Parents and caregivers are often looking for solutions to get their babies sleeping soundly through the night. Surprisingly, most Prenatal or Prepared Parenting classes don’t discuss infant sleep beyond crib safety so all the sudden you find yourself sifting through hundreds of books at the library or spending hours on the Internet just to figure out questions such as how many naps your child(ren) should take or how long your child(ren) should be awake! There is so much discussion surrounding infant sleep and when it comes to multiples, the questions seem more complex.
Furthermore, we’ve all said that so much changes in the first year and amidst all that development and growth, sleep changes too. For example, from birth to one year, naps can go from six to one, awake time can go from 45 minutes to three hours, overnight feedings can go from four to zero. That’s a lot of change within a short amount of time! That doesn’t include swaddling, binky issues, standing, crawling, etc… So just when you think you’ve got it down and your Journey to Dreamland has been successful, things change and you’re at the library or on the Internet again! It can be exhausting and infuriating. In my time working as a certified infant/child sleep consultant, I have found that no two families can work off of the same sleep plan! Each family has it’s own unique set of circumstances regarding their children’s sleep struggles, sleep arrangements, family dynamics, work schedules, and medical considerations.
With all these being said, there are 5 tips that should be applied and implemented by EVERY family, regardless of circumstance, who is looking to get a better night of sleep. The following information is from a handout found on my blog site tailored to fit one and all but I will add a little extra guidance as it applies to twins or more.
Make sure your child’s room is setup for the best night of sleep possible. Consider getting a sound machine for sleep association and to block out noise. Ensure there is no light coming in the room. Studies suggest that even the smallest amount of light can inhibit melatonin production, making it harder for your child to fall asleep and stay asleep. Get rid of that night light or put it in the hallway if you do need to enter your child’s room during the night. Ensure that the room is not too hot or cold and adjust accordingly. The most common question from parents of multiples surrounding sleep environment is, “do we sleep our babies in the same room?” Sleep environment is critical to good sleep so if there is constant noise from a sibling, it can be hard for babies to allow their bodies to get into a sleep rhythm. I would suggest separating babies while establishing good habits in the beginning knowing that it is temporary and they will be back in the same room soon. If a baby who was once a good sleeper starts to experience sleep troubles that are keeping him/her up at night, again a temporary separation is suggested. You’re probably thinking, ‘well they need to get used to each others noises!’ Don’t worry. There will be plenty of time for that. However, if a healthy foundation isn’t in place for each individual baby, it won’t matter if they are used to noises or not because they’ll be experiencing disrupted sleep anyway.
2. Feed before bed
Most babies, depending on age and medical necessity, do not need to eat at night. Speak to your doctor about whether your baby can go through the night without food, and then make sure the baby is full before you put him/her down. Once your child goes a night or two without food, he/she will have less incentive to wake. Your child’s tummy will adjust and he/she will start to consume those extra calories during the day. This can be tricky because often times with multiples you may have babies that were born early and struggle putting on the pounds or may suffer from reflux. Eliminating extra calories can definitely be a worry for parents. When I work with families I tell them that as a sleep consultant, my comfort level of eliminating overnight feedings is when a baby reaches at least 12 pounds, is eating 20-24 oz in a 24 hour period, and has no serious colic. Everyone’s comfort level is different so making the decision to eliminate overnight feedings has to be something you are absolutely sure about. It’s true that when you eliminate an overnight feeding, babies compensate the during the day even if it takes a few days to get there. Of course your babies will protest to not being fed at night anymore but again, their stomachs adjust and they begin to wake less frequently. It’s common for a single overnight feeding to remain up until nine months (especially when breastfeeding), but after that time, I usually say it’s time for it to go!
3. Put into crib drowsy, but awake
If you let your child fall asleep without your assistance, he/she will be much more likely to stay asleep through the night. Don’t put your child down already half asleep; rather, make sure he/she is calm and awake. This is the biggest culprit for night wakings. I’d say this is the most important aspect to establishing a healthy foundation of sleep. Trying to assist each baby in falling asleep for every nap and bedtime will drive you crazy!! It will take so much time and probably at least two adults to accomplish. Setting your babies down for sleep times when they are at that sweet spot of being awake and aware they are out of your arms but too tired to protest, is what you are looking for. If your baby falls asleep with assistance from you, he/she will need further assistance in the night to get back to sleep if startled awake…which is why parents often hang on to overnight feedings. This is not out of necessity but out of survival because it cane become the only way to help put their babies back to sleep. We want your babies to do that on their own!
4. Bedtime routine
A consistent bedtime routine is a good way to wind down from the day and to let your child know that it is time for sleep. Your bedtime routine should last 10-30 minutes (depending on age) and should be calm and consistent. Be creative and include things such as hugs, singing, massage, bath, etc… Lots of extra love during this time will make it easier for you to leave the room for bedtime. You may not be a routine person but to decrease the likelihood of nightly bedtime protesting, an established routine can work wonders for multiples. I went against all recommendations and let my triplets watch a Baby Einstein after their nightly bath. This allowed me to put on pajamas and lotion without all the crying and I could enjoy a few minutes watching and cuddling with the babies. Then I’d take each baby and sing one song while holding them and then put them in their crib! Simple and easy routine. No bells or whistles. Granted, the other two would cry hysterically in the other room until it was their turn but you do what you can with multiples while keeping your sanity in tact and giving your babies something consistent each night. Don’t over-complicate the routine.
5. Don’t Encourage Bad Habits
In the end, sleep training is a behavioral adjustment. Falling asleep and staying asleep is a skill! By teaching your child this skill early on, your child’s sleep will be less affected by regressions, transitions, environment changes, and physical development. A well-rested child means a happier family! Sleep training can often have an attached negative connotation and isn’t widely used in the United States. It doesn’t mean you make your babies cry all night long without you. Sleep training is allowing your babies the opportunity to fall asleep and get back to sleep without your assistance. Sleep training can start early by simple things like mixing it up with your soothing. Not always doing the same thing every time your babies cries. Don’t always assume that cries=hunger. Let others around you help to soothe your babies. Try a schedule, try a bottle, try a pacifier. Lay your babies down on a blanket once in a while…not a swing, bouncer, or your arms. Encouraging bad habits really starts by thinking your babies will only respond to one thing and only doing that thing over and over and over. Be flexible. There are no set rules; just opportunities to lay the ground work of sleep independence. You can do it!
You can start your Journey to Dreamland tonight by implementing this 5 simple tips! Sleep tight!