The first six weeks or so after my twins came home from the hospital were a level of exhaustion and insanity I have never known, and do not ever wish to know again (although honestly, having another set of twins in the future wouldn’t be the end of my world — don’t tell Daddy-in-Training). I routinely cried in the middle of the night while trying to feed babies because I. Was. Just. So. Tired.
Last Monday, we busted the myth that once you have a baby you’ll never sleep again. But parents of multiples have a unique situation. As I tried to explain to my friends with a single baby who thought they were tired, “You have it easy. Once your baby stops screaming, you get a break. When my baby stops screaming, my other baby is still screaming. Wanna trade?”
All babies are exhausting, but at least when there’s just one baby the parents have a leg up in numbers if nothing else. Steve Volk put it it just right in his recent Philly Post article:
Two Parents vs. One Baby = parents win.
You can wake up on Saturday and trade off childcare. Dad can handle the newborn from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.! Then he can visit the gym, run a few errands and spend the night cooing over little junior. But if these same people were raising twins, the teams would be even.
Two Parents vs. Two Babies = hopeless deadlock.
Once the babies hit 6 weeks post-due-date, though, things get much easier. (At least, they did for me. It sounds like good ol’ Steve is still pretty miserable.) That’s when the babies’ sleep starts to consolidate into longer and more predictable blocks of time, and they begin adjusting to more waking during the day and more sleeping at night. And not a moment too soon, am I right?
I’ve found a few sleep strategies that work really well for the Family-in-Training. Here they are, in no particular order.
- Get the babies on the same schedule as soon as possible. There are differing opinions on this first point, but to the people who oppose synchronizing your multiples’ schedule, I say, “You must have very different sleep needs from mine.” I desperately need 10 hours of sleep a night. I can function on about 7, but less ain’t pretty. I’ll tackle how to sync the schedules in more detail in a future post, but here’s the Reader’s Digest version: Every time you feed one, feed the other — either simultaneously or immediately sequentially. Seriously. All you have to do to start syncing them is do the same stuff at the same time for both (or more) babies.
- When in doubt, divide and conquer. Until they’re on the same schedule, split the babies. We traded off who was “his baby” and who was “my baby” so we could each get up with only one. Once they synced, we traded off who got both babies for the early feeding, the middle feeding, the late feeding, and the first morning feeding. Neither of us got a great night’s sleep, but it sure was better than being up for every feeding.
- Get yourself on a good schedule. This one applies for parents of singletons, multiples, or multiple kids of different ages. If you have consistent wake and sleep times, even if the in-between is erratic, it will be easier for you to get better-quality sleep during the time you have available to sleep.
- Create nap and bedtime routines. You know the drill. Dark room, white noise, pattern of activities to signal that sleep is coming, that kind of thing. Our bedtime routine for our 10-month-old twins is: dinner, bath, crawl around in diapers to burn off the last of their energy, put on PJs, snuggle or read a book, then into our arms for nursing and bottles if Daddy-in-Training is home or into their cribs for bottles if we’re flying solo. Naps are the same minus the bath and change of clothes. When we start doing those activities in that order, they know sleep is next.
- Stick with any sleep changes for at least 4 days before you give up or change your approach. Most people stop trying something new right before it’s about to work. If you’ve been working on a new naptime or bedtime for 5 days and it’s still a disaster, it’s not the right one. But if it’s only been 3 days and it seems to keep getting worse, stick it out another day or two. The third day or night of a new routine is notoriously horrible.
- Be consistent. Fight the temptation do cut corners or change things up “just this once.” Maybe it will all be fine, but maybe it will completely destroy all of your previous progress.
- Call in reinforcements. There are tons of great books out there on sleep for kids of all ages. My favorites are Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Twins, The No-Cry Sleep Solution, and Nighttime Parenting. Some friends of mine with twins got us hooked on “HSHHC” when our boys were 4 months old, which is when we instituted a daily schedule (which, note to self, I need to update for their 10-month schedule) and transformed our sleep.
- Keep reevaluating your technique. As your babies get older, their sleep needs will change. They’ll go from needing three naps a day to needing two and eventually one. They will be awake for longer periods of time between sleep periods. They will eat less frequently. They’ll go in and out of teething and growth spurts and milestones. Particularly with fraternal twins, very different sleep patterns may emerge for your two babies. Revisit your system every month or so for the first year and about quarterly thereafter to see if you need any tweaking.
- Get some sleep yourself, no matter what you have to do. As I mentioned in last week’s post on sleeping as a parent, you have got to find a way to get extra shut-eye from time to time, whether it’s napping, bribing friends, sleeping in the guest room with white noise and no monitor — whatever.
Next week we’ll talk about some of the strategies you need to work on syncing those schedules and basically simplifying your life as a parent of multiples. First up: simultaneous bath time.
How do you manage to meet your own sleep needs as a parent of multiples?