Identical Twins are not so identical as one would think

Most parents of Identical Twins can easily tell their twins apart. There are subtle, and not so subtle, differences between the twins that clue parents in to the unique identity of each child. In fact, often times parents (supported by misinformation from their healthcare professionals), inaccurately classify their identical twins as fraternal twins, in part because of the differences they can easily see between their twins.

Scientists have long studied twins, especially identical twins, in their search for answers to the age old question of nature versus nurture. Yet, it has only been in the last decade or so that we started to understand the influences of epigenetics.


Dr. Courtney Griffin from the Cardiovascular Biology Research Program at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation is the parent of identical twins, and an expert on Epigenetics.

“Identical Twins have had a profound impact on scientists’ understanding of nature and nurture. Studies on identical twins who were separated at birth and raised in separate households, have helped us understand different traits that are more effected by nature, or DNA, versus nurture, or the home environment. For example, some traits like IQ or criminal tendencies are more affected by your DNA than the house that you grew up in. On the other hand, other traits, like depression in men, or your preference for a particular political party are more influenced by your environment, than by your genes.

So what about identical twins who are raised in the same home environment? Their nature and their nurture are almost the same, and yet any parent of identical twins, myself included, can quickly point out differences in their children. One twin may have more of a preference for certain types of foods, or may have more of an aptitude for a certain sport or musical instrument. And sometimes, health differences can arise in these children. For example, there are reports of autism, or asthma, or bi-polar disorder arising in one twin at a young age, while the other one remains unaffected. How do we explain these differences given that the DNA is the same in these children and for the large part their home environment has been the same, too. Well, it turns out that some of these differences can be explained by a third, very powerful influence on our lives besides nature and nurture. And this is epigenetics.”

~ TED lecture by Dr. Courtney Griffin from the Cardiovascular Biology Research Program at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation

Twin studies have greatly contributed to our understanding of which factors are clearly inherited characteristics (nature) versus those that are shaped by our environment (nurture). But, while scientists were able to clearly classify some characteristics, others seem ambiguous – mostly pointing to genetics – yet sometimes the rules were broken – causing confusion.

Why would one identical twin develop autism at a young age, while the other does not? As our understanding of genetics have evolved, the field of epigenetics has emerged as a possible answer.

Epigenetics was defined back in the 1950’s by Conrad Waddington as, “the study of heritable changes in genome function that occur without a change in DNA sequence”, and re-defined in December, 2009, by Berger, Kouzarides, Shiekhattar, and Shilatifard as, “An epigenetic trait is a stably heritable phenotype resulting from changes in a chromosome without alterations in the DNA sequence.” Huh?!

Most of us have learned that our DNA, specifically our genes, control things like our eye color, hair color and that funny shape to our nose that runs in our family. “Epi” means “on top of” or “above”, so Epigenetics literally means “on top of genetics”. Epigenetics explains how DNA is exposed to external factors resulting in modifications to the DNA to turn genes “on” or “off”. This turning on and off of genes impacts the way that cells respond to the genes. Genes that are turned off, are prevented from being expressed.

One reason for this is the packaging of the DNA material. There is so much, there is a need to save space in order to carry all of the genetic sequencing necessary for a complex organism. Think of this like a zip file on your computer. When we zip up a file or set of files, we save space, but we cannot easily read the contents. When we unzip files – those files can now be read through our computer. A similar thing happens with DNA and the expansion of the epigenetic marks, allowing the cells to read the DNA. But, think of it not so much as a switch, but more like the volume control knob on your stereo.

Have you ever wondered why a bone cell is different from a brain cell? Or a skin cell is different than a blood cell? All of our cells contain the same DNA, but the expression of genes in each type of cell are turned on and off in different combinations. Each combination creates the basis for the different types of cells in our bodies.

Why is all of this important for pregnant women? What you eat, and your behaviors during your pregnancy will impact the DNA of your offspring, through epigenetics. Not only that, but there is mounting evidence, that these genetic implications can be passed through multiple generations.

Why is this important for anyone that might someday wish to conceive children? A study in Sweden and England demonstrated that the diet and smoking habits of ten year old boys impacted the lifespan of their offspring. In fact, things that you do long before having children might impact the lives of multiple generations after you’re  long gone.

