Twins: Simplifying the First Year

For the most part, caring for two babies requires the same tools as caring for one, or having a baby and bigger kids who can already walk and follow basic instructions. However, there are a few areas where having two infants presents unique logistical, spatial, or financial challenges. Getting two immobile humans from one spot to another, finding room, and paying for it all can be hard. There are a few things that really helped us manage life with our little herd of babies. I find product reviews hard to do because not everyone needs the same things in theoretically similar situations. Likewise, “need” is a relative term. Plenty of babies around the world grow up happy and healthy with no more specialized equipment than a stack of cloth diapers and a nursing mother. Still, these are specific items that made our first year with twins much easier, so hopefully they’ll be of use to somebody.

Baby Trend Double Snap-N-Go Stroller Frame

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This is, hands down, the item that made the biggest difference in our first year with twins. I used ours every day for long walks and everything from grocery store runs to getting the kids into church by myself. This tool actually made it easier to get out of the house than to stay at home, something I never imagined could be true with baby twins!

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It’s incredibly light (about 10 pounds) which makes it effortless to fold, load, and unload one-handed. It took up very little room in the trunk. It had a good sized basket underneath so I could walk to the store for groceries. Instead of having to transfer babies from car seats to stroller (or attach car seats into an already heavy double stroller with built-in seats) the kids’ infant car seats snapped right onto the light stroller frame for quick and easy transitions between home, the car, and destinations.

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They retail for around $80-$90, but we got ours used in brand new condition off Craigslist for $40. It was worth every cent.Because it’s designed to be light vs. durable long-term, I would not buy a used one unless it’s in new condition like ours.

(Credit for the bottom two pictures goes to the Man’s sister)

Infant Car Seats

I know many people love convertible car seats because you only have to buy one instead of two as the kids grow. Pre-twins I used to roll my eyes at infant seats – why spend the extra money? And how was it easier to carry a big ole’ car seat instead of just holding the baby? However, with two babies that opinion dropped by the wayside. Infant car seats made getting to and from destinations much easier, and they gave me a safe and familiar place to set one baby down while caring for the other when out and about.

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The cosmonauts, ready for space travel, I mean a walk

Now that the kids have outgrown their infant seats it easily takes me two or three times as long to get out the door – a lifetime in precious between-nap baby hours. I can’t carry two non-walking kids out to the back of our car at the same time because there’s nowhere to put one wiggling kid while I maneuver the other into her car seat. One baby must stay inside while I situate the other, but since they’re mobile the baby left in the house must be strapped in somewhere safe while I take care of the other. Compare the simplicity of buckling your kids into their seats in the house, snapping them into the car one-handed, then snapping them onto the stroller at your destination to the craziness of carrying one baby downstairs, strapping him into a bouncy chair for safe keeping, running back up for other baby, carrying that baby out to the car while the first baby screams at being abandoned, strapping the kid into a car seat, locking the car so nobody kidnaps baby, running back into the house, freeing the second baby, running back out, strapping in second baby, locking the car, running back into house for library books/purse/whatever we’re going out to drop off, driving to our destination, then reversing the whole process to get them into the stroller, then getting them back from the stroller to the car and from the car to the house. All those extra little steps add up quickly. It’s a lot of bending and back strain, and it’s time consuming. With infant seats, I could safely buckle the kids in while we sat together in the house, carry them out, and just snap the infant seat into its base (or the stroller) one-handed.

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Likewise, if they fell asleep on the way home I didn’t have to wake them to carry them into the house, possibly never getting the remainder of their nap (as now happens with their convertible car seats *sob*).  Our kids napped better in the cozy, cocoon-like environment of their infant car seats than anywhere else, and I let them take one nap a day in those seats on the floor of their bedroom. We really miss the three hour naps that ensued (sigh).

