Telling identicals apart FAQ

One of the most common questions parents of identicals are asked is exactly how to tell their children apart. While most parents would like to serenely smile and mutter, "A parent knows...." the reality is that it is a challenge for parents, particularly when the babies are tiny. As we get to know our children it becomes easier. Different personalities, different characteristics, and even different voice tones all help parents to clue into the individuality of our children.

My personal theory (completely unsubstantiated) is that human beings learn to identify other human beings through comparison. Upon first meeting another human being, I believe we key in on their similarities to other human beings we have met. We assign a name to the face and as we get to know them we learn what makes them an individual. When confronted by identical human beings, we are immediately forced to identify more in-depth differences. We cannot assign a name to a face because there are two or more names to the same face.

When dealing with infant identicals, this becomes a problem. Personality is not yet observable and it is much more difficult to observe differences. The identical infants have pretty much the same behavior such as crying when hungry, sleeping after feeding, etc.... So, sometimes parents have to turn to outside indicators like painting a toenail, color coding the infants clothes, or leaving hospital bracelets on until they can discover identifying differences in their children.

By the way, this identifying problem is not limited to identicals. Even same-sex fraternals can look very much alike when they are newborns.

Most parents of identicals admit to confusion at one time or another. In my opinion this is not something we, as parents, should feel guilty about. There are thousands of books, movies, and stories about identical twin mix-ups. But most (if not all) of that stuff is only fiction. Identicals DO NOT have identical fingerprints and in the end it is really true: "A parent just knows."

--Mary Foley

Below, you will find a conversation that appeared on twins-L some time ago when a mother expecting identical twins wondered how she would be able to tell the children apart. You can read the advice she was given by other mothers of multiples.

However, many times, it is hard to know for sure without genetic testing. is aware of 4 companies that provide such testing. Information about these companies is provided as a service, and not intended to be an endorsement.

Affiliated Genetics

Affiliated Genetics
PO Box 58535
Salt Lake City, UT 84158
(801) 582-4200 (9:00 AM to 5:00 PM Mountain Time) or
(800) 362-5559
Fax: (801) 582-8460
Web site:

Genetic Technologies Corporation

Genetic Technologies Corporation
P O Box 115
Fitzroy VIC 3065
Phone: (03) 9415 7688
Fax: (03) 9416 4076
Web site:

PRO-DNA Diagnostic

PRO-DNA Diagnostic
5345, boul. de l'Assomption
Bureau 165
Montréal (Québec)
H1T 4B3
Phone: (514) 253-9998
Fax: (514) 899-9669
Web site:

Proactive Genetics, Inc.

Proactive Genetics, Inc.
2 Goodwin's Ct., Suite #1
Marblehead, MA 01945 USA
Phone: 1-781-639-5126
Fax: 1-800-701-3109
Web site:

Kathy wondered:

Based on the many sonograms I have had, it looks like our twins will be identical (thin membrane between the two amniotic sacks, same sex (boys), one placenta).

I hope that it will be obvious to us from the start, but one of the worries we have had recently is "How do you tell them apart?" Any advice people have on this topic is welcome.


Mary said:

Congratulations. I worried about the same thing before our ID twins were born. So, while I was still pregnant, I went to a sewing store and ordered little name labels, which I ironed onto their infant sleepers. (I'm glad I did it then, because I have not been near my iron since the twins were born 4 years ago!)

We also came up with a color scheme: Red-Robert -- Blue Brian.

Despite this fool-proof scheme, we did have a couple mix ups. But, those usually occurred after their bath (no colors/no tattoos).

What eventually (and quickly) happened was that we noticed minute differences such as a different shaped head, mole/no mole, and the ever popular inny-outy belly-button. You too will find at least tiny (and sometimes not so tiny differences) in your twins.

On a funny note, one of our boys had a small mole on his left cheek (bottom). When we really got confused we would have to strip one of the kids in order to determine who they were. We always tried to picture some day in the future demanding our teenage twins sons drop their pants so we knew who they were.

Fortunately for them, other, less intrusive differences have surfaced :-)

Janice said :

At first it may be very hard. We left the hospital name bands on for a while, then we painted Eric's toenail. For the next few months we color coded dress (Eric the "red" usually had something with more red in it).

After a while personalities help. Also it seems, so I've been told, that with identical twins, one is usually "rounder" than the other, one being longer in the face or more narrow. It is certainly true with my boys.

When in doubt, I feel their ears. Eric has a small bump on his left ear and Alex has it on his right. Eric without a diaper also had a small "Mongolian spot", dark spot just at the base of his spine. Alex's has faded. Eric also sucks his thumb while Alex sucks his two middle fingers. Of course, all this having been said, I am still the only one who can consistently tell them apart!

Cindi said:

We have very similar looking twin boys (probably identical). What we did was leave their hospital bands on as long as we could to buy us some time. One boy did have a hernia, so we did have proof positive w/ the pants off, but that wouldn't "fly" for the future! We also used colored clothing to help w/ immediate identification. Jason wears more red; Joel wears more blue. When they have on identical clothing on, it takes a bit more scrutiny!

