This post has been in the works for a while, and admittedly I have been hesitant to publish it. Mainly because I didn't want to jinx all of the progress we've made in the past 10 months with our girls sleep schedules, but here goes nothing!
I wanted to write about how we sleep trained our twin daughters, Olivia & Penelope. I use the term 'sleep train' pretty loosely, as I didn't realize that's what we were doing until we were in the thick of it. I hope this post will be helpful for those clueless first-time mommas like me, who just don't know where to start. So let me take you through what I did and share some of the challenges we faced along the way.
The Beginning - Getting on a Clock Based Schedule
It all started with the desire to get my girls on a clock-based schedule, where their naps would be at a consistent time every day. They had just turned 5 months old, so I knew it would be an appropriate time to start sleep training them. It was also around the holidays and our Christmas tree was going up, so they could no longer nap downstairs (small space probs). I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to transition them into their cribs during their naps. They were already sleeping in their cribs at night, so I didn't think it would be an issue. More on that in a bit!
I just started by searching, "Sample schedule for 5 month old" into the ol' Google machine and got crack-a-lackin'. There were definitely some struggles right away. Short naps, crying and waking each other up. Frustrated, I realized I may have bitten off more than I could chew so I kind of chickened out and separated them. I kept Olivia in her crib, and Penelope napped in the play pen in our bedroom. It totally worked and was the perfect solution at the time, and they did not wake each other up.
From the ages 5 months - 8 months, they napped 3 times a day, in 1 hour increments. It was exhausting and I felt like all I did all day was put them down for a nap, but it was working. It took them about three weeks to get fully adjusted to this new schedule. Here's what their schedule looked like: 6am - Wake, bottle
7am - Breakfast, play
8am - Nap #1
9am - Wake, bottle
10am - 11am - Play
12pm - Nap #2
1pm - Wake, bottle
1:30pm - Lunch
2pm - Play
3pm - Nap #3
4pm - Wake, bottle
*7:30pm - Bedtime
I realize now that 7:30pm is way too late for a baby to go to bed. We were noticing our girls were waking multiple times in the middle of the night, feeling restless. That's when I discovered the Goodnight Sleepsite, and realized that an earlier bedtime was actually what they needed. We made some adjustments and almost instantly saw results. They were sleeping from 6:00pm-6:30am steadily. You would assume that an earlier bedtime would mean an earlier wake up time, but in reality it's actually the quality of sleep that you should be considering. The longer baby stays up, the more restless and active their brains are. THIS article really helped me understand it all. Over-tired babies scare the crap out of me, so I was willing to try anything. This quote really hit it home: "They don’t know that it's 6PM or 9PM, all they know is that they’re tired".
From 3 Naps to 2
Shortly after they turned 8 months, I was noticing they were fighting their last nap more and more. At this point, I became slightly obsessed with sleep training so I knew this was the age they would be going from 3 naps to 2. Again, I focused on the quality and duration of their naps but really wanted to protect their night sleep. So I started slow and stretched their wake times gradually by 15 minutes every day. It was pretty difficult in the beginning - seeing my babies so tired just breaks my heart.
This is their current schedule: 6:30am - Wake, bottle
7am-9am - Breakfast, play
9am - Nap #1
10:30/11am - Wake, bottle
11am - 2pm - Lunch, play, run errands
2pm - 3:30pm - Nap #2
3:30pm - Wake, bottle
4pm - 6pm - Dinner, play
6pm - Bedtime, bottle
Again, it took about 2-3 weeks for them to adjust to this new schedule. Yes, one would wake up before the other. Yes, I would have an internal debate with myself every time on whether or not I should go in and save the day. Being a first time mom is hard enough. Figuring it all out with twins? I have yet to crack that code!
Creating a Healthy Sleep Environment
While doing my research, I kept reading about the importance of creating a healthy sleep environment for your baby. Just as we do for bedtime, we have a mini nap time routine that we follow. It's nothing major, we simply change their diapers and put them in their usual sleep sacks. This signals to them that sleep is coming.
The transition down to 2 naps was also the time I moved Penelope into the crib for her naps. Thankfully, she adjusted without any major issues - I'm incredibly fortunate that she is such a laid-back baby and can sleep anywhere you put her. She's definitely my child!
However, I still didn't want to risk one baby waking the other one up so I started using our sound machine. THIS is the one we have, it also doubles as a night light and we love it! It plays music, nature sounds or just plain white noise. The girls also have a GoogleHome in their nursery and we've used that as well. White noise has helped immensely, especