Having a baby on the way is exciting, daunting, fascinating, and overwhelming – all at once! Even if you’re already a parent, you have to prepare yourself for how this will change your life (again). Finding out that you’re expecting MULTIPLE babies is a whole new ballgame – how can you even prepare for that?! Caring for one baby takes all of your time, energy, and money – how are you supposed to look after three or more of them and not go crazy?!
Although looking after yourself may seem like a lower priority than caring for all of your new additions, prioritising mental health in parents of multiples is essential. Studies have shown that parents of multiples are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and stress compared to those raising a single baby. The fact is, you can’t expect to be able to care for them well if you aren’t taking care of yourself.
Read on to learn how to manage your mental health and stay sane with multiple babes underfoot.
What challenges in mental health do parents of mutiples face?
Raising multiple babies at once will likely be one of the most difficult challenges you ever experience. Even the most grounded, prepared, organised new parent will likely experience some form of mental health struggle when raising multiples – it’s just a lot to deal with. Some of the most common mental health challenges that parents of multiples may face include:
- Baby blues. This is an incredibly common, normal condition that affects around 80% of new mothers. The cyclone of hormones in your body causes crazy mood swings, feelings of sadness/irritability, difficulty sleeping, and other fun symptoms. The baby blues can be tough, but symptoms usually resolve within around two weeks of giving birth. Since many higher order multiple births (triplets or more) involve a lengthier stay in hospital, its’ likely that you will have professional help on hand. Use this opportunity to talk through any tough emotions you’re experiencing and they can probably help you normalise those feelings and move through them easier.
- Postnatal Depression. For many new mothers, postnatal depression symptoms are similar to the baby blues, but do not resolve within two weeks of having your baby. Once several weeks have passed and you’re still not feeling “okay”, it’s probably time to have a chat with your doctor. It’s also worth mentioning that new fathers of multiples frequently experience postnatal depression – this condition affects more than one in ten new dads. This condition should be treated seriously, not brushed off as ‘adjusting to the normal’ or ‘just exhausted’. Those are real things that are happening, but if you or your partner are having trouble bonding with your child, feeling highly agitated, teary or low mood, consider looking in to it a little further.
- Anxiety and stress. Although constant anxiety and stress are often considered normal parts of raising a baby (or three… or four), they shouldn’t be. Of course there will be stressful moments, but constantly feeling anxious, stressed, or overwhelmed isn’t normal, and can have long-term effects on the health of you, your partner, and your new babies.
You may be more susceptible to these conditions if you have experienced any form of depression or anxiety in the past, or if it runs in your family. Similarly, new mums who have a challenging pregnancy, have previously experienced the baby blues, or have a history of postnatal depression may be more likely to experience mental health struggles when parenting multiples.
When you’re Expecting: Tips for Maintaining Good Mental Health in Parents of Multiples
Just as it’s important to prepare your home for multiple babies, it’s equally important to prepare your mind. From the day you learn you’re having triplets you can start taking action to mentally prepare yourself for the arrival of your babies and give yourself the best possible chance of staying on top of your mental health after your babies arrive. Here are some steps to take during pregnancy that will help maintain good mental health in parents of multiples:
- Stay active. Non-weight bearing exercises that are gentle on your joints are a great way to keep both your body and your mind healthy during a multiples pregnancy. Try yoga, water aerobics, or pilates. A good, clinical pilates program helped me navigate my pregnancy without experiencing back pain and I personally found being in the water was an immense relief in the later stages of pregnancy as it took all the weight off me. Of course every pregnancy and every woman is different, so discuss your exercise plan with your doctor first.
- Plan, plan, plan. Reduce your stress and anxiety levels by planning ahead for the arrival of your babies. Remember that triplets and quads will most likely arrive early – make sure you have all of your big baby purchases taken care of (car seats, pram, cots etc), a place for your babies to sleep, and lots of meals in the freezer. Consider having someone able to help walk your dog or feed your pets while you’re in hospital and having plenty of essentials – tinned food, toilet paper and diapers stocked up!
- Join a support group. Even if you have a great network of friends and family to help you out, there’s value in finding a group of other expecting mums to spend time with. Sharing your fears, excitement, and struggles can be a great release, and it’s always reassuring to know that you’re not alone on this crazy journey.
On this note, some parents of multiples can find being around a group of those expecting single babies makes them feel even more isolated. Find out if there’s a multiple births association or group in your area – these parents of twins and more will likely be more relateable and have some nuggets of wisdom to share with you.
Bringing Home Your Babies: Helping Mental Health in Parents of Multiple Newborns
Once your babies enter the world, your life will likely be turned upside down. The mental health of parents with multiples often takes a backseat when they bring their babies home as ‘survival mode’ takes over. Here are some tips for managing the mental health struggles you might face when your triplets arrive:
- Eat the right foods. Make sure you’re not only eating enough, but that you’re also eating the right foods. Balanced meals and regular snacks every couple of hours will help to stabilise your blood sugar levels, which can boost your mental health and help you feel less frazzled or overwhelmed. It’s so easy to fall in to a trap of quick, high carb meals such as pasta, cereal or a handful of potato chips to get you by when you’re constantly on the go. Trust me when I say that good food will make you feel so much better! Pop a tray of carrots, sweet potatoes and beets in the oven once a week so you have some ready cooked veg in the fridge to simply reheat. A tub of hummus with carrot, bell pepper or a cucumber is a quick, yet healthy snack or a handful of almonds to get you through till dinnertime. Try to have easy, mess free options on hand such as bananas, berries and cherry tomatoes.
- Reduce your social media use. Social media can be a great way to stay in touch with friends and family, but seeing pictures of your friends catching up for coffee isn’t always helpful when you’re sleep-deprived and drowning in diapers. Don’t compare yourself to others, either! Just because someone posts a picture of their baby sleeping, doesn’t mean they have a perfect baby that ALWAYS sleeps. People share their wins online and rarely the tough moments. Instead, set up a group chat with just a few trusted friends or try finding a podcast that makes you feel good and listen to that in the wee hours of the morning.
- Communicate with your partner. It’s important to let your partner know if you feel as though you’re struggling. This will give them a chance to help you out as much as possible and look out for your mental health. You may even be surprised to learn that they’re feeling the same way, which can be oddly comforting. It’s unlikely that any parent of multiples of is feeling ‘excellent’ in the early days, but if you can be open and honest, then you may find you can lift a little when your partner is doing it particularly tough and they can do the same for you.
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, or just generally feel as though your babies are bringing you down, it’s important to take action. Mental health in parents of multiples should not be neglected just because you have your hands full. Talk to your partner, talk to a friend, and talk to your doctor to find a solution that helps you get back to loving life with your triplets.