What if you’ve already spent a good deal of your life eating unhealthy foods and practicing bad habits? It’s not too late. You can still positively influence your epigenome. Ms. Griffin says,

“It’s not too late to start eating healthier foods, foods that we already know are good for us, like leafy vegetables, whole grains, avoiding cigarettes, cocaine, and stress. All of which have been shown, experimentally, to impact our epigenomes negatively. These are things that you can do to impact your genes and your long term health. And if that’s not incentive enough, they can also impact the health of your future children and grandchildren. I think this concept that we can positively impact our genes, is really profound and empowering. Because we’d always worked under the assumptions that our genes are set in stone, that they’re beyond our influence.”

All of us can start living a healthier lifestyle to make positive impacts on our epigenome tomorrow. I’m going to get started right away. As soon as I finish my bowl of ice cream. It’s been a long day.

Interested in learning more? Visit our YouTube playlist, The Epigenetics of Identical Twins.

Julie Kennedy Pediatric Sleep Consultant is pleased to turn over this space today to guest author and pediatric sleep consultant, Julie Kennedy. Julie is a mother to three children (a singleton and twins), a licensed mental health counselor, and certified gentle sleep coach. You can connect with Julie, and learn about the services she offers through her website, This article is Julie’s first in an occasional series on sleep training twins.

Sleep Coaching Twins: To Separate or Not – That is the Question

When working with twin families, an important question we address is whether or not to separate the twins while sleep training. Separating your twins for sleep might not be an option due to logistics. Not everyone has a separate bedroom or room for each twin. If this is your situation (and it was mine, too!) never fear. It is possible to sleep coach twins together in the same room.

You might think that one twin’s cries will wake the other twin. And yes, in the beginning, this will happen. The good news is, they can absolutely learn to sleep through each other’s cries. A wonderful side benefit to this approach is that you won’t have to do the mad scramble and dash into their room when one cries and one is still asleep. I am pretty sure us twin moms have a world record for speed on that dash! Whew!

Sleep training the twins in the same room may take a bit longer due to the twins waking each other. The first two to three nights may be a bit erratic, but with a consistent response, they get used to each other and learn to sleep through each other’s cries or are able to put themselves back to sleep easily when they expect their twin will be attended to.

I’ve talked about night training. Naps are different for a couple reasons. In general, naps are more difficult because we don’t have melatonin during the day to help with sleep.  Again, you may not have the option to separate them during the day, but if there is a room that you can utilize for naptime separation you will find naptime training easier.

A sleep coach can work with you to decide what works best for your family, following your family values, and help create a workable sleep training plan. Sleeping is a learned skill and we as parents are their coaches.

If you can separate them and want to sleep train them this way, it is also a good option. There are some short term advantages with this method, but other factors to consider as well. I’ll be talking about that in the next post.


Many twin parents wonder if their twins are Identical or Fraternal — even when they have already been told one way or the other by their Healthcare Providers.  The truth is, many parents have been misinformed by their Healthcare Providers, who may be perpetuating a common mistaken belief that separate placentas always equates to fraternal twins.  But, when those close to the twins have difficulty telling them apart, one cannot help but wonder.

Recent studies have shown that twins are probably actually identical if the following are all true: Identical or Fraternal Twins

  • Same Sex
  • Same Hair Color
  • Same Eye Color
  • Often Mixed Up by those around them

Everyone seems to have an opinion.  Just for fun, we’re posting pictures of twins over on our Facebook page, and guessing as to whether or not they are identical.  So, come on over and add your twins’ photo and guess on all the rest! 

We’ll feature the photos with the most comments in an upcoming slideshow here on our website — so check back!

Although you might suspect your twins are identical, Twin Zygosity Testing (or Twin DNA Testing) might be the easiest and most reliable way to determine if your twins are identical or fraternal.

Happy New Year!    As the year draws to a close, it is important for Twin Families to reflect on the past year and set goals for the upcoming year.   Use our list to inspire your own family questions, or print it out and cut into pieces to put into a hat for each family member to draw out and answer aloud.  Or, maybe you want to just think about it over the upcoming days. However you choose to reflect this New Year’s Holiday, just do it.Reflections for New Year for Families

  1. What is the single BEST thing that happened in the past year?
  2. What is the most Challenging thing that happened in the past year?
  3. What is your biggest Learn from the past year?
  4. What Milestones were achieved?
  5. What is the Kindest thing you did in the past year?
  6. How can you positively impact someone’s life this upcoming year?
  7. What is the One Thing you can change that will make a BIG change in your attitude?
  8. What will you do this year, this is for *you*?
  9. What are 3 traits that you cherish, about each member of your family?
  10. How can you ensure you will spend quality time with each family member this year?

