Say that 5 times fast!
I wanted to give some love to my twin families - there's a lot of you out there! At any given time, I am working with at least one twin family (I think my record was seven sets of multiples at once - wowza!) I can still remember my first twin case and how nervous I was. I don't personally have multiples so how the heck am I going to help a family with two babies!? Well you know what? A lot of the same rules still apply with multiples vs. a singleton child. There are definitely some difference and a lot of extra factors that come into play but I've actually come to find that my twin babies are my best sleepers. They are so adaptable and resilient - they've had to be! They have to be able to sleep through their siblings' noises and that can be a lot of noise! With that, I wanted to offer up my TOP 10 TIPS on twin sleep to help you amazing moms and dads out there get a few extra winks tonight:
**note that while I've consistently written 'twin' babies throughout this article, these tips apply to all multiple families - twins, triplets, quads (this is the sound of me bowing down to you, by the way).
TWIN TIP#1 - WHITE NOISE
This had to be my #1 tip, there's just nothing else that compares to the need for white noise with twins. White noise has not only been shown to reduce stress in children and help them sleep, but it also works really well to block out sound. Now, usually we're trying to block sound from the house from reaching baby but in the case of twins, we're trying to block sound from one side of the nursery to the other side. White noise is a very effective way to help Baby A sleep through Baby B's noises, and vice versa. In fact, with twin families, I actually recommend double white noise in the babies' room (for example, a white noise machine and a noisy fan). You would place one source of white noise (noise machine) halfway between the cribs and the other source of white noise (fan) on the noisiest wall of the nursery (for example, a wall that's adjacent to your living room, kitchen, a noisy street, etc.) Using double white noise really helps to muffle sounds coming from inside and outside the room so our babies can sleep peacefully day and night.
TWIN TIP#2 - START AS YOU MEAN TO GO ON
I can imagine that when you are pregnant with twins, you envision the sleeping arrangement your children will have. Will they share a crib for the first few months? Will they start out in separate cribs next to each other? Will you start them in the same room but split them up eventually? Now, what you envision might not be exactly what ends up happening (lots of families who contact me end up resorting to sticking one baby in another for naps or even naps and nights because Baby A naps much worse than Baby B) but if you decide after the 16 week mark to sleep train those babies, sleep train them where you want them to be sleeping eventually. Even if you're worried that this will = less sleep for Baby B - go for it. This helps them to become acclimated to each other's sounds (and you're using double white noise now, right?) and it avoids yet another transition down the road when you do decide to move them back in together. Maybe you're okay with them being separate for naps and only together at night - it's completely up to you and what works best for your family. What's important is making sure where you start is where you want to end up.
TWIN TIP#3 - WRITE IT ALL DOWN
I'm not sure how any family with 2+ babies can make it through a day without writing everything down but I'm surprised to find out that some don't! Heck, I have to write things down with only 1 baby or I forget what time they woke up, what time I have to put them down, etc. Especially once you decide to make sleep a priority and really focus on establishing healthy sleep habits for your babies, keeping a sleep log is of utmost importance. This really helps you to see patterns, progress, where things need to be tweaked, and helps you to stay on track. On my sleep logs, I recommend families include:
- Morning wake-up time
- All feedings (breast/bottle/solids)
- Mood before naps (happy, tired, fussy, alert, yawning, etc.)
- Put down times for naps, asleep times, and wake-up times
- Mood upon wake-up from sleep (did they wake up happy? Crying? Babbling? Fussing?)
- Bedtime put down and asleep time
- Any nightwakings, nightfeedings, sleep-cries
TWIN TIP#4 - KEEP THEM ON SCHEDULE
Now this tip is not only for your babies' sake but for your own sanity's sake. I remember when my son was 9 months old and my daughter was 3. He was on a 2 nap schedule and she was on a 1 nap schedule. This meant that I had a child sleeping from 1000am-1130am, 100pm-300pm, and 300pm-400pm. OY! That gave me a window of less than 2 hours in the morning, 1.5 hours in the afternoon, and a few hours in the evening to actually leave the house. It was TOUGH. Now, this is sometimes life with two kids of different ages and with different sleep needs but this is an example of why keeping your multiples on the same sleep schedule is so important - to avoid having one baby sleeping all.day.long. This becomes especially important if you decide to sleep train - I recommend to my families that you always wake the babies within 15 minutes of eachother. If Baby A wakes at 700am, we wake Baby B at 715am. If Baby A takes a 30 minute catnap, unfortunately, we wake Baby B at the 45 minute mark. With time and consistency, most multiples end up 'syncing up' their schedules and while it's unfortunate to short-change one child, in the long-run it's worth it. This is another reason I say it's okay if they are waking each other up from each other's sounds - we want them on the same schedule anyway so they are doing the dirty work for you!
TWIN TIP#5 - FEED TOGETHER, FEED APART
In the beginning months when the babies are young and eating frequently throughout the night, it makes sense to feed Twin A when Twin B wakes for a nightfeeding. This avoids one child being awake all night (hey, the opposite of Tip#4!) so it helps buy you and your partner more sleep. But once we start to focus on the babies sleeping longer stretches at night, you want to give both children the opportunity to sleep through (whatever that means for their age). This means only feeding the child that wakes up and allowing the other child to wake naturally when they are hungry. Another option that can work amazingly well for many families is establishing a dreamfeed early on. This can help your babies' long stretch of sleep coincide with yours. Note that I don't recommend starting a dreamfeed with older babies that are not sleeping well at night (i.e. if you haven't started one yet and your 4 month old twins are not sleeping well at night and are waking 3+ times, a dreamfeed is not a good option for you. A dreamfeed is a better option for newborns (0-3 months) or for babies 4 months+ that are already sleeping fairly well at night).
