Once upon a time, I found myself with 4 children under the age of two. I had triplet girls who had just turned two when their baby brother was born. Most people cannot believe I survived, neither can I, really! But what saved my sanity was the fact that all my children slept, which meant I could also sleep at night. Getting up after a good night’s sleep was vital to me being able to function as a wife, mom, nurse, chef, nanny, etc. At the end of a long, tiresome day, I knew I had a good few hours to recover before repeating it all again. I always get very excited when I consult with twins (or higher order multiples – triplets and quads) as clients. Moms are often at breaking point and by addressing the sleep habits of the babies, I find that a well-rested mom can actually cope better with what multiples throw her way during the day.
My twins started sleeping through at 3.5 months – that’s 14 weeks old and they were 7 weeks premature. How did I do it? I will take you through some of the things I did to ensure they started sleeping through from an early age. I never “sleep trained” them at this age, it was just a series of steps I took every day to ensure they would sleep through.
I must admit that they slept through from 3.5 months until about 8 months old when we did have another serious wobble. At this point, I sleep trained them in the more traditional method. It took 3 days and all three children slept through from then onward. They are 9 years old now and apart from the few nightmares and illnesses, I’ve not had an issue since they were 8 months old.
Here are some of the things that I’ve learnt from implementing healthy sleeping habits with my own triplets (from the day they came home from the hospital):
Routine – Never compromise on your routine. A friend wants to visit? Great! Hand her a bottle or a bath towel. Forget the cup of coffee. You can drink coffee again when they are 2 years old. A friend wants you to visit her (with the babies)? No, I don’t think so. Come to terms with the fact that your house is going to be your friend for at least a few months, if not a few years. It is never worth changing the routine of your multiples to suit others. If you need to attend an event, get a nanny or babysitter to work after hours.
Feeding – Multiples are often premature which means NICU time. A parent who has been through the NICU procedure will most definitely think differently than one that has not. NICU is routine, routine and more routine. Keep to this same routine for as long as you possibly can. Most babies feed every 3 hours in NICU, keep this up. Make sure they have full feeds every 3 hours, get that milk in! A baby who misses out on milk calories in the day will make up for it at night. Feed all your babies at the same time. YouTube and Google are your friends here. I used to feed all three of mine at the same time – in the beginning it takes a bit of getting used to but in a matter of days you will get the hang of it. Don’t fall into the trap of feeding one at a time – even if you have help available. Get used to feeding them all together because there are going to be days where hubby/nanny/night nurse/granny can’t help. For quads I recommend feeding two at a time if you are by yourself.
Awake time (in the day) for multiples who may have been premature – This is quite tricky and the only way you will be able to figure this out is through trial and error. What I have found is that premature babies don’t always act their corrected age. Let me give you the example of my own twins, they were 7 weeks premature so for the first 7 weeks of their life they were awake for max 45 minutes (just enough time to feed, change their nappy and back in their cot). When they turned 12 weeks old (real age), their corrected age was 5 weeks, and I found they could go slightly longer than 45 minutes awake time. At this point I moved them to 60 minutes awake time which wouldn’t be the case for a 5 week old baby. They always seemed to hover between their real age and corrected age awake-time window. You need to watch out for sleepy signs here – rubbing red-rimmed eyes and ears, and yawning. Another good rule of thumb is to put them down in their cot and if they fall asleep within 15 minutes then you have the correct awake time. Anything longer than 15 minutes means you need to adjust awake time to be slightly longer, starting with 5-10 minute increments.
Sleeping arrangements for multiples – Whether your multiples sleep in the same room or same cot will make no difference. Should you put your newborn multiples in the same cot please ensure you have separate nappy breathing monitors for all the babies. I didn’t have a choice to separate my twins into their own rooms (although with multiples this is a good idea if you have the space available). All my girls slept in the same room but in separate cots. Yes they woke each other up but after a short while they got used to one another. You can also use white noise to try drown out the sounds of the siblings waking each other. If I am sleep training multiples I almost always keep them in the same room to start and depending on how it is going, we may need to separate them until their sleep has improved. Sometimes, it’s a good idea to have a separate camp cot for the “poor sleeper” so you can spend some time with them during nap times – but at night I would put them all together.
