Most parents will identify with the phrase “the fog of sleep deprivation” but for people who have more than one baby at a time, it takes on a new and often disturbing meaning and is just one of the many challenges involved in 'raising multiples'.
Each year in Australia, approximately 4,500 pregnancies result in the birth of multiple bathes - this is from an estimated 310,000 births. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in NSW in 2011, there were 96,132 births, with 1450 sets of twins and 20 sets of triplets.
For mother of twins and national chairperson of the Australian Multiple Births Association, Ali Mountifield, the joys of having triplets is also tempered with many challenges, which at times, can seem overwhelming.
“The early months are really a fog of sleep deprivation and lots of time at home,” she tells Peninsula Living.
“Breastfeeding was hard with three babies who were born six weeks premature. Just managing three babies by myself was a challenge - but we were very lucky to have lots of wonderful volunteers.
“Getting out and about with a three-wide pram was difficult at local shops. There are always tots of interested shoppers and it's also impossible to get into supermarkets due to the narrow entrances and no way to get through the checkout.”
The Australian twin registry was established in 1981 to serve as a link between researchers and twins and other multiples who were interested in being involved in protects now with more than 66,000 members, it has become one of the largest volunteer registries in the world. Multiples are unique because they share the same environment from conception and by comparing the similarities and differences researchers get a better understanding of how our genes and environment determine who we are.
Research also shows that parents of twins or multiples are at a higher risk of anxiety and depression than mothers of single babies and connecting with support early can lead to better health outcomes. Over the past few years, social media has been vital ingredients in helping parents keep contact with each other.
Ms Mountifield says the Multiple Birth Association is using these platforms to help build communities and break news. "We are using twitter and facebook as a way to connect with families, enabling them to gain additional support and services and filters into social events,” she tells Peninsula Living.
“Social media is a fantastic resource for people who can't get out of the house and the flexibility of being able to enter and leave an online conversation is also beneficial Many of our mums have called it a 'lifeline' and the 'light at the end of the tunnel'," says Ms Mountifield.
Another local mother and Multiple Birth Association president Alicia Gill says she made contact with the association as soon as she knew she was having twins.
“My ten week scan was a big shock," she tells Peninsula Living.
"I remember I couldn't drive home after being told that I was having twins - but I gradually came to terms with the news and started to investigate what support was available.”
Her understanding of the many "unique challenges" of having a multiple birth now places her in a great position to offer support to others.
"I vividly remember the first time I had a good nights sleep -most of the first few months I felt like I was walking in a daze."
Ms Gill's twin daughters are now three and she has returned to work as a marketing consultant part-time and is enjoying combining motherhood with her career.
Local Vanessa Fierens, mother of two-year-old twins Sofia and Elizabeth and now six-month-old Alistair, says Multiple Birth Associations are an important support network for women like herself.
“A seven week scan revealed we were having twins but although I had always wanted twins, it still came as a great shock,” she laughs.
“It does take a while to sink in, it’s always a higher risk than a one baby pregnancy so it's important to get as much information and support as possible during the pregnancy and after the birth.
“As they were our first children, it really was a big learning curve. Routines are difficult both with sleeping and feeding but I had amazing support from my mother who came with a family meal every night for three months.”
She says the biggest issue in the first months as a mother of multiples is tiredness.” You really have to change what you do to fit around them - and a ﬂexible routine and share your experiences with other mothers.”