Training one’s baby to sleep through the night can be one of the most challenging aspects of parenting a newborn. With twins, this gets even harder as there are twice as many babies to change, feed, burp, and tuck into bed every night. Also, you can’t just close the door and quietly sneak through the house wearing only socks knowing that only a loud sound will wake your baby, because with twins you’ll always encounter that classic problem of one baby waking the other.
Though there’s really no way to get your little ones to sleep through the night before 2 to 3 months of age (at that age they will still require 3-4 hourly feeds), it’s a good idea to get prepared and put yourself into routine for when sleep training is required. Even with a couple of bumps along the road and the odd teething nightmares, we managed to have our twins sleeping through the night (08:30 pm – 07:30 am) from 3 months of age.
Here’s a list of the things we did.
For the first few weeks the boys shared a bassinet in our room, but as soon as they started waking each other by either moaning or slight movement, we moved them each to their own crib in their nursery with a baby monitor so we could hear whenever they awoke. This already made a huge impact on their quality of sleep. Our own movements and sounds were no longer waking them and neither were they bothering each other.
We also placed heavy curtains in the room to block out any early morning sunlight, which helped them sleep a little longer in the mornings. Not only did it help at night-time, but also naptime during the day. The twins soon learned that a darker room was meant for sleeping and would fall asleep quite easily as soon as we lay them in their cots.
As far as sound went, we had two choices; a white-noise machine or music. Having grown up with music surrounding me, it was the obvious choice to find some soothing classical pieces that the boys would fall asleep to each night. A white-noise machine would probably have worked equally as well.
The music helped the twins in two ways:
Firstly, it provided a steady and soothing background sound that blocked out other noises – car doors, dogs barking, thunderstorms – that might have woken them.
Secondly, we only ever played their classical music at bedtime, signalling to the boys that it’s time to sleep.
Swaddling was one of our go-to things for the twins as newborns. It was our only safe way of providing them with a blanket for warmth and replicating the comfort of the womb.
There are many different ways of swaddling a baby and also some truly amazing products for swaddling like The Miracle Blanket , Aden + Anais muslin swaddling blankets and Swaddle Blanket by JJ Cole, but if like us your budget seems to have shot through the roof, opt for some breathable receiving blankets and a good swaddling method.
The Bedtime Routine
Babies tend to thrive on routine. It gives them a way of mentally preparing for what comes next. Following the same steps, in the same order at around the same time each night allows you to form a habit thereby easily remembering what to prepare ahead of time. It also provides a series of cues to your little ones stating that it is time for bed.
A nice warm bath – Some parents opt to only bath their babies every second night or so, and I won’t lie, there has been some nights where I simply gave mine a little rub down as well. For us this made a huge difference in the twin’s quality of sleep. They never slept as deep and long if we skipped the bath and would always wake up a couple of times on those nights. So for our bedtime routine, a nice warm bath is a definite must.
Relaxing massage – When putting lotion on our babies, we always gave them a little body massage. It doesn’t have to include essential oils and a massage class (even though that would probably be even more beneficial), but just rubbing their little arms, torso, legs and feet with a slight pressure and a bit more meaning warms them back up and relaxes their limbs.
Soft Pajamas and a Clean Diaper – Dressing each twin in comfortable, soft and breathable pajamas as well as a clean diaper will allow them to sleep more comfortably.
Full Tummy – Whether your little ones are still only breast or bottle-fed and whether they are already eating solids, always make sure they have their last bottle just before they go to bed. This will allow them to sleep longer and more soundly. Some babies might not like this, but warm milk also has a positive effect on your baby’s sleep.
Bedtime Story – For the first couple of months this turned out to be more counterproductive than anything else as the twins would fall asleep drinking their last bottle of milk and would then wake up as I started reading. However, from about 8 months we were able to include a bedtime story in our routine while the boys were drinking their milk and would then quite easily get tucked in and go to sleep.
Things are bound to change and get a bit chaotic when it comes to bedtime, so if there’s a spouse or an extra set of hands around, take advantage of that.
The Knitty Gritty
Once you’ve got your nursery and bedtime routine set, it’s time to get to the actual sleep training. I’ve never been a big fan of the cry-it-out method and it breaks my heart every time I hear one of my babies cry. So due to that I could never let my kids cry for hours and possibly fall asleep thinking I deserted them. What worked for us was tucking them in, saying goodnight, closing the door and then waiting a couple of minutes. If they were struggling to settle, we would go in quietly and without talking, re-tuck them, reinsert pacifiers if necessary and then leave the room again. Thereafter we stretched the period between going into their room by an extra five minutes each time, until they fell asleep. It took a couple of weeks for both us and the twins to get used to this, but in the end they managed to fall asleep by themselves with maybe one or two “visits” from mommy or daddy.
This way, your little ones learn that you are always there to settle them, but you also give them a chance to settle themselves by extending the period in-between each “visit”. The key factor is to get your babies to fall asleep by themselves without you rocking them, swinging them or any of those other wonderful methods of making babies sleep.
What if one baby starts crying?
We used to be so scared of one baby waking the other that we would dash into the room, scoop up the crying baby and sneak back out, only to have the other one wake up anyway. Little did we realise that it was actually the sudden absence of the crying brother that woke the other. Twins almost immediately become accustomed to each other’s movements and crying and even find it comforting knowing the other twin is near. It was only once we realised what we were doing and waited a while before rushing in that we found that the sleeping baby never even woke from the crying and that by giving the crying baby that tiny little bit of extra time, he learned to self-sooth and fell right back asleep.
What if both babies start crying?
This scenario can be tough on any mommy or daddy, especially when there is no spouse or extra set of hands around. We found that the best way to handle this was to replicate the bedtime tuck-in routine by going in, reassuring each one, tucking them back up and then leaving the room. This is not really something you can try for the first few months as your babies still need regular feeds and would be waking up because of that fact. However, once you have them sleeping through the night or onto 6-hourly feeds, this is a good way of reassuring them and getting them to fall asleep by themselves again.
The Bottom Line
Setting the stage, following a good bedtime routine and knowing what to do in the case of your little one’s not settling are all methods you can use to sleep train your twins. We used all three methods and it worked wonders. I do however realise that each set of twins are different and that all the above might not work out, so in that case, find what works for your twins and follow that as a routine. If you have one really bad sleeper, place his crib closest to the door so you can sneak him out without causing the other baby to wake. If reading makes them more active, skip the story, you can always read to them at another time of day. If you find another means of relaxing your babies other than a massage, then use that. The point is, sticking to a routine that your twins will come to expect and accept.