We all know that children don't come with instruction manuals and being a first-time parent is challenging, but being a first time parent to multiples can be downright scary.
From the first time we visited our boys in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit), the nurses and doctors started training us and we welcomed the training with open arms. After all, there's no better teacher on how to care for and help newborn multiples thrive than the NICU nurses and doctors who care for high-risk multiple babies on a daily basis.
Cluster Care and Scheduling
NICU Cluster Care
One of the first things we were taught was how to cluster care our newborns. Cluster care is simply doing all the ‘hands on' care (diaper, feeding, bathing, suctioning, repositioning, holding, etc.) at one time which allows for your newborns (and mom and dad too) extended amount of rest in between.
With premature babies (multiples or not) cluster care is very important since premature babies are very sensitive to touch. They need the extended periods of rest in between to thrive and grow.
When you have multiples. if one baby wakes for care (feeding, diaper, etc.) wake the other baby and cluster care that baby at the same time. Don't let anyone tell you it's not OK to wake a sleeping baby. This is the way we were trained in the NICU and I can bet, nine times out of ten the non-medically trained person giving you that advice is not a parent of multiples.
If your newborns need additional special needs care, be sure to include those needs into their cluster care. Our preemies could not maintain their body temperature so monitoring their temperature every three hours was required. We decided this time frame would be the schedule for their cluster care.
Another plus about cluster caring your newborns is that it paves the way for your newborns to be on the same schedule. Having your multiples on the same schedule is more important than many realize.
When you train your multiples to be on the same schedule, your world as a new parent can dramatically change for the better. You will be able to schedule other events like family meals, dinner out, or play dates for older siblings, and best of all you can schedule sleep for you and your spouse. Always remember to take advantage of the times that both (or more) babies are asleep to get some sleep yourself.
We not only took our hospitals advice on caring for our premature babies to heart but we also adapted this cluster care approach when our third baby was born, allowing us to have ‘baby free' one on one time with our older children. This helped with the transition of bringing home the new baby and our twins not having all of mommy and daddy's attention all of the time anymore.