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Whatever you do, pick a safe car seat model and make sure it’s compatible with your stroller. Most people recommend against buying a used car seat because you don’t know if it’s been in an accident, or because the plastic may have aged in the sun. I would probably only buy a used car seat if I knew the seller well and trusted them to be truthful about the seat’s accident exposure and age. I fully understand peoples’ concerns about babies being left in infant seats too much, carrying them places in the seats rather than holding them. I try to cuddle my twins as much as possible, but with two babies, it’s just impossible to tend to both their needs while holding them both. The ability to have a place to comfortably and safely set one baby down while holding the other when out of the house made it possible for me to regularly get out alone with the kids to things like Bible study, church when Carl was on call, friends’ houses, and the like. Our seats were Graco Snugride 30s, bought from Walmart with free shipping and $10 off coupons. Now that the twins are out of them we plan to sell one and save the other for future kids.

A quality baby carrier or two

Sometimes you just don’t have enough hands. We have two Ergos and we love them! Individuals differ in build so, much like shoes or clothes, I wouldn’t suggest buying a baby carrier blind without trying them on. We visited a couple of local baby stores and tried on multiple options before settling on our Ergo Sport models. It is worth investing in a good model (ours were a gift from the Man’s mother). We briefly used a cheap $20 carrier right when we brought the kids home and it was terribly uncomfortable for all involved.

Look at that sweet baby not falling into shark-infested waters thanks to a good secure baby carrier!

Look at that sweet baby not falling into shark-infested waters thanks to a good secure baby carrier!

We both have back problems, so constant babywearing is not an option for us. However, the ability to safely strap on a fussy baby during household chores, go on a family walk while getting in some cuddle time, or carry one baby through the store hands free while the other sits in the cart makes a big difference!

Booster Chairs instead of High Chairs

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Two babies often means two of everything. Two of everything can get crowded (and expensive!) quite quickly. Rather than getting high chairs that would take up even more floor space in our kitchen, we opted for boosters that strap onto our regular kitchen chairs. They provide the same function as high chairs for a fraction of the cost. They take no extra space, are removable if we have a big crowd of dinner guests, and they grow with kids when they’re too big for their high chairs. Not all booster seats are created equal. Some, like a Target brand option an acquaintance let us use when we were visiting, are incredibly flimsy. However, my brother and sister-in-law brought the Fisher Price Deluxe Booster Seat on a family vacation for their son before we adopted the kids, and we were very impressed. We bought two for our kids, and my Mom has since bought another two for visiting grandkids because they’re so handy. The chair folds up small with a carry strap for meals at friends houses or travel. It’s very sturdy. The whole thing wipes clean. The seat height and tray setting are adjustable. The tray comes in three parts – a bottom tray, a snap on covering that’s dishwasher safe, and a snap-on lid to preserve food if you want to prepare it in advance or save the leftovers. Compared to a regular high chair the only con I can see is a slightly smaller tray (it doesn’t wrap around the sides). At $25 for a new one, that’s not nearly enough to change our minds!

Extra Places to put the Babies

In an ideal world, you could tenderly cuddle your child all the time. In the real world, that’s just not feasible even if you only have one baby. Maybe there are times when it’s not safe because you’re cooking something in spattering oil, bathing another baby, cleaning with chemicals, or have an older sibling who needs attention. With twins, it really helps to have at least one safe and comforting place you can put the baby when tending to the other or taking ten minutes for a cup of tea to regain your sanity. A couple of different options to prevent baby boredom are even better. When Daddy is gone for bedtime for the fourth day in a row, both babies are hungry, tired, and melting down, and the first baby you feed is taking 45 minutes to eat while the other gets hungrier and hungrier it’s nice to have something soothing like a swing to calm the waiting baby.

Exhibit A: A non-screaming baby

We didn’t really stock up on anything in advance (due to seven days notice before adopting our twins) but swings, bouncy seats, and bumbos can be found inexpensively used, traded, or as handmedowns. I’m not sure there’s much point to going straight for brand new on most of them (excepting perhaps jumperoos since the springs really get a workout). We bought one bouncy seat (the cheapest they had at Walmart) the day after we brought the twins home because Carl was going back to work the next day and I literally had nowhere to put the spare baby while I simultaneously cared for the kids and battled food poisoning in his absence. After that, friends handed down two swings and another bouncy seat, an Aunt sent us two Bumbo seats (really awesome once your kids can hold their heads up for letting them join you as you work in the kitchen or eat at the table), and I got a jumperoo new at Target for around $20 (worth every penny – my kids LOVE that thing).

