Today’s question comes from the Campos-Nelson family. As a mom of one-month-old twins, she’s asking about getting twins on the same schedule. Whew, now there’s a topic right there! Before we start dishing advice, let me just say that we’ve all been there (and made it through to the other side), so hang in and it will get better soon.
Note that the following tidbits of advice make it sound like we all knew what we were doing. Don’t believe it for one second. We were clueless too, and figured things out by trial and error. Hindsight, though, is 20/20. May you avoid some of the mistakes we collectively made…
First, we would all note that one month old is a little early to be talking about any kind of real by-the-clock schedule. Still, though, there are practices you can begin to employ that will eventually pay off. As a group, the moms of How Do You Do It? are very much in favor of trying to get your babies doing the same things at (roughly) the same time. You need at least a few minutes every day when both babies are sleeping, lest you lose what’s left of your fragile mind.
Feeding at the same time is a good first step, whether it be tandem nursing, tandem bottles, or even one right after the other. In the very early days, most babies will probably sleep most of the time between bottles, anyways. In general, we are largely in favor of feeding the second baby, even if (s)he doesn’t yet seem hungry, when the first baby eats. Those of us who experimented with simply feeding each baby on demand found that it made for seemingly constant feeding and extra exhaustion for mom. When there’s more than one baby to take care of, sometimes you need to take charge of the situation a bit more than that. On-demand nursing may be important when initially establishing breastfeeding, but once you’ve got the hang of it, we do recommend feeding them at pretty much the same time, even if you don’t tandem.
Many (though not all) of us also applied this reasoning to overnight feeding. When one baby woke up to eat, we would feed the other (at the same time or immediately after, depending on your feeding method of choice). Especially in the earliest weeks and months, it’s a sure thing that if you feed one and let the other sleep, the second baby will wake up as soon as you attempt to return to bed.
This gets trickier, of course, as you begin to approach the magical time of dropping an overnight feeding. Some moms are loathe to wake the second baby, if there’s a chance they’ll just drop that feeding and come close to sleeping through the night. Others take the approach of, “it does me no good if only one sleeps through the night, since I still have to get up anyways. You’re both eating now so I can safely go back to bed.” (OK, that was me.) There’s no known right answer to this one (or almost anything else, for that matter), but it’s an internal debate we all have.
OK, feeding at the same time is easy, VERY easy compared to having them sleep at the same time. That is the hard part, but it’s also arguably the most important.
Our original poster mentioned that one of her twins (at one month old) is sometimes awake up to six hours during the day without so much as a yawn. This is not a good thing. A baby under the age of one should almost never be up that long, much less a newborn. Many of us are fans of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, which asserts that a baby under four or five months old should not be awake more than one to two hours at a stretch. I know that I had to come to the realization that my kids would not just fall asleep when they were tired. It was my job to try to get them to go to sleep when it was time. Watch the clock and put them down after they’ve been awake no more than two hours (sometimes much less if they’re fussy/sleepy). Also, in those early months, do what you have to do to get them to sleep. Swing, wrap/sling, bouncy seat, carseat, car ride, walk… believe me, none of us will be judging you. We’ve all done it. (Exhibit A: the time I drove to New Hampshire during a prolonged nap strike.) And finally, it can be argued that a nap “doesn’t count,” or isn’t restful enough, if it lasts less than 30-45 minutes (again, under about 3-4 months). I used to call it the “90-30” rule. No more than 90 minutes of wakefulness, no less than 30 minutes of sleep.
Most critical to sleep, especially daytime sleep, is putting the babies down at the same time. Or, at least, close to the same time. Sometimes it’ll work, sometimes it won’t. But eventually it will pay off. Sometime in the 4-6 month range is when you might start seeing two or three naps per day, at the same time most days. Before then, definitely go with the 90-30 rule, and put both babies down together.
“Now wait,” some will say, “just because they’re twins doesn’t mean I must treat them as a single unit! I must respect their individual needs!” Yes. You should. But there’s someone else’s needs you need to respect, as well: yours. You may very well have one child who goes down for the nap easily, while the other fights it. One who wakes refreshed after a mere 47 minutes, and another who needs at least an hour and 15 minutes. That’s fine, you should be aware of that and respect that. But still do whatever you can to have those different styles overlap, and have naps at the same time. If you know that one of them will take more effort and time to get to sleep, that’s fine. Factor it in. But do everything in your power to get them to sleep at the same time. You need that time to have a moment of peace, to throw in a load of laundry, to eat some lunch, and maybe even go to the bathroom.
I’ve read that newborns do not begin to differentiate between daytime and nighttime sleep until at least 6-8 weeks. But that doesn’t mean you can’t encourage those distinctions. As with anything, being consistent and persistent will pay off. Eventually. We swear.
As soon as you feel ready (and we don’t think a month or two is too early), create a consistent nighttime routine and bedtime. Dim the lights, quiet the noise. Incorporate whatever soothing elements you want. A bath, some music, a story, a massage, a bottle or nursing session, etc. Change into pajamas, swaddle or put on a sleep sack. Whatever you want your routine to be, make it no more than about 30 minutes long, and make sure it ends on a good note in your overnight sleeping venue of choice (nursery, pack & play in your room, whatever). And put both babies to bed at the same time. Bedtime is best on the early side (say around 7PM, give or take an hour). Then, designate 10-12 hours (say 8PM-6AM) as “nighttime.” Do things differently during nighttime. Keep the lights low, keep interactions quiet. When one or both babies wake up, make the goal to feed and then get back to sleep as soon as possible. They will not always oblige, but this is a way to start setting up the expectation. They’ll come around. In my house, once we had a clear and consistent bedtime routine established, we found that it was a great way to sort of “reset” the twins’ schedules if they got a bit off during the day.
The same applies for starting the day. Make it clearly different. Go downstairs, turn on the lights, change clothes, go outside (weather permitting). If one wants to sleep longer than the other, painful as it might be, try not to let them get too far off from each other. It’s hard to salvage the day when they begin it an hour “off” from one another.
Truly, the moms of How Do You Do It? sympathize. Managing the ever-changing sleep habits of two infants is arguably the very hardest thing of all, and also the one that will have the biggest impact on quality of life for the whole family. Well-rested babies (and mommies!) are happy babies and mommies.
As with any of the myriad baby theory books out there, use the following as tools, not necessarily gospel. Integrate things that work for your family, modify or throw out things that don’t. But don’t be afraid to try.
Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, by Dr. Marc Weissbluth – Many of us are fans, but particularly useful are his chapters by age. Helps to understand what is normal for a baby of a given age, and what you can reasonably expect or aim for.
Happiest Baby on the Block, by Dr. Harvey Karp – As far as I’m concerned, this should be required reading (along with viewing the DVD) for all new parents. Critical skills and techniques for soothing (and helping get to sleep) babies under the age of about four months.
Secrets of the Baby Whisperer, by Tracey Hogg – LauraC was not a huge fan of this book in general, but found the “personality quiz” contained therein to be quite useful. It’s very important to learn each baby’s “style,” and in your sleep-deprived, befuddled state, it can be helpful to have something external (like a book) help you to figure it out. Nothing like two newborns to make it so you can’t see the forest for the trees.