Challenges of parenting children of a multiples birth

Raising multiples is quite different from raising a single baby. While there are many moments of joy, there are also many challenges. The information here can help you prepare for what to expect when you become parents of multiples.

Social challenges

It can be hard for parents of multiples to get the special support and information they need. For example, friends or family might not know how to offer support to a woman who is going through a high-risk multiple pregnancy, or how to help a couple who is parenting multiples.

Parents of multiples may feel socially isolated. Fatigue, lack of personal time, demands related to care of the children, and financial problems are common problems. It is easy to focus entirely on caring for multiples, but don't abandon all of your hobbies and interests. Instead, look for creative ways to balance your needs with those of your children.

It helps to identify and prepare for social challenges, like:

  • more strain on marriages for parents of multiples (higher rates of divorce)
  • feeling isolated, because parents may not be able to leave the house to run errands or take part in community programs with their children
  • limited health, social, and/or educational resources in some communities
  • unwanted attention in public
  • limited time for parents of multiples to pursue personal interests or "recharge"

Emotional challenges

Higher levels of stress and fatigue are common with multiples, both during pregnancy and afterwards. You may also feel guilty or sad because you have to divide your time and energy between your children. Being aware of how you might feel will help you to prepare and plan.

Emotional challenges people expecting or parenting multiples may have (compared with parents of single babies) include:

  • higher risk of anxiety and post-partum depression, especially following a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) experience
  • increased stress on relationships with partner, family, and friends
  • increased health risks (like death of one or more babies and long-term disabilities) may bring more emotional trauma
  • feelings of loss of a normal pregnancy and birth experience, because many aspects are more "medical"
  • bonding and attachment problems with more than one child
  • more complex feelings, because when fertility treatments result in multiple births, parents may not feel they can express feelings of frustration or ask for help

Financial challenges

Having multiples can be more expensive, even when compared with families who have the same number of children born at different times. For example:

  • Multiples make it harder to use “hand-me-downs” from older siblings.
  • Cribs, car seats, high chairs, and other equipment must all be bought at the same time, and more than one of everything is needed.
  • Being put on “bed rest” when pregnant with multiples may mean an earlier end to paid work and more expenses if older children need care.

Financial challenges that people expecting or parenting multiples often face include:

  • Federal maternity and parental leave insurance plans are not any longer for multiple births than for single births. So there are, per child, fewer weeks of paid employment leave for parents of multiples (for example, 52 weeks of leave once for two or more children, instead of 52 weeks multiple times if your children were born in separate years).
  • One parent may need to give up paid work outside the home, or extend parental leave from work in order to care for the children.
  • You may need to buy a bigger vehicle or renovate your house to accommodate everyone.
  • Availability and cost of childcare for multiples in many communities is a problem.
  • Increased health risks for multiples means families must pay for extra expenses to accommodate and get treatment for children with special needs.

If any of your children has a disability, contact government, private agencies, and support groups in your area. They may provide educational and financial help.

Physical and logistical challenges

Caring for multiples presents physical and logistical challenges that families will need to consider, especially when the children are young. You may at times need extra help (for example, with more frequent feedings and the erratic sleep schedule of premature infants). Help at night may especially be needed in the first few weeks or months. If you are not able to have someone in your home help, work out a schedule so that neither parent does the bulk of the work. Sleep deprivation may cause fatigue and depression. Be aware of these signs in yourself and in your spouse or partner so that you can work as a team to overcome these difficulties.

Expecting and parenting multiples may mean unique physical and logistical challenges:

  • Being assigned "bed rest" while pregnant with multiples or delivering by caesarean section (C-section) may make it harder for moms to get around and care for multiples and older children.
  • Premature and low birth-weight babies may need to be fed more often than full-term babies. Moms of multiples may need more help for the first few weeks or months.
  • Breastfeeding and comforting more than one baby at a time can be a challenge.
  • Transporting multiples by either by car or stroller can be hard.
  • Going to appointments can be difficult, especially if care for other children must be arranged.

For more information on the challenges of parenting multiples, Multiple Births Canada has several information sheets in the publications section of their website.

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