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If you know you’ll be having twins from a pregnancy vs. a tentatively planned adoption there’s plenty of time to find quality used options. It’s hard to predict in advance what a kid will like – our boy loved the swing, but wasn’t at all comforted by a bouncy seat. Our daughter found swings very blasé but was instantly soothed by the vibrating bouncy seat. If you have a two story house with infant twins it makes life a lot easier if you have one set of seats upstairs, and one downstairs, whatever combo works for you. Saving time on the little steps like running up and down to bring seats back and forth leaves you more time to cuddle the kids.

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Heh. That face. She really loves her Bumbo, I promise.

A set of four seats could easily cost as little as $15 (or nothing) if you look around on craigslist or at thrift stores. After looking through the various donations/gifts we received, the things I would look for are: a machine washable and dryable cover (lightly padded vs. just one stretched sheet of fabric without reinforcement like the cheapest options), mechanics that still work (heck, you could even take batteries to the thrift store for testing), a reasonably sturdy activity bar (the cheapest one from Walmart warped and broke under the kids assaults, while the brand name swing and bouncy seat toys are still going strong). Around here, used Bumbos typically go for $10 or so on Craigslist, but hold their value well for resale, and are sturdy if you’re handing it down from kid to kid. I don’t like clutter, but for the sake of making life a bit simpler, a few extra seats go a long way. It’s only for a year.

Trade handmedowns, shop used, and buy neutrals

Babies can go through a lot of clothes, especially if they puke on themselves forty times a day like our son. A new cotton sleeper at a typical Old Navy/Target/Babies R’ Us type place typically runs around $12-$15. On sale, it might be $8. At a chain consignment shop it might be $4. At a major consignment warehouse event it might be $2. At a thrift store it might be $0.50 – $2. At a garage sale it might be $0.25. Therefore, the difference in a weeks worth of PJs for twins bought new at full price vs. entirely at thrift stores is roughly $190 vs. $14. That’s a lot of money. Now multiply that by onesies, pants, shirts, sweaters, socks, shoes, dress clothes, swimwear, coats, sleep sacks, etc. The difference can easily run to thousands of dollars, and babies change sizes every three months. I don’t have time to go to thrift stores every day or even every week to find every single thing that my kids need, but I try to stop by about once a month, and always have a running list of what we’re still lacking for both the kids’ current size and the next few sizes up. Thrift stores and garage sales typically have the cheapest prices, but anything I haven’t found there I try to make up at the giant consignment sale held twice annually in our area. It’s massive, and it’s critical to go in with a list or you may end up with 14 pairs of really cute baby pants (when you really only needed two more) and no shirts (when you really needed eight). I carefully inspect each item for stains, rips, and working zippers/buttons. I watch for good sales, coupons, and military discounts, but try to only hit the “real” stores as a last resort after I’ve given thrift stores, consignment, and handmedowns a good chance. This requires advance planning, but saves a lot when you’re clothing two babies of the same size who obviously can’t wear one another’s handmedowns as a typical set of siblings might.

In addition, centering boy-girl twins’ wardrobes on neutrals can save both money (either kid as well as future siblings can wear it with fewer special outfits required) and laundry headaches as you fold and sort. Each of our kids have some special gender-specific outfits, as well as cute gender-specific shirts/pants/other clothes we’ve received as gifts or I’ve picked up. However, the core of their wardrobe is lots of shirts and pants that can go on either kid. Jeans and a striped shirt look perfectly boyish on a boy, and perfectly appropriate on a little girl – a few girly cardigans or bows can tip an ordinary set of clothing into a cute baby girl outfit with minimal extra expenditure. For items worn at home I’m even less picky. My daughter currently wears blue motorcycle pajamas because they were $1 at the thrift store and the only PJs I could find in her size. This is, of course, a matter of taste and some people care a lot about having all-girl/all-boy wardrobes. There’s nothing wrong with that if it’s your preference, I’m just a cheapskate. The handiness of neutrals extends to things like crib sheets, swings, and utensils. It’s just a little bit easier if you don’t have to find the gender appropriate color for each baby every time you do something.

