phil episodes where it’s “I hate my adult twin sibling.”
I know people like that. In negative situations, the common theme is that their parents really forced the twin thing heavily. They would compare them a lot and make them do only the same activities, dress them alike. And then it’s just extremely competitive and when they become adults, one becomes a doctor and the other feels the pressure to do the same. They might not even want to be a doctor, but they feel like a disappointment.

So if you want them to end up close, don’t push it.
Exactly. Even with twins, the closeness needs to be organic.

In terms of twin etiquette, what should you not say to the parent/s of twins?
One thing that a lot of parents tell me is that people will ask them if their twins are natural [meaning conceived without fertility treatment]. That’s a personal question and probably not one you should be asking in a casual conversation.

It also implies that “natural” twins are superior, which is kind of rude.
It is. I was a little bit older as a parent, so people asked me. I don’t use the word  “natural” [in the twin context], I say my twins were spontaneous.

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If you were attending Beyoncé’s baby shower and could get her one twin related parenting tool, what would that be?
I really loved our twin bassinette by Graco. I recommend it to parents because it allows the twins to sleep separately, but together—they’re close, but they’re not on top of each other. And you can rock them at the same time, which is great.

And if Beyoncé called you crying in the middle of the night, saying when does this get easier? What would you tell her?
Well newborn are hard for all parents. I think the hardest stage for twin parents is when they start crawling—they go in their different directions and you’re outnumbered. We went to Hawaii when they were both crawling and they were on the beach and in the sand and getting sand in their eyes and it was just really tough. It gets better as soon as they can both walk and you can hold both their hands. And then when they’re a bit older they can play with each other and being able to occupying themselves more than single babies can.

And you can finally relax.
Exactly.

Read more:
Jessi Cruickshank: I’m having twins and I feel completely out of control
Real life parenting hacks for raising twin babies

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