Cluster babies (kluhs-ter bey-bee) noun – Siblings born within two years of each other. Synonyms: Irish twins, baby bunching, two under two, three under three, three under four, four under four, etc.
There’s not a whole lot of positive information out there about being a mom to young cluster babies.
What I’ve read is that it is hellish, unbearable, and that it’s a phase just to get through.
I’m here to tell you that it does not have to be that way!
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Is it hard having two under two?
If you are preparing to have two babies under two, or three under three, or something similar, I want you to know, that not only are you going to be okay, but it really is an amazing experience of a lifetime.
Having experienced both #twoundertwo and #threeunderthree, I can attest to the fact that this unique experience is truly a gift!
Yes, there are definitely stressful moments throughout the days, but these are usually short-lived, and not a reason to freak out!
Who doesn’t have stressful moments on any day?
Of course a new baby can bring on anxiety for a variety of reasons.
But it is important to remember that you already know the baby or babies that you already have. You probably already have a routine in place.
You just have to learn about your one new baby (or maybe more!) and throw them into the mix of what you already have established.
And having been through this twice, I can assure you that the new baby is always the easiest to deal with!
My cluster babies: three under three
Soon after my daughter’s first birthday, I found out I was pregnant again.
I was in shock and was worried during the entire pregnancy how I would handle two babies.
It turned out that the newborn was the easy one. And babies sleep a lot in the beginning. (Remember that part?)
Not that my 20 month old daughter was particularly difficult.
It was just that she could walk and talk and ask for things, while the new baby mostly slept and ate.
Gradually, we got into a rhythm. My son went from sleeping all the time to taking 3 naps.
(That’s important to remember. Even when your baby is six months old, they will probably still be sleeping a lot!)
Anyhow, one morning, when my son was about four months old and my daughter had just turned two, I went to make myself the completely necessary coffee.
I turned on the coffee maker and the smell immediately turned my stomach. It is my tell-tale sign.
I was in complete momentary denial, but also, inherently, I knew I was pregnant once again.
This time around, I really had little anxiety about having three under three. I was managing two really pretty well, and figured this third one would just have to fit into our routine.
I didn’t think I would get to have another child, and I was just so grateful.
Just in time to be considered Irish twins, I gave birth to another son, four days short of my older son’s first birthday.
So there I had it: my 2.5 year old daughter, my almost 1 year old son, and my newborn.
It’s six months later, and honestly, I couldn’t be happier.
I would love to share with you ideas to think about as you prepare for the newest member of your family, from a mom who’s been there. Twice.
12 Tips to help prepare you for your cluster babies
1. Set realistic expectations.
I wake up each morning, knowing there will probably be a point or two throughout the day when more than one child will be needy (i.e. crying) at the same time.
Accepting this and being prepared for it mentally makes it a lot less stressful! It is never a surprise.
And most of the time, things will settle down in five or ten minutes.
Usually, someone just needs to be fed or put to bed.
2. Think about your last newborn experience.
While you are pregnant, reflect on how things went with your newborn in the past.
Are there any challenges you had that you want to better prepare for this time?
I had low milk supply with my first, but somehow made it a year of nursing and pumping.
With my second, I had low supply again along with other challenges and ended up switching to formula.
For my third, I went into it planning to supplement with a bottle once a day, and would go from there.
3. Create a predictable routine.
Establish a predictable routine with your toddler.
You don’t need to stick to strict times, but it is important for your toddler to know what to expect during the day.
Getting a new sibling is a big change for them, so you want to keep everything else as much routine as possible.
4. Solidify toddler’s sleep.
If your child is not a great sleeper, now is the time to tackle that.
I made it a priority.
It was important for his own well-being to be able to sleep, as well as for my first trimester exhaustion.
For all things baby sleep, I absolutely defer to TakingCaraBabies. If you have not checked out Cara’s Instagram or website, I highly recommend it!
5. Plan for any room or crib transitions.
If you are planning to change your child’s room or transition from crib to bed, it is a good idea to do this at least two to four weeks before the baby comes.
It allows for your older child to get used to the new space and feel comfortable in it.
Doing this ahead of time also helps your child from feeling like the new baby is “taking” their crib or room.
Give them time to feel ownership of their new space or bed before the baby arrives.
This is a big change for your little child, and it’s always best to try to avoid more than one big change at a time.
6. Move furniture ahead of time.
Along those lines, if you’re planning to rearrange furniture to put in a baby swing or pack and play, or something of the like, do it ahead of time, if you can.
Get your toddler to “help,” so they feel included in preparing for the baby.
Allow them time to get used to things looking a little different in your home.
7. Teach your child what a baby is.
Chances are, if you’re having cluster babies, is that your older child may not really understand that they are getting a new sibling.
When I was pregnant with my first son, my daughter was about a year and a half.
People would always ask me if she was excited for a little brother, but really, she had no idea what was about to happen!
I decided to teach her what a baby is, so it wasn’t totally foreign to her.
I suggest getting your older child- no matter if you have a son or daughter- a baby doll.
You can show them what babies need.
Once the baby is born, they can feed and diaper the baby alongside you!
Fun fact: newborn sized diapers make the perfect baby diaper!
My middle son is currently loving walking around with a baby doll and giving it a bottle- just like he sees me do with his brother.