Hopefully this list inspires you to reflect and discuss among your family this New Year.  What are some questions you reflect upon at this time?

Copyright 2012 – / Kathryn Whiteley

Whether you are buying gifts for twins or super-twins (triplets, or higher order multiples)  or buying gifts to be given from twins to someone else, questions abound about twins and gifting.  Parents of twins pretty quickly determine their own twin gifting philosophy, and it is often times those that are not in the immediate family that struggle with what to do.  Those outside the family should not be shy about asking the parents for advice to understand the family’s general twin gifting philosophy.

Gifts for twins

Many questions arise when buying gifts for twins. 

  • How can we make sure it is fair?
  • How can we make sure they don’t fight over the gifts?
  • My child is friends with only one of the twins, are we expected to give gifts to both children?

Twins fighting over gift

Same / Same

Probably the easiest (and most common) philosophy when buying gifts for twins is to simply buy the exact same gift for each twin.  This philosophy minimizes the fighting over the object as well as minimizing the comparison in value between different gifts.  On the downside, buying 2 (or more) of the same thing sometimes feels wasteful.  Gift givers often find themselves asking, “if we bought different gifts and they shared, they would get twice as many things.”

A variation on this philosophy is to buy two of the same thing in a slightly different pattern, color, or style.  Twin parents often associate a specific color with each twin when they are young, and not surprisingly, these colors often evolve into the child’s favorite color as they get a little bit older.

Equal Value

Many twin parents feel very strongly that, as individuals, twins should be given individual gifts. This philosophy supports the individualism of twins and holds that each child should be treated separately — as they would be if they were born on different days.

Often the gift givers strive to ensure the gifts are of the same perceived value.  This can provide more variety, and, if the twins are good at sharing, can double the number of unique gifts received by the twins.   The critical point here is that “same perceived value” part. As can be expected, different gifts, even when the exact same dollar amount in purchase, can sometimes be perceived to be of different value by the receivers.

One Big Gift to Share

The third philosophy is to buy one larger gift that the children will share.  This allows the buyer to pool the money they would have spent on individual gifts to buy a gift that might have been out of their price range had then been buying separate gifts.  This method works really well for kids that share really well.

A Gift for just One

A very common question among those invited to a twins party is asked when the child invited is friends with just one of the twins. Is that child expected to buy a gift for both twins? Again, there is no “right” answer. But many parents of twins will say, “no”. You are not expected to buy a gift for both twins, when your child is a friend of only one of the twins. Understandably, it gets a bit stickier when your child is a good friend of one of the twins and more of a casual friend with the other. Each family will have to decide how they want to handle this. Just remember, there isn’t a “right” answer or expected norm. So, whatever you decide to do, you won’t be breaking the unwritten “twin code”.

Gifts from Twins

If you are a parent of twins (triplets, or more), and are buying gifts to be given from your twins to another child, many of the same questions exist, but in reverse. Should I buy one large give from both of my twins? or smaller individual gifts from each twin?  Again, parents tend to choose the philosophy with which they are most comfortable. Interestingly, many parents feel very strongly about their particular philosophy, although clearly this is a matter of opinion and we hope by laying out the options we can help you weigh the considerations to make the decision that is right for you and your family.

Two Individual Gifts

Supporting the individualism of the twins, often twin parents feel it is important for their twins to each give their own gift. Another aspect of this philosophy holds that every other child invited to the party will be bringing their own gifts, and it should be no different for twins.

One Big Gift

Twin parents sometimes enjoy pooling the money they would have spent on buying individual gifts for each of their twins to give, into a more expensive item than they would have otherwise been able to afford to give.  Along with this method, parents sometimes will have their twins each pick out small accessory items to go with the main item — so that they can feel more connected to the gift.

In addition to questions about how many gifts — there are many questions around invitations to parties for twins, and from twins.  But that is a subject for another day. 

Hopefully you weren’t expecting us to tell you the right thing to do — you’ll have to make up your own mind about that.  In all the years of fielding questions from parents of twins and from those without twins,  we have heard many opinions — and there doesn’t really seem to be an overall consensus about what is the “right” way to do it.  You’re on your own on that one. 