The good news is as someone (Mary?) stated, you do start seeing smaller differences which you missed when focusing on the forest vs. the trees. Grins, voice, facial expressions are still unique no matter how much they favor each other. We still get baffled on occasion but it is rare (especially for Mom) now. We also found a little, itty-bitty vein that is on one boy's nose bridge which we use if we are unsure. :-)

Enjoying the similarities & differences,

Jahnna said:

I used to worry, like you do, that I'd never be able to tell my boys apart. At first it is a little tricky, but eventually, you'll figure out their minor (or major) differences, as Mary said in her post. Until you get the hang of it, you might want to paint the large toenail of one baby with nail polish. This is a good distinguishing mark that won't wear off too quickly -- and you'll never have to ask your kids to drop their drawers ;-)!

Nancy said:

My friend has id. boys Cameron wears blue ("b" is close to "c"), Patrick wears Red ("r" is close to "p"). The dad has a real bad time telling them apart and feels real bad about not knowing who his children are. It is/was a big thing to him. The ONLY difference in the boys was one had a cleft in his ear. From far away you couldn't see it so you HAD to go by color.

One of my daughters teachers the year the babies were born got an emerg. phone call to leave class immediately and go home. When she returned....the dad had bathed the id. girls and when he went to dress them he realized he had no clue which one was which, panicked, called his wife home to help him.. Boy was she embarrassed when she returned and had to tell everyone who was worried about the babies what the emerg. was.

When we brought our boys home (they are frat.) we had the hardest time telling them apart (ALL babies look like little E.T.'s especially when they go down to 4lbs.). Every time I was convinced we knew them apart my husband would call one of them by the wrong name, I would sob, leave the tags on convinced they were going to college with them. We still look at the newborn video and get them mixed up. I remember hearing the Dr. say tie one cord one way and the other the other way, with all they babies they "do" they are still afraid of mixing them up, we don't have a fraction of the practice they do.

Needless to say, in the world of id. or even frat. multiples this is an issue, at least you are in good company.

Michelle said:

My girls are definitely ID, and one of them has a mole under her bottom lip, while the other has two birthmarks, a strawberry hemangioma (?)on her belly and a stork bite on the back of her neck. Even if they did look ID (which they don't) we would always be able to tell them apart, and thank goodness they wouldn't have to drop their pants first!

Cindy said:

" On a funny note, one of our boys had a small mole on his left cheek (bottom). When we really got confused we would have to strip one of the kids in order to determine who they were. We always tried to picture some day in the future demanding our teenage twins sons drop their pants so we knew who they were."

Same thing in our house. One of the triplets, Kevin, has a freckle on his right cheek (Bottom). He and Matthew looked so much alike the first few months that we frequently thought the same thing! Now they're as different as night and day, so the "butt check" will never be an issue!

Pam said:

Well... it has happened. Our first official twin mix up!! Luckily there are no long-lasting consequences - just a bit of confusion on the part of the girls, and a BIG laugh on the part of the parents! Last night, I was putting the girls to bed, following our usual routine -- bath, read a book, sing, say prayers, rock for a minute then into the cribs. I had turned off the light, trying to save myself a step, and let the girls down off my lap to head to their cribs. Well, it was REALLY dark in the room -- the door was closed, the lights were off in the hall. The girls approached their cribs and I popped them up and in (assuming, that they were heading towards their OWN cribs, as they usually do!) They were sort of funny about going down... not really fussing or crying but seeming to want to tell me something (Haha, now I know!). I comforted them and went on my merry way, eager to enjoy "my" time after they go down at night. Well, we heard some peeps about 15 minutes later and my husband went in. We knew we'd heard *Meredith* peeping over the monitor (not crying, just singing ABC's and talking), but when he came back out he said, "Lauren was up, so I put her back down, but Meredith was just laying there, although her head was at the other end of the crib." (the cribs are front to back, and the girls sleep with their heads "together" at the end closest to each other) He turned her around so that her head was on the pillow at the "right" end. Around 11, before we went to bed, we went in to check on them (usual night time routine) and as we tucked the covers "Lauren", my husband said, "Wow, they look alike tonight. I could swear that is Meredith." All of sudden I looked closer (light was on dimmer at this time) and realized that they were in the wrong cribs!! Lauren, who I KNEW was wearing the teddy bear pjs was sleeping in Meredith's crib, and Meredith, who I knew for sure was wearing the flower pjs was in Lauren's!! We couldn't run out of the room fast enough; we were cracking up and ROFLing!! I remembered that when I put them in the cribs, they were saying "UH OH, UH OH....UP? UP? UP?" and I thought it was just because they were alarmed about the vaporizer noise. They were trying to tell me my mistake!! They both slept great all night (we left them in the "wrong" cribs for the night instead of moving them), but seemed a little confused when they woke up this morning.

We had a good laugh about it!! I think we've done pretty good to make it through 19 months without this happening before!!

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