TWIN TIP#6 - SLEEP TRAIN
Okay, okay, you don't have to if you don't want to but I would really, really recommend it. First and foremost, sleep training does not = cry it out. There is a stigma about sleep training and it entailing hours of dreadful crying while we sit back and think about how terrible and awful we feel about the whole process. It doesn't have to be like that. There are many gentle approaches we can use with young and older children alike to help them learn that oh-so-important skill of independent sleep. While it's true that sleep training twins is often more challenging than singleton babies, it is far from impossible. Yes things take longer to come together. Yes the gentler methods are often much more difficult when there's two babies to consider. But as I mentioned above, my twin babies are often my best-sleeping babies. Parents are usually more motivated because they lack the time/energy/patience to deal with sleep issues x 2 and they also are much more aware of the need for a solid schedule and foundation for sleep for their children. So if you find yourself at that 16 week mark and things just aren't going your way - don't be afraid of change. While the prospect of less sleep is daunting, it's short-term pain for long-term gain. The positive changes that you and your babies will experience from sleep coaching are endless. If you feel you can't go it alone? I'm here for you moms and dads :)
TWIN TIP#7 - ADJUSTED AGE
This is a short tip but it's a question I get a lot. We always want to follow the babies' adjusted age when it comes to sleep scheduling. While 38 weeks is full-term for twins, I would still consider these babies two weeks early. This applies to starting sleep training (at 16 weeks adjusted), when trying to figure out the babies' schedule, sleep needs, amount of awake time, or even when anticipating sleep regressions or leaps.
TWIN TIP#8 - IDENTIFY THE SENSITIVE SLEEPER
There's always one of them. One twin who is just a teeny bit more finicky than the other. One twin that puts up a little bit more of a fight. One twin who is just a little bit more sensitive to sleep. I can usually identify the 'Sensitive Sleeper' with ease by just reading the Intake Forms I receive from my families. Once we identify which one of the babies is the Sensitive Sally, we stick closer to their schedule. What do I mean by that? For young babies especially, 15 minutes can make or break a nap or bedtime. Putting them down just 15 minutes early can result in 30 minutes of playing/hanging out/laughing/whatever else those crazy babies can do while lying awake in a dark room (!?!). Put her down 15 minutes too late? Crying/yelling/I-can't-handle-life screaming. So you now know we are to be waking the babies within 15 minutes of each other but what does that mean for the timing of the next nap? How do we know what time to put them down? Let's take twin babies who are 6 months old (adjusted), for example. We know that at 6 months of age, the babies could probably handle about 2 hours of awake time between 1st and 2nd naps. Baby A woke up at 10:00am from his 1st nap and we woke Baby B woke up at 10:15am. We know baby B is the sensitive baby so we'd count our 2 hours from the time she woke up, so as to avoid one of the above situations arising.
TWIN TIP#9 - HAVE REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS
The biggest difference between sleep training a singleton baby and sleep training multiples is the time it takes to see full progress. Many families ask me, "How long will it take until I see results?" and while there's no for-sure answer to this question, this is a general guideline that most babies follow. Depending on the age of baby, method used, consistency of parents, etc. progress generally goes as follows:
- 3-5 nights - baby is now 'sleeping through the night' for their age
- 7 days - baby is now falling asleep within 30 minutes for all sleep times with some combination of babbling, fussing, soft crying
- 10 days - baby is now showing progress with longer naps although things may still not be consistent
- 2-4 weeks - baby is now showing consistency with naps (consistency meaning, for example, nap 1 is always the longest nap, nap 2 is over an hour but shorter than nap 1, nap 3 is 30-45 minutes long). Nap lengths may not be exact day-to-day and that is normal
Now what about for twins? I'd say you could multiply that time by 1.5 or even 2. Nighttime can take 5-10 nights to come together, the babies may take closer to 10-14 days until they are falling asleep easier for sleep times, longer naps may emerge after 2 weeks instead of a week and a half, and true consistency may not materialize until 3-8 weeks instead. But do not let these numbers deter you! As I mentioned above, many times my twin families are my quickest studies, and while these things take time (sleep training is a journey!) the end result is well-worth the effort.
TWIN TIP#10 - ALL OTHER RULES APPLY
As I mentioned above, many of the same principles apply to twins and singleton babies alike. The following sleep concepts are the same across the board:
- Swaddling newborns (especially those preemie twins - they need that snug feeling!)
- Super dark bedroom
- Feeding upon wake-up from sleep (i.e. an 'EASY' routine) or at least separating from sleep by 30 minutes and some sort of activity
- Consistent sleep routines (nap and bedtime)
- Early bedtimes
- Avoiding the overtired state
- Not rushing in
- Using all the tools in the first few months - you are in survival mode!
Pam Edwards is a Certified Infant & Child Sleep Consultant and founder of Wee Bee Dreaming Pediatric Sleep Consulting in Grande Prairie, Alberta. Healthy sleep is addicting and she has made it her life mission to help families all across the world get the sleep they deserve - a good night's sleep doesn't have to be a dream!