So… please leave us a comment to let us know your philosophy about gift giving and twins.  What is your “right” way?

Guest Post: Twins and the City

~ Charlene Tipton

Charlene and her husband Brad, live in Savannah, Georgia. She has 20-month-old fraternal twin girls, Gwyneth & Avery.  She enjoys being a stay at home mom and watching her girls learn new things every day.  “Having twins was never a thought,” says Charlene, “but they are amazing & have taught me so much.”

Double Umbrella Stroller - TwinsThis past weekend my husband and I went to Boston for a kid free, long weekend.  As we were enjoying our time, riding the T (subway) and taking taxis from place to place; we started to think about how we would navigate a big city with our girls and all the “stuff” we typically take along with us. Since both of us have always lived where driving is how you travel from A to B, many questions came to mind.

Wandering about Boston we saw families, Mom’s with strollers, Mom’s with kids, nannies with strollers… all sorts of kid scenarios.  Riding the subway we mostly saw adults, and kids old enough to walk around from place to place on their own.  Occasionally we saw someone with a single stroller or umbrella stroller.  Taking the subway to dinner one night we really started to think about this. 

  1. Getting down to the train: Usually there are stairs to get down to the walkways underground.  Some of the entrances had elevators but not all.  Once you get down to the walkways, most had elevators to get down to the platform you need to catch your train.
  2. Getting on the train: Like trying to get on an elevator in a building, most people crowd around the entrance to the train.  It can be hard for an adult to get on the train, never the less a double stroller.
  3. Taxis: Do you carry car seats/booster seats and strollers (if needed) with you whenever you leave the house?  Are taxis set up with the latch system? Can the whole family fit in one taxi?

Living in the city or not, efficiency seems to be key when navigating with twins. What are some solutions or tips to these issues?  What is the “best” way to navigate a big city with twinfants?


How to Tandem Breastfeed Twins

One of the most common questions asked by those expecting twins is, “Can you breastfeed twins at the same time?”  Of course you can!  Our previous article, How to Feed Your Twins at the Same Time (Tandem Feeding), offered many practical tips for tandem feeding twins — whether by breast or bottle.  But seeing is believing.  That is why this wonderful video by Melissa that we found is such a huge help.  Melissa shows us easy steps to make tandem breastfeeding twins a success — including how to burp one baby while the other continues to feed.

Here are a number of tricks for successfully tandem breastfeeding twins, captured in this wonderful video by Melissa.

Supplies Needed for tandem nursing twins

  • large couch
  • 1 back support pillow (for mom)
  • 2 boppy pillows
  • 1 twin nursing pillow
  • 1 support pillow or folded towel
  • 2 burp cloths
  • water bottle and snacks for mom
  • optional entertainment devices for mom (phone, book or e-reader, TV remote, etc.)

Step 1. Prepare your area

Before bringing in your babies, prepare your breastfeeding station.  Set up all your supplies so that everything is within easy reach.  One bobby pillow will be placed on either side of mom, with burp cloths across the back of the couch.

Step 2. Bring in the babies

Place one twin in each boppy pillow on either side of mom (on the side that they will be nursing on — note that you will want to switch sides with the babies for each feeding).  Position yourself, with back support and twin nursing pillow.  Use an extra pillow or folded towel to make the height of the babies on the twin nursing pillow just right for you.  Pick up both babies and set them on the pillow before latching either of them so that you won’t have to twist and possibly un-latch a baby in the process of picking up the other for tandem nursing.

Step 3. Latch ’em on

Okay, this is probably the toughest part when you are a new mom.  Relax. It’s okay.  Latching is tough when you have just one baby — but add another and the complexity goes way up.  In the early days, you may find that one will latch easier than the other — or one side (of you) will work better than the other.  If you can, plan to have a helper with you for the first couple of weeks of tandem feedings until things begin to go more smoothly.

Step 4.  Re-latch.

As noted above, at first you might spend most of your time latching one baby and then the other, and then back to the first again.  Hang in there — it will get better as your babies learn how to latch, re-latch, and stay latched.

Step 5. Read, Relax, Enjoy, Bond.

This is your time to take a breather.  Relax.  Do something for you — and love on those babies!

Step 6. Burp

When one is ready for a burp — pick up the baby and sit her on the top of the nursing pillow, supporting her on her chest under her chin. Gently pat her back until you get a good burp.  Use your elbow over the other nursing twin to hold him in place.

