Sleep. Oh how I love thee. The first three months with our twins, sleep took a back seat so that we could just get through each day and survive life with two. Our main priority was to ensure that the babies were gaining weight, and learning how to best soothe them. It was only once we survived the first 100 days with our newborn twins, and they were at a healthy weight, that I started to even think about sleep training.
At three months old, Claire and Olivia were starting to sleep for longer stretches, and the high of being a new parent was starting to wear off along with our energy levels. Sleep deprivation was taking its toll. Up until then we had the twins sleeping in a cradle, together, beside me in the master bedroom. They were starting to outgrow the cradle, so the first thing we did was move them into their own beds in their shared nursery. Recognizing that they had just spent nine months in utero snuggled up together, and now also in the cradle together, we wanted to give them the opportunity to adapt to sleeping by themselves in their own beds first.
Let the R & R Begin…(Reading & Research that is….)
A friend of mine had given me a book titled The Baby Sleep Solution written by Suzy Giordano. It’s an easy read and I liked the systematic 4-step approach to get your babies to sleep 12-hours by 12-weeks.
Unfortunately for us, the first step of getting your babies to eat every 4-hours during the day was impossible. Claire and Olivia would lose their cool at the 3-hour mark no matter how much I fed them. And because of Olivia’s terrible spit up/reflux, she did better with smaller more frequent meals, so a 4-hour feeding schedule wasn’t going to work for us.
Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child/Twins written by Marc Weissbluth helped me to understand the science behind baby sleep.
I also purchased the Sleep Sense program created by Dana Obleman and found it helpful because it offered two types of approaches. The first approach is a gentler method she calls “Stay in the Room” as you gradually make your way towards the door over the course of two weeks. The second method is a “Leave and Check” method. After our research was completed and we felt that we had a good understanding of what to expect, we decided to try the “stay in the room” method first.
But first…..Night Weaning….
As newborns who had lost 10% of their birth weight from night one, we were feeding them every 3 hours around the clock. It was only once they had gained back their original birth weight (and when their doctor said that it was safe to do so), that I had stopped setting my alarm to wake them for a feeding and I let them tell me when they were hungry. If they woke up in the middle of the night (which was usually Claire), then I woke up the second baby as well and fed them both.
At 3.5 months, I asked myself what would happen if I stopped waking Olivia up. Would she sleep through the night? To test my theory, one night, I left Olivia to sleep and fed Claire. Olivia slept the full 12-hours. The same thing happened again the second night, and again on the third. I did this for about a week.
Then I asked myself, was Claire waking up because she was hungry or because it had become a habit? She was waking up at 3am like clockwork. I started to reduce her bottle over the course of the following week. 6 oz. went to 4 oz. and then down to 2 oz. When she took the 2 oz. and fell back asleep, it confirmed to me that it was, indeed, a habit.
So, the following night I gave myself a number (12 minutes) that I would wait before going into her bedroom. Claire woke up at 3am (as per usual), fussed for 7 minutes, realized I wasn’t coming in and put herself back to sleep. The following night, she woke up again at the dreaded 3am, fussed for 4 mins and put herself back to sleep. On the third night, she didn’t wake up at all, and hasn’t since.
I read that most babies at 3 months of age and 12lbs are able to sleep through the night on their own (they have the stomach capacity to get through the night without a feeding). Now that we were sleeping through the night, we needed to work on getting the babies to actually fall asleep on their own without any help (or props). That’s when we started working on a bedtime and nap routine.
Establishing a bedtime routine…and trying the “Stay in Room” method
Bedtime routines are a great tool that will help you with sleep training because babies like routine and predicability. The bedtime routine you establish will provide the clues to your baby to let them know what’s coming next…sleep.
For us, we did bath, bottle, book and bed every night for five months (in that exact same order). Yes, we bathed them every night for five months! I found the warmth of the bath was soothing for them (like going to the spa), then we dressed them in the glow of a night light, gave them their bottle, burped them, read them a book and turned on the lullaby machine. The key was to make sure they didn’t fall asleep during this last feed, and to put them down in their crib dowsey but awake. This helped them to practice falling asleep on their own.
The first few nights we laid them down, I sat in the shadows of the corner of the room and waited. They moaned and let out a few little cries but within a few minutes it was over and they were sleeping.
If only nap time could be that easy…
We established a “mini” version of our bedtime routine for the daytime naps. I made sure to have lots of interaction and stimulating play time with them while they were awake, and when I noticed their tired cues (yawn, rubbing eyes) which was usually after being awake for 2 hours, I whisked them upstairs, changed their diaper, put them in fresh clean PJ’s and read them a book. Once the book was finished I turned down the shade, turned on the lullaby machine and kissed them goodnight. Let the water works begin!
It took a good month before we were going down for naps without any tears. The “Stay in the Room” method, while it was successful for night time, wasn’t working for nap time because having me in the room was a distraction. So we tried the “Leave and Check” method. After 5 minutes, I would return to reassure the crying baby that I was there by rubbing their back until they settled down, but I had to leave before they actually fell asleep (if they fall asleep with you there, then they will freak out when they awaken from their sleep cycle and you aren’t there). Having me come in after 5, 7 and 10 minutes, most of the time, only caused the baby to get upset all over again when they saw me turn to leave. Since their naps were usually only 45 mins long, and it was taking at least 20 mins for one baby to settle down with the ‘Leave and Check’ method, while the other slept, I realized we needed to try something different. So, I had to walk out and stay out. I won’t lie to you. It was brutal! And I remember a couple of occasions calling my husband with my own tears streaming down my face. But, it was the most effective. They never cried for very long (7 minutes at first, which only got shorter and shorter). After a month, going down for naps 3x/day was painless with zero tears. Now, at 10 months we don’t even get around to reading a book anymore because my babies are already falling asleep when they get into their beds!
Here are a few key things to remember when sleep training;
- Keep the room as dark as possible
- Establish a bedtime routine and stick to it.
- Catch the sleep wave and recognize their sleep signs. If you try to put them down to sleep too early or too late, it will be difficult.
- Give your babies the opportunity to practice falling asleep on their own. This will encourage them to develop the skills they need to help them transition in between sleep cycles.
- If you do have to go in and feed or change your baby in the middle of the night, try not to make eye contact. Be very robotic. Good time to practice the Mommy-Poker face. Conversely, when you go in to your babies in the morning, open the curtains and greet them with a happy and upbeat “Good Morning” . You are trying to teach them that nighttime (dark) is sleep time, and daytime (light) is playtime.
- If the baby didn’t do number #2, in the middle of the night, try not to change their diaper if you don’t have to. The cool air on their little bums can arouse them.
- A solid daily schedule filled with lots of playtime, interaction and consistency will help your twins to sleep through the night.
- Do your research and read different sleep training strategies and pick one that you and your partner are comfortable with. Having your partner on board with the approach you choose will ensure consistency and will also serve as your support when you need it.
It was not easy, I assure you. And I couldn’t have done it without the strength of my husband so if there is any advice I can offer, it is to support one another during this time. Remember why you started sleep training, remember what your goal and plan is and stick to it. It does get easier each day.