Of course, there are some excellent books about getting a new sibling which is also great exposure about babies.
You may want to share newborn pictures of your child with your child.
8. Spend time with caregiver.
It’s also a good idea to have your child become familiar with the person who will be taking care of them while you are at the hospital, along with the place, if they won’t be in your home.
True fact: third time around, I was more anxious about being away from my kids than I was about actually giving birth or even the idea of having three tiny kids.
Turned out everything was fine. Of course.
9. Create a feeding plan.
Have a plan for feeding your newborn.
Take stock of what went well last time and what you’d like to change this time.
Talk with a lactation consultant if you need help or even just general advice.
Pick up some formula to have on hand, if you’re going that route.
10. Create a baby sleep plan.
Have a plan to teach your baby to sleep independently.
Make it a priority!
Getting sleep on track for you and your babies, is really going to be your key to thriving with your cluster babies.
And yes, you can train your new baby to sleep through the night.
If you make it a priority.
11. Meal prep.
If you’re feeling really ambitious, make a couple of meals ahead of time to throw in the freezer.
Think of meals that can be popped into the oven or crock pot.
I always had the goal to do this, but never did.
But, it is a good idea and would’ve been helpful to have!
Talk with your husband or partner about what you will need from him post-birth.
Maybe you need him to be completely responsible for the dog.
Or maybe you want him to take the older kids to the park for an hour each day.
Talk about it ahead of time, so you are both on the same page.
How do I survive taking care of two (or more) babies after giving birth?
I think of the period immediately after giving birth as the “two week fog.”
If there is any time I consider merely surviving with cluster babies it’s this.
You have raging hormones, probably haven’t slept, may or may not have stitches in you.
Bodily fluids are really just everywhere.
But it’s also such a special time.
There is really nothing like having your older child meet their new siblings.
For me, at least, the love hormones were always overflowing during this time.
If you get a free hand as you’re trying to nurse one and play with the other, be sure to take plenty of pictures and videos.
You won’t regret it.
Keep these tips in mind during your “two week fog:”
- Use your husband or family to help take care of the older(s).
- Lean into help so you can get sleep. Sleep is everything!
- Try to get back into your regular routine as much as possible. Obviously, use doctors’ guidance and listen to your body. But if you’re able to fall back into your routine, it is going to make you feel better.
- Reconnect with your older children. Likely, they have been away from you for a couple days. I remember crying after being home for a day or so because, hormones. But also I was missing my daughter and felt like I hadn’t given her any one-on-one time. The next day, we just went for a little walk around the backyard, just she and I. It was such a perfect moment, and what we both needed.
- Set low expectations! Expecting this fog to be a little rough can actually take the pressure off!
My body may have felt like mush with recovery pains at the same time, but I really have some of the sweetest memories from this time!
How do I thrive with my cluster babies?
I would suggest to continue to set low expectations for a while!
Most likely your husband or partner will be back to work within two weeks or so, and you will have the kids on your own.
Hopefully you are getting some semblance of sleep.
(I always found a four hour sleep block to be a real success. I think of four hours as a really awful night’s sleep, but a night’s sleep, nonetheless. Three hours is just a long nap.)
Your only job is to make sure everyone in the home is fed, sleeps, and has a clean diaper, or has been taken outside if you have a dog.
That’s it. That’s your job.
And it will probably take all day to accomplish these tasks, at least for the first few weeks. And that’s really okay.
You don’t need to start reorganizing the dresser drawers or unpack your hospital bag immediately.
Just focus on meeting those basic needs for a little while.
As you start to gain traction with all your kiddies, try doing some things that will help you to be more efficient.
Try to do one thing each night before bed that will make your next morning a little easier.
Maybe it’s preparing formula, setting up your pump, or emptying the dishwasher.
You’ll be so glad the next morning that you did.
Try to do a quick clean up twice a day, or whatever you find words for you.
Each day before afternoon naps and bedtime, we clean up all toys and sweep the floor. It helps to keep things tidy, and keeps me sane.
ProTip for three under three: We do “counter games” with my older child. I will set up a little game for her at the kitchen counter. This could also just be coloring, play-doh, etc. But it’s a special place for her to sit, and she looks forward to this time. The real reason I began doing this with her was to give her some space from her brother.
When I’m trying to feed the baby, I’m not always able to play referee at the same time.
This allows me to breathe easy while I’m feeding the baby, or for them to have a little break from each other when we’re all in the same space.
Have a general plan for the day.
Know what you expect out of the day ahead of time.
Find your sweet spot for outings (when you’re ready to attempt that) and visitors.
It’s currently 10:00am for us. By 10, everyone is dressed, we are done breakfast and cleaned up, the baby has had his first nap.
It’s the perfect time for us to get out of the house, before I need to think about lunch and afternoon naps for everyone.
Make it a point to have all of your children nap or do quiet time at the same time.
This is so important for you!
I’d say currently, four out of five days I’m able to get about an hour with all three napping, sometimes more.
And it’s always the baby who is up first, so things are still quiet and calm for another hour or so.
Figure out a way to calmly put all of your babies to bed.
Cluster babies are truly such a blessing!
If you keep expectations realistic, use good communication with your partner, and work on getting sleep, you can really enjoy the experience.
Try not to overdo it, and be sure to take plenty of pictures of your cuties!