By Certified Sleep Nanny Kate Miles.
Double the trouble, double the love,
double the kisses, double the hugs,
DOUBLE THE SLEEP DEPRIVATION!
Having twins doesn’t have to be the sleep disaster you might be anticipating. This is my story the highs and the lows of twin life, how I survived and some tips that you might find useful.
There is no doubt being a twin parent is hard. When I first found out I was having twins I cried and I mean REALLY cried, big heaving sobs, snotty blotchy faced crying. I cried for my car (not big enough to fit in 3 car seats), for my house (not big enough for 3 children), my salary (no where near big enough to put 3 children in nursery), my body, my health and also for my daughter (who turned two, just two weeks before the twins were born). How would my daughter cope with not one but two new siblings? Would she feel pushed out? Would I have enough time for her whilst caring for two newborn babies and would she feel left out not having a twin of her own to share that special twin bond with? The mum guilt set in straight away and the twins weren’t even here yet.
So it began, this was the start of a long journey soaked in tears. I don’t remember much from the early days/years! The exhaustion both mentally and physically took its toll on me. I struggled to get on top of things, I was constantly firefighting and just about surviving. My partner would come home at the end of his working day and I would collapse onto him a puddle of tears. I am lucky enough to have a very supportive partner and with no local family support, we made it through the long nights of colic, reflux and allergies together.
Having a child already we knew we needed to get into a good sleep routine early on, something I hoped was achievable in my otherwise very chaotic existence. So we set about creating good sleep habits like a simple bedtime routine, we wanted them to learn this association with settling down for the night, so we put them down whilst they were awake or drowsy hoping they would learn to fall asleep in their cots. We would swaddle, shh and pat them to sleep.
Although I didn’t sleep train my twins per se, I did, on instinct do some gentle sleep training. I wasn’t a sleep consultant when I had the twins so I didn’t know this at the time, but I practised the ‘pick up, put down’ method. I think because I was so worried one twin would wake the other. This involves picking the child up when they are crying, giving them reassurance (ensuring a secure attachment) and as soon as they stop crying, placing them back into their cot. This was not something I did with my daughter and not a method I generally use with my clients but it worked well for us, and of course, I didn’t know then what I know now.
Worrying about twins waking each other is a common issue when sleep training twins. If possible it’s good idea to separate the twins, moving the better sleeper out of the room as often the trickier sleeper will need more consistency. Understandably, it is not always possible to separate, so in this case it’s really important to implement the same plan for both twins and stick to it consistently. Other things can also help in this instance like white noise. Usually used to block out unwanted external noises it can also be used to help one baby sleep through the noise of their crying twin. I remember whilst working as a community midwife women would often say their baby would settle once they started hoovering or with the sound of the washing machine. I didn’t have a white noise machine so one desperate night in the early days I decided to improvise, at 2 am the hoover was not an option but my hair dryer was on the side next to their cot, I picked it up, sat on the floor and switched it onto low. I must have sat there for a good ten minutes that night, wafting the hair dryer around the room by their cot. If my partner had woken, he would have thought I had officially lost the plot but it worked like a dream (excuse the pun) and they settled. That said it was definitely not a sustainable source of white noise.
My twins shared a cot when they were small as I couldn’t fit two cots in my bedroom. At first they slept side by side, then as they got bigger and started to wake each other, they slept head to head until one day they were sleeping forehead to forehead and I realised it was time to transition to their own room. I was secretly thrilled; as an extremely light sleeper it meant no more waking up at the tiniest sniffle! Their room is large and bright, so in went the black out blinds and the night light (red or amber are ideal). They transitioned well, we were lucky that by this stage the twins had stopped feeding through the night so we all started sleeping a little better.
I kept the twins in their cots for as long as possible. We had a few incidents of climbing out; the first one being on trip to see my family. The twins couldn’t have been more than a year old as they weren’t walking yet. I put the boys down for a nap and headed out to the lake to take my daughter canoeing with my Dad. I left my step mum on twin watch whilst fixing the lunch. Well kamikaze Quinn took it upon himself to climb out, negotiate the steep cottage stairs and crawl through the house giving my step mum the fright of her life when she turned round to see him happily sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor. As funny as that was I was worried about what this meant going forward. After that I made sure any hazards were a good distance from the cots to ensure a softish, pain free landing if they climbed out again. I also bought light weight summer version of the grow bags we used through the winter in the hope that it would restrict their movement enough to prevent anymore break outs (Slumber sacks work well too as they have little feet holes so the child can still walk around in them). It worked and they stayed in their cots until they were three and a half and had out grown them. Cognitively children are unable to grasp the concept of staying in bed until the are over two and a half years old so keeping them in a cot as long as possible is crucial. For us keeping the twins in their cots until this age really helped the transition in to a bed. They have never really gotten up once they have been put to bed, but that’s not to say they don’t shout demands from under their cosy duvets!
The twins are four and a half now and I’ve stopped crying (well mostly). I love being a twin mum and even though I haven’t always felt it, I know I am blessed to have been given the experience of having twins.
What wakes me up now? My bladder, the odd bad dream and growing pains… I think can live with that.
My key piece of advice for anyone, parents of singletons, twins, triplets or more is be consistent in whatever you do. This reduces the child’s confusion and helps to create a secure attachment. This doesn’t just apply to sleep but to life in general when raising the tiny humans!
To all those twin parents out there…. You’re awesome, you’ve got this!!!!