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The Best Rest

When it comes to advice on how to get multiples on manageable sleep schedules, there are as many opinions as there are experts ... who don't agree on much besides this: It's smart to get all your babies on the same sleep schedule so that Mom and Dad have the best chance at getting some rest, too. Sounds good, but how do you do it?

If you can get your babies eating together, a shared sleep schedule usually follows, says George Cohen, M.D., editor of the American Academy of Pediatrics Guide to Your Child's Sleep and clinical professor of pediatrics at George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

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"It's worth a try, even in the first few weeks, to give a little push toward a schedule by waking your other baby or babies to feed together after the first baby has woken on her own," Dr. Cohen advises. "Usually, though, you can’t start to get serious about a sleep schedule until at least 6 to 8 weeks of age — for preemies, 6 to 8 weeks corrected age."

Building Healthy Habits

There's no difference between multiples and singletons when it comes to laying a foundation for healthy sleep. In the earliest days, your babies may fall asleep at the bottle or breast once their bellies are full. But within the first four to six weeks it's important to start putting them down drowsy, not already dosing, so that babies learn to fall asleep on their own. If you see one baby threatening to nap prematurely, you might employ some extra cuddling and attention to help her stay awake until it's time to nap with the other(s).

During naps, don't tiptoe around the house speaking in hushed voices, or block out every last bit of light. Babies can and should learn to sleep regardless of the activity. (This will also make it easier to be mobile with your babies, should they need to occasionally catch a nap on the go.)

At night, change the environment to one that promotes longer rest. Infuse your bedtime ritual with calming activities — give your babies a warm bath, play soothing music, read them a book, give hugs and kisses, then place them in bed. Don't dwell in the nursery once the babies are laid down, even if there's crying.

Some babies cry at bedtime as a way to expend leftover energy, and it's common for them to stop within five minutes. If crying persists, re-enter the nursery and offer comfort with a pat on the back and a pacifier or baby's own thumb to self-soothe, but resist the urge to pick up your crier since this may only prolong the ordeal. If you hear crying between expected wake times, don't rush right in. Some babies wake briefly as they're passing from one sleep cycle to another. Give yours a chance to learn to transition through.

When babies wake for nighttime feedings, keep the lights dim and the tone mellow. Go about feedings and diaper changes quickly and quietly, then put babies straight back to bed. Once the night-feeding phase is over, nighttime waking in multiples is best handled as recommended for single children, says Dr. Cohen. In fact, practically all sleep-training tactics can be applied the same way.

One Bedroom or More?

While some experts feel more strongly than others about the value of having multiples sleep together, the consensus is that you can't go wrong by letting your babies share a bedroom.

"Don't worry about twins disturbing each other in the middle of the night," says Alexander Golbin, M.D., Ph.D, director of the Foundation for Children's Sleep Disorders at Rush North Shore Medical Center in Skokie, Ill. "If you sleep two singleton infants together and one screams, the other will wake up and join the chorus. Twins are different — most of the time they sleep through each other's crying."

Come morning, parents might find an unexpected advantage to room-sharing: It's common for infant twins to spend their first waking moments "talking" and "playing" with each other (instead of screaming to be fed) — which buys Mom and Dad some extra time in bed.

Sleeping Together

According to Dr. Golbin, "Physiologically, multiples need more tactile stimulation than singletons, and sharing a crib is a great way to provide this. Twins need to touch each other, smell each other, play with each other. This pattern starts in utero and continues after the babies are born." Other experts don't feel quite as strongly, but agree that crib-sharing is OK.

According to Dr. Cohen, "If your babies share a crib, place them on their backs at opposite ends with their feet, not their heads, pointing toward each other so they are less likely to collide." And always follow standard SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) prevention guidelines.

While some multiples will continue to co-sleep beyond the crib and into a bed, more conventional thinking is that by 3 months of age, sharing a crib is no longer practical.

Of course, there are situations when it's not OK for babies to share a crib or bed:

  • When one child is sick
  • When sleep becomes restless or babies are bothering each other
  • When sleeping together poses a danger
  • When children are communicating a clear desire to sleep alone

There are a lot of different approaches you can take when it comes to a sleep set-up, says Dr. Cohen. "Do what works best for you." By the time your twins get past the first year, they will have expressed for themselves whether they want to stay together in the same crib, bed or room, or would be just as happy apart."

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