Step 7. One Twin is Done

When one of the twins is done nursing, burp him and then place him in the bobby pillow on the side where the other twin is still nursing.  This way you will lean in the direction of the nursing twin rather than leaning away from the nursing twin, which could cause her to un-latch.  If you need to attend to the baby that has arleady finished feeding, again, you are leaning toward the nursing twin rather than away.

Step 8. Both Twins are Done

After the second twin has finished feeding — give her a burp and place her in the other boppy.  You have just successfully tandem nursed your twins!

Hopefully this excellent video by Melissa on Tandem Breastfeeding Twins has given you the confidence to try tandem nursing.  There is no faster way to feed your twinfants.  But if nursing (either tandem or one at a time) doesn’t work out for you — don’t be discouraged.  There are many benefits to bottle feeding, too, and this is a very personal decision for you and your family.  One size fits all definitely doesn’t work in TwinParenthood.

Can you add any tips we’ve missed?  What has worked for you?  Please leave us some comments.

copyright 2012 – TwinParenthood / Kathryn Whiteley

Guest Blogger Charlene Tipton and FamilyToday, TwinParenthood is proud to announce the addition of occasional guest Blogger, Charlene Tipton!

Charlene and her husband Brad, live in Savannah, Georgia. She has 20-month-old fraternal twin girls, Gwyneth & Avery.  She enjoys being a stay at home mom and watching her girls learn new things every day.  “Having twins was never a thought,” says Charlene, “but they are amazing & have taught me so much.”

We hope you enjoy her first installment!

To Leash or Not to Leash?

~Guest Post, Charlene Tipton

Leashes for Twins - Monkey BackpacksRecently, the buying of child harnesses (or leashes) has been up for discussion in my house.  When I first brought it up to my husband Brad, he looked at me like I had 3 heads.  Then basically telling me he’s more on the no side.  I, being on the maybe side, decided to start doing some homework on the subject. 

First asking around.  At my latest Mom’s Night Out with my multiples group – I got a yes. 

Then I started looking on different websites.  Figuring that I would see more negative than positive, I was surprised to see that most parents were pro harness.  Parents were also assured when they saw other children with harnesses on because the parents were taking an active role in their safety. Surprised by these opinions?  I was!

The only negative I read was parents would hear remarks from others walking by or boldly told they were harming their child.

After telling my husband what I had learned he was more on board with the idea.  Also, meeting a family with twin girls a month older than ours, and seeing them with them on helped. 

Twins on a LeashWhich one do I buy?  We’re fans of the harnesses with animals on them.  One person had the idea of flipping them around.  Putting the animal on the child’s front instead of back.  So it’s like they are holding the animal.  My girls are all about carrying stuff right now, so we’ll be trying that. There are different varieties:  lion, monkey, cow, ladybug, alligator, backpacks, clips to close, Velcro to close, close at chest, close at waist, detachable tail (leash).  You can find all different kinds on the web. 

I’ll be buying 2 at my local baby store, probably two monkeys.  This weekend we’ll be going to the Atlanta Aquarium.  I’m sure they will come in handy. 


Do you use harnesses with your twins? What brands are best?

A mom, dad, and a Utah State Trooper were surprised earlier this week by twins that didn’t quite make it to the hospital and were instead born on the side of the road.

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It’s nearly every parent’s fear that they’ll deliver on the side of the road — and as with many thing “multiple”, when you’re having twins, triplets, (or even more) — that fear can be multiplied.

Utah Highway Patrol sergeant Cade Brenchley is a father of four and called on his own experience in the delivery room as well as training he received as part of his job. When Seargeant Brenchley arrived, one baby had already been delivered — but he was just in time to help with baby #2.

“The mother was a real trooper — for lack of a better word — for holding on to this baby and then getting ready to have the second one,” Brenchley said.

After delivery of the second twin, Brenchley says, “Good job, mom.”

Free HaircutsJC Penney is having a promotion to give kids K-6th grade a free haircut in August.

When you’ve got twins, triplets, or more — the cost of back to school haircuts can, well, multiply! That’s why this is a steal we just couldn’t NOT pass along!

Appoitnments are limited at each salon — so be sure to grab yours while they last. Check with your local salon to book your appointment as soon as possible. You can find a JC Penney salon here by entering your zip code (be sure to check the “with a salon” check box.

We managed to snag four appointments just in time for back to school. Sweet!

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