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This week’s article is written by our former Sleep Consultant, Heather Matthies, who is a registered nurse and mother of three, including twins.
Having one baby: life-changing. But, having more than one baby? Life-changing times 2 (or 3 or 8 like Octo-mom!). Just like no one could tell most of us how to fully prepare for one baby, whether multiples are planned or a big surprise, there is truly no way to fully prepare for the task ahead. No matter how many times you’ve organized their closet or think about all the organic baby food you’re going to make, some of the things that once seemed very important lose in priority to getting even a little more sleep, and making sure there are clean clothes and food in the house!
When thinking about sleep and feeding schedules for your multiples, it’s important to consider how rigid they will be. I never worried about an exact nap “time” with my singleton daughter, and rocked her to sleep quite often! When I brought 2 babies home, however, I learned that scheduling became my best friend! Not that every day goes as scheduled (babies can be so unpredictable, of course!), and sometimes schedules flew out the window if my baby clearly needed something–but having a schedule or routine provides a much-needed guide to the day. And, if you’re a planner, that’s so important for your own sanity and stability! 🙂 Now, remember that what works for a newborn is not going to work at 8 months, for example, and being open to change through this process can be very useful!
In the very early days, I found my days consisted of the following: nurse, pump, change diapers, wash clothes/diapers, repeat. And the cycle continued over and over! At this point, with multiples who may be premature and take small, frequent feedings, it truly is a round-the-clock job. When they do get a bit more predictable, it is helpful to feed at the same times during the night. I didn’t learn this right away, unfortunately. One son would wake, and I would feed him….thinking, “hmmm…maybe the other will sleep…:)” Usually, this wasn’t the case, of course! As soon as I’d get comfortable, the other baby would proclaim his need for a night feeding as well. What did I learn? In the early days, if one baby is awake and it’s close to feeding time–feed everyone! Once your babies are older, though, eventually you do want to discourage more frequent night-feedings and encourage longer stretches of sleep, so I didn’t continue to do that forever.
Doing most care activities at the same time is the common-sense approach to keeping multiples on the same routine/schedule. Diaper changes, feeding, tummy time, sleep–all done in tandem. There may be times that this provides the best approach to care. I have been at this point for most of my boys’ lives. They have meals together and go down for naps and bedtime together.
There are times, however, when tandem scheduling doesn’t work as well. In these cases, it can help to stagger schedules. Staggered schedules also help if you are having trouble spending one-on-one time with your babies. It can also help to stagger schedules if one baby needs more or less sleep than the other(s), as you may often find is the case (even identical siblings truly are not identical in every way). You may put him down after your baby or babies who need more sleep or get him up earlier, if he wakes early, so he doesn’t disturb the other(s). In some cases you may want to wake the other baby/babies to keep everyone on the same schedule, but sometimes that makes for cranky babies and cranky parents! All situations will have unique details and a unique schedule.
I staggered schedules, temporarily, once I stopped co-sleeping, while the boys were learning how to fall asleep on their own, around 4 months old. I needed to work with one at a time, so this helped my efforts.
Staggering schedules, even if by only 15 minutes, is also helpful if you’re the only adult in the house. During much of my boys’ infancy I was the sole care-giver as my husband was away in the military. So, whether you’re a single parent, or you find yourself doing most or all of the childcare for other reasons, staggering schedules is helpful while you’re sleep coaching, and they’re learning how to fall asleep on their own. This is easier than trying to tend to more than one crying baby, who is keeping the other(s) up. 🙂 It may be that the ideal situation is to have one adult per baby or child, but in reality this isn’t always possible. When you are in the situation of one adult per child, each adult can help teach one baby how to sleep.
Having multiples, especially in the presence of other children, or if you’re flying solo, means that the first several months are not easy. My boys were born in October, and my true attempt at humor is that I don’t remember anything from at least October through December of that year. 🙂 Nowadays, I can’t say that every night is perfect, but most nights and naps are. And, when I put them down for bed there is the hope of a good night’s sleep for everyone. Starting your babies out on the right path, and working towards establishing an individualized schedule that works for YOUR family helps pave the road to better sleep for everyone in your household. It is possible. So many families have come through these situations and so can you!
Continue to Part 4 of our Sibling Series: How to Use Baby Sign Language to Give Your Toddler a Nap-Time Voice.
Other parts in the series:
Sibling Series Part 1: Do You Have Another Baby After a Horrible Sleeper?