The concept of sleep training can be a touchy subject — however, as they say with most everything parents decide, to each their own. Since we are sleep training the twins right now and I have few friends who are interested in what we did, I figured now is a good a time as any to share our learnings.
As you know, we chose to sleep train Thad because I was returning to work and we wanted some sleep in the house. For us, good sleep is one of the most important things next to eating and having a roof over our heads. We can’t survive with out it. After spending two and a half months walking around like zombies, we quickly figured out that getting our son to sleep through the night wasn’t up for discussion — it had to happen.
The first time around we hired a sleep consultant and she did a great job directing us (and making us feel like terrible parents — but that’s another story). Fortunately we took notes from that experience, chatted with friends who recently used her, and consulted a book or two and figured out what would work for us this time around. In full disclosure, we also had the assistance and guidance of our Night Nurse (here’s her awesome site, in case you’re interested) who helped us through the nights and kept tabs on what baby was crying and for how long (otherwise it sounds like you have one baby or both crying through the whole night.. which is not cool). She’s also been great with continuing to check in with us now that the boys are sleeping through the night. She’s my sounding board. If you live in the Bay Area, you should definitely check her out (she does new born consultations live and over the phone in addition to night nurse work).
Following the “Modified Extinction” method as outlined in Healthy Sleep Habits, Healthy Child, we decided to work on getting the boys to sleep through until 5:15am the first night. We were slightly aggressive in our approach in that we unswaddled them this first night as well and placed them in their sleep sacks… and took away the pacifiers. Given all this, it made for a rough night all around (they cried… a lot). The second night was less intense, and by the third night they woke up once and twice respectively before that 5:30am feeding (which we also started to push out). Now they are steadily sleeping until the 5:30 or 5:45am initial feeding, only to be put back down until they I get them at 7:30am. I chose a 7:30am wake up time for them so I have enough time to get Thad up and fed before wake up for the day.
As you can see, this is what works for us. Every child is different, and what parents can tolerate also varies greatly. Outside of what is working for us, here are a few guideposts when undertaking sleep training:
Choose a method and stick with it. Oftentimes parents start off in one direction and then switch gears. This is no bueno. Think of how you train your dog. You wouldn’t start giving him commands in German and then switch to English, would you? Babies are smart. Really smart. So decide what flavor (there’s a multitude) works best for you and your family and then stick with it. The Baby 411 book gives a great overview on the various methods.
To Swaddle, or Not to Swaddle. We swaddled from birth until we started training them because that’s what we did with Thad. But I’ve heard of families keeping the swaddle until 5 months old. You do have an option to keep them swaddled until you’ve figured out the sleeping part and they’re on track and then you can break the swaddle when all those little newborn / infant muscle jolts disappear. However, we had one really great nap this weekend with a swaddle (because I had to wash the sleep sacks), so I’m trying the naps with swaddles to see how it goes (see below for more on naps).
Scheduling Night Feedings. If you want to keep a night feeding to ensure your milk supply, then go for it. You’ll just have to do two things. 1) Push your babe to that time and stay consistent with it. For example, if you choose 2am, don’t go in at 1:50am one night, and then 2:05am the next night. Always go in at 2am. Always. 2) You’ll have to start pushing them and not going to them once you are both ready to drop that 2am feeding.
12 = 12. According to my pediatrician, once babies reach 12 lbs, they can safely sleep 12 hours through the night. That said, consider this when you decide on night or “dream” feeds.
Bedtime vs. Naptime. Without doubt, sleep training to sleep through the night is much easier than getting babes down for naps with little assistance. At night they’re tired and are ready to go down, regardless if it’s for their bedtime or after a dream feed. Naps on the other had are typically more difficult to tackle (least for my boys, some babies do better with naps). This is where you may be more hands on if you’re choosing to soothe them or it will take longer to get the schedule down.
Scheduling Naps. There are numerous formulas to follow, so choose one that works for you and stick with it. I’m a little more lenient with the twins since I have a toddler with his own schedule. Because of this I aim to have the big middle nap at home and allow myself to run errands if needed for the morning and afternoon nap. I’m probably shooting myself in the foot with their naps already… my consistency isn’t where it needs to be, but having two babies with different napping styles makes it more challenging. My current schedule follows the wake, eat, play, sleep formula, with more “topping off” since I’m still breastfeeding. This is for 14-week-old babies:
8:15am feeding (as long as they keep the 5:30am feeding, otherwise I’d feed them as soon as they wake up)
11:30am – 12:00pm Second Nap starts
1:30-2:00pm: Third Nap Starts
3:00-4:00pm: Fourth Nap Starts (if needed)
The general rule of thumb we keep for this 3-4 month time frame is that they have about 90 minutes of awake time between naps. Once they reach the 4 month mark, I’ll extend it to two hours and move them to the 9am, 12pm, 3pm nap schedule.
Twins Advice. The best resource I’ve found for twins (other than our night nurse) is Marc Weissbluth’s other book, Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Twins. It’s a solid read that addresses napping them together or separate and how to deal with two (in our case, very) different babies. For example, I was able to confidently train the boys in the same room because they are still young enough where they are able to learn to sleep while the other one is fussing. For us, this is extremely important since all three boys will eventually share the same room.
Hopefully this information is helpful and provides some guidance and solutions for parents looking for some answers. Remember that every child is different and if you’re at a true loss, check with local resources and always start with your child’s doctor, since they’re up to date on the latest research and know your baby.