The Dummy AKA Lifesaviour for Parents of Multiples – For singleton’s I traditionally do suggest taking the dummy away from an early age but I approach the dummy a bit differently for multiples. The dummy can really be a lifesaver when all the babies are crying. Having 2, 3, 4 or more babies crying can drive a parent to the point of desperation. My general rule regarding the dummy is use it to calm when necessary. If your baby is not crying, is able to fall asleep without the dummy or spits it out, don’t keep on offering it. Use the dummy to keep your sanity levels during nap time and at bedtime. By 4 months of age try to use the dummy even less, otherwise you are going to get yourself into a night time dummy drill between the ages of 4 and 8 months, where they still can’t find it or put it into their own mouths. Getting up multiple times for dummy drill just doesn’t make sense. After 4 months of age, try delay giving the dummy by 10 minutes, soon you will find they are no longer reliant on it. Sometimes, you can get away with using the dummy for day time naps and remove it completely at night. It all depends on your baby and whether this will confuse them. If you find your baby having short naps in the day whilst using the dummy and/or more frequent wakings at night (no dummy or any other sleep associations) then sadly the dummy must get thrown in the bin.
Crying – No parent, on the face of this planet, wants to hear their baby cry. Sadly when there is only one of you and you are outnumbered by the number of babies you have, crying is most probably imminent. I find that parents of multiples can actually deal with a lot more crying than parents of singletons, merely because the crying is multiplied. I used to hover between my three cots, tending to the baby who seemed to be crying the most while the others had to learn to put themselves to sleep. Looking back, this was what in fact helped me the most in “sleep training” my girls. I inadvertently taught them that they could put themselves to sleep because I was one person and there were three of them. Even if I wanted to, I didn’t have enough hands to tend to all three at once. I was outnumbered. I used to go from cot to cot tending to the most hysterical baby, and found that by the time I got back to cot number 1, they had managed to put themselves to sleep (shock, horror!). Obviously I’m generalising here, but this happened often (and started happening more often as I left them to fall asleep by themselves). But there were times of total chaos – prepare yourself for the chaos. My husband would arrive home to all 4 of us crying in unison. Have your support system in place – whether that be a standby granny, nanny, cousin, friend or neighbour.
The Bedtime Routine and Night wakings with multiples – Bathing, dressing and feeding multiples can be a daunting task especially from newborn to around 8/9 months (when they are able to sit without the risk of falling over in the bath). Here I do suggest getting some help, even if you hire a nanny for 1-2 hours over bath time. Never ever leave a baby unattended in the bath which is near impossible if you are alone. I used to make a changing station right there on the bathroom floor. Mattress, warm towel, nappy, pajamas and body lotion. Bath time resembled a sausage factory, it was in-and-out as quick as possible. When my girls started crawling it became near impossible to bath them without assistance. Once all the babies are bathed, fed and put into their cot (white noise on, minimal help to fall asleep) then it was time for a large glass of wine (for mom) and a huge pat on the back for making it through the day. Well done! I used to manage night wakings by waiting 10 minutes. In other words baby 1 would wake, I’d start timing 10 minutes. If baby 2 woke during that time, I’d still go according to baby 1 as to never leave them longer then 10 minutes at a time. Within those 10 minutes I could normally tell whether they would be going back to sleep, or needed me to go in. During the first few weeks when I knew they needed a feed, I’d still wait a few minutes before responding (making and warming bottles meant they had to wait a few minutes) and then during a feed I would wake all the babies and feed them together to ensure they were kept on the same schedule. As soon as one baby started drinking less during these night wakings, I knew that specific baby would start sleeping through soon. There comes a time when you have a fine balancing act of allowing the baby that drinks only 30-60ml during the night, to sleep and run the risk of having to feed that baby at a later stage during the night, more closer to morning than her sisters. So for a few days I was up a lot at night trying to encourage her to sleep for longer stretches. Slowly the magic started happening and my middle baby, Elyssa, was the first to go from 6pm to 6am. I felt like I’d won a jackpot! Amelie and Genevieve follow suit a few days later.
Final thoughts – Looking back at my abrupt start to motherhood, going from a family of 2 to 5, was the most shocking and awesome thing that happened to me. Becoming a parent to multiple babies is not for sissies – it takes determination, perseverance and it will change you. It may feel as though your marriage is suffering, your friendships are suffering, your family are suffering, but it’s not forever. My girls are now 6 years old and it feels like just yesterday we brought them home from the hospital. Enjoy it because it passes by so quickly. Teaching your babies how to put themselves to sleep will be one of the most rewarding things you will ever teach them. Best of luck!
Written by Raylene de Villiers – Certified Good Night Baby Sleep Consultant