If you’ve recently had a baby you know how demanding, exhausting and all-consuming taking care of an infant is. If you’re a parent of twins these feelings are likely greater than double. One plus one doesn’t always equal two! As a mom of twins, I know firsthand how utterly challenging taking care of two babies is. While my memory has become slightly clouded over time by the pure love and joy that our daughters bring my husband and me, one aspect of the first few months that I do remember vividly is the sleep deprivation. It was absolutely the hardest adjustment we had to make. We were so sleep deprived that I questioned whether my husband should even be making his fifteen-minute commute to work, as I truly feared that he would fall asleep at the wheel. We knew we needed help! Thanks to our fabulous sleep consultant, Well Rested Baby founder Amy Lage, we gradually learned how to get our family’s sleep on track. I quickly realized how much the education and sleep training process was benefiting our situation at that time, but I had little idea how much it would also affect the years to come. Fast forward two plus years and we have two rock-star sleepers.
The challenges of getting two babies or toddlers to sleep are different from and unquestionably more challenging than trying to ensure that one baby gets all the sleep he or she needs. If you have twins, these sleep tips may just be the key to getting your doubles’ sleep into a healthy pattern. As a mom of twins and now a professional sleep consultant, I’d like to share these tidbits that are backed by my own authentic and hard-won experiences.
Biological age: To begin, it’s important to know your children’s biological age. Most multiples are born before 40 weeks gestation which means that biologically they are younger than their actual age. So, if your twins were born at 37 weeks then we need to adjust their age by three weeks. At six weeks, your twins would be three weeks old biologically. When we talk about sleep and sleep milestones everything is based on biological age so this is important to note!
To share or not to share? Where should your twins sleep? Should they share a crib? A room? After all they have shared your womb for many, many months! Crib sharing is not safe. One baby can roll onto the other leading to suffocation or entrapment. However, room sharing is completely fine. If you do plan to keep them together then allow them to sleep in the same room regardless of the crying that you fear might wake the other. They will learn to sleep through each other’s noises. Use a sound machine and invest in a good video monitor so that you know who is awake and who is asleep. If you plan to separate them down the road, then do so as soon as they are old enough to officially sleep train.
Twins and newborn sleep: Never wake a sleeping baby? Not true if you have two! If you’d like to wash one of those bottles sitting in that looming pile, shower or brush your teeth, maybe do some of that mounting laundry, make a quick phone call, catch up on some reading or work, etc. in the next four months this one is critical! Twins need to be on the same sleep schedule. Bottom line. Genetics do seem to play a factor in sleep and since identical twins are nearly identical genetically getting them on the same schedule will be a bit easier than getting fraternal twins on the same schedule. But, whether your wee ones are identical or fraternal we want them on the same sleep schedule. At this age, there is no true “schedule.” Newborns need to sleep approximately every 60 minutes, sometimes sooner. We always want to start with the more sensitive sleeper, and sooner rather than later, to avoid entering an overtired state. If one baby wakes up, we wake the other so that they can eat at the same time and then fall to sleep at the same time again. If feeding them simultaneously is too challenging and you’d prefer to stagger feedings, then allow one baby to sleep fifteen minutes longer than the one who wakes first. The same rings true for nighttime feedings. If one wakes up at night and it is time for a feeding, then wake the other as well; until they are four months biologically.
4 months and on: Once your twins reach the age of four months biologically they will be ready for a true schedule. We will no longer go by the amount of time they have been awake but will instead go by the clock. Beginning at the age of four months, babies need to nap at times that are in sync with their newly developed biological clocks (circadian rhythms). Again, we want to keep your little ones on the same schedule. Whether fraternal or identical their circadian rhythms will be relatively the same and they will need naps that begin at the same time as well. To keep them on the same schedule keep them within fifteen minutes of one another. If baby A wakes first we would not let baby B sleep more than an additional fifteen minutes. If one of your little ones cannot easily adapt to change in routine or schedule, or easily becomes overtired, we always want to cater to his or her needs. If your sensitive sleeper is ready for bedtime, then that means it is bedtime for both. It is better to keep them both well rested than to allow your sensitive sleeper to become overtired.
Twins and toddler sleep: As your pair nears the age of two, sleep is no longer just about sleep but also becomes behavioral. When I found myself recently saying “remember, no meowing at bedtime” I knew it was time for us to have a family meeting to chat about our sleep! The challenges change as your twins grow. They become little buddies which is endearing and infuriating all at one. They will absolutely egg each other on and treat sleep periods like slumber parties if clear rules and expectations are not in place. If your pair is treating naptime like playtime, then separate them for naps if possible. If bedtime has also become playtime, then it might be time to have a family meeting and establish some sleep rules. Either way, make it clear that sleep times are for just that, sleeping! Believe me, they are NOT too young to understand as long as you are firm and consistent with your message.
Of course, while a few pointers are helpful it’s not always easy to stay the course on your own, or to know when to tweak or change your approach. Whether you are still in the newborn stage or you are dealing with toddlers we are here to help with your sleep challenges!
Lauren Stauffer is a Family Sleep Institute certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant, a mom of twins herself and owner of Well Rested Baby. She offers a host of services including in person, phone, email, and Skype/FaceTime consultations that can be tailored to meet any family’s needs and schedule. Please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a consultation. Be sure to follow WRB on Facebook for more great sleep tips!
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