Everything You've Ever Wanted to Know About Irish Twins
Imagine finding out you’re pregnant again while you still have a newborn. The term “Irish Twins” refers to siblings born within a year of each other, and it definitely does happen. While birthing two babies in the span of a year has its challenges, there are also many uniquely special benefits to raising siblings close in age.
More: Do Twins Run in Families? A Genetic Explanation
Where Did the Term Irish Twins Originate and Is it Offensive?
Although the term “Irish Twins” is commonly used, it is not really correct. Babies born within a year of each other are not twins, and they do not have to be Irish. The term originated in the 19th Century as an offensive reference to the fact that Irish families tended to have many children and give birth frequently. During this time period, the Irish were a poor immigrant group and the term was used a slur to imply that they had more kids than they could afford to support.
Today there is less of a stigma around being Irish or having Irish heritage, so many people don’t think twice about using the term “Irish Twins”. However, it’s worth considering whether it should be replaced with different, more accurate verbiage.
Is It Safe to Have Two Babies in Such a Short Span of Time?
The World Health Organization recommends waiting 18 to 24 months between babies. Babies spaced too close together do face some increased risks.
Irish twins are more likely to be born prematurely. However, having a premature second baby can actually be the reason why the children are so close in ago. For example, if a second baby’s due date is 13 months after the first child was born, being born a month prematurely would make them Irish twins. In this case, the short spacing is caused by premature birth, not the other way around.
Having babies less than a year apart can also put them at risk for low birth weight, placental abruption, congenital disorders. New research suggests that they may also be at an increased risk for Autism.
Difficulties Caring for Two Babies at Once
Taking care of a baby is one of the most demanding jobs in the world, and the work doubles when there are two. Heather Hughes of San Francisco, CA, who had two sons within a year, reflected on the challenges, saying, “The logistics of having two babies so close in age, yet at such different developmental stages was very difficult. For example, trying to keep up with a demanding toddler, while holding a newborn, was physically exhausting. Not to mention the lack of sleep I’d experienced over the previous fourteen months.”
Of course, many women raise twins, facing these same challenges. It’s important to have help and make a plan when raising two children close in age. Unlike biological twins, Irish twins have a slight age difference. This can result in the older sibling feeling pushed aside, while the younger one grows up always feeling like second best.
The World Health Organization recommends that mothers breastfeed each child for a minimum of two years, but having another too soon might result in earlier weaning of the first. Parents might also put too much pressure on the older child to be independent while they tend to the younger sibling.
What It’s Really Like To Have Irish Twins
Taking care of two babies has its difficulties, but many parents say that the hard work pays off. Siblings close in age often develop a very close friendship that lasts a lifetime.
Mara Jennings of Forestville, CA was born within a year of her older brother, Brian. She says that they primarily had each other as playmates, since their father was in the Navy and they spent much of their childhood living in rural areas on onboard boats. Mara says that having a brother close to her age felt like “having a twin...I did not feel separate from him.” Later when Brian was sent off to boarding school, she says she “suffered greatly and was extremely anxious without him.”
Patricia Chelone of Daly City, CA grew up with several sets of Irish twins among her siblings, and she described her their relationship as “close as ever.” However, she remembers her mother as always very busy, mentioning that she “served the cherry pie with the pits still because there was no time in her day to be sitting there pulling the pits out.”
Barbara McQuaid and Lance Hoffman of Oakland, CA raised girls who were ten months apart. According to Lance, the biggest challenge was the girls’ very different personalities. The older girl was assertive, while the younger was more low key. He remembers, “When they got older, my first daughter wanted a ride to school early so she could hang out. My youngest wanted to go to school at the last minute. That way she didn’t have to interact with anyone she did not like.”
Even if it’s challenging from the start, some parents prefer to dive in headfirst and get the tough parts of parenting over with. Heather Hughes says she wanted it that way. “We decided that moving forward, at similar developmental stages was more appealing than having a gap of two or three or four years,” she notes. Barbara and Lance also loved the idea of having two girls close in age, and they remember how they used to wear each other’s clothes.
Mothers who wait until an older age to start having children might also want to make sure they take advantage of their fertility while they still have it. Having kids close in age can help them give birth while the risks of Down Syndrome remain low as well.
5 Must-Know Tips for Parents of Irish Twins
- Have a Routine. Just like biological twins, Irish twins are a ton of work at the start. Babies have very specific eating and sleeping needs. With biological twins, it is recommended to get them on the same schedule. Irish twins are a little different because a newborn eats and sleeps much more frequently than a one-year-old. Implement a schedule that syncs up the older child’s two naps with two of the newborn’s planned sleep times, if possible.
- Ask for Help. It’s important not to burn out while caring for two babies. A mother must attend to her physical recovery after giving birth, particularly in the case of two pregnancies in one year. Her body is really recovering from both births. Go easy on yourself and enlist the help of others to shop, cook, or help care for the little ones.
- Make 1:1 time for Each Child Even though you’re raising future besties, every child needs special time alone with mom. Make it a habit to spend some time with each baby every day, even if it’s just a few minutes. This will help with any jealousy or behavior regressions in your older child.
- Make Some Time for Your Relationship Trying to deal with two babies can put a major strain on your marriage. Both of you will be exhausted and romance will take a back seat. Don’t feel pressured to have a date night if that’s not going to work right now. However, take small moments to give each other a hug or have a short conversation whenever you can sneak it in. Having the intention of nurturing your relationship is what matters, even if it doesn’t look like much for awhile.
- Go with the Flow. Life won’t be perfect with babies born within a year. You will be faced with a tantruming toddler and an overtired screaming baby in the grocery store. Push through and pay for those groceries. Sometimes you just have to do your best.
Heather says that she and her partner developed a “mantra for when it got really crazy. ‘Just imagine what it will be like in three or four years,’ we would tell each other.” Now that they are past the first three years, she looks back and sees that after the “endless messes, demands, sacrifices, lack of sleep, and not a glimpse of glamor,” she is now so glad to have two boys close in age who share such a remarkable bond.
Considering starting to plan a family soon? Here are 10 Health Changes to Make if You Plan to Get Pregnant in the New Year.
Pin it for later:
- Wilson, James. Is the phrase 'Irish twins' offensive? 2023.
- mayoclinic.org. Getting pregnant. 2021.
- who.int. Exclusive breastfeeding for six months best for babies everywhere. 2011.
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Elisa is a well-known parenting writer who is passionate about providing research-based content to help parents make the best decisions for their families.