One cheap umbrella stroller

I very rarely go out with just one twin, but it happens occasionally for things like medical appointments. On those occasions, it’s nice to not have to push the big ole’ twin stroller. Many times it’s easier to just hold the baby or use a carrier, but it’s nice to have a place to set the baby down during long waits (or in, say, public restrooms). I’m not usually much of a helicopter/ewww germs! parent, but thanks to my husband’s job I’m very wary of letting my kids roam on hospital floors. A little immunity is good, basking in a soup of deadly bacteria is not. Likewise, after my son had a minor outpatient surgical procedure it was initially uncomfortable for him to be carried and my hands were full with bags, instruction papers, etc. getting around the hospital. Umbrella strollers are $15 at our local Walmart, and even cheaper used. When not in use ours hangs up out of the way on our garage wall.

Amazon Prime

The Snap-N-Go stroller definitely made it easier to get out the door, but sometimes you’re just exhausted, or the kids are having a bad day, or you don’t have time to go store to store hunting for something, or you don’t have enough hands/a big enough cart/car to go to the store with the babies to pick up a large object. A $70 annual Amazon Prime membership gets you free two day shipping on most items, and we have recouped far more than the membership fee in free quick shipping for items we need but can’t get out for (or can’t get locally). And, of course, there are other nice perks like free movies/show episodes (lots of BBC!), Kindle books, etc (we do not have regular TV, cable, Netflix). We used Amazon Prime for everything from extra bottles and tips when they weren’t available in local stores to a second crib. Amazon made navigating the logistics of life with twins just a bit more manageable. It was especially awesome for Christmas shopping and shipping in the weeks immediately after we brought the twins home in late November.

Last but not least, one thing I wish I’d done earlier and may still do

I wish I’d set up a second diaper changing station downstairs – something comfortable at waist height vs. a spare changing pad on the floor. Running up and down for diaper changes wasn’t a big deal when a) the babies are small and light and b) not mobile, but oddly enough, babies grow and start to move. The constant weight starts to take a toll on one’s back, especially when every time you need to change one baby you have to catch the other and strap them down or pen them in so they don’t climb the stairs, crawl into the fireplace, or eat the trash while you’re upstairs. It’s not something you must do before a baby arrives or in the early months, but it’s definitely something to consider as they grow.

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6 thoughts on “Twins: Simplifying the First Year

  1. What a comprehensive post. I liked your comment about the weight of your double pram – our weighs a tonne! Even our single pram which we bought a super-sturdy all terrain version of since we were living in the country is 12kg (about 24 pounds) without the infant fitting. I know after Ginger was born via C-section I thought about how farcical the advice is to not lift anything heavier than your baby – The pram alone was 4 times her weight; and with my husband out field someone (namely me) had to get it in and out of the car.

    In terms of swing v bouncy seat our kids were the opposite to yours – Ginger was soothed by the swing, Tom Kitten by the bouncy seat. You are very right that you just have to keep trying until you find what works.

    Also, I second the bumbo! Less useful with Tom Kitten because he was really strong and would push himself out; but for Ginger I used to pop her on the bench next to me in it, and cook under supervision.

    • Yes, it was a bit of a shock how much our new double stroller weighs (around 32 Lb) after enjoying such a light frame for a year. The new one pushes easily because it’s so well balanced, but getting it in and out of the car is a workout! I’d never thought about that problem with a C-section. You’re right – there’s no way to make it work without a maid and a butler. That’s one thing that really surprised me about twins – the sheer physicality of it. We were prepared for crying and diapers and sleep loss, none of which have been that bad, but the constant effort of lifting and carrying small kids and their baggage can really wear you down!

    • Yeah. The highchairs with cloth covers especially confuse me. You want me to put a baby who confuses eating and finger painting on a cloth surface that has to be washed every time? It may be slightly less soft on our babies backsides, but I’m going with our nice wipeable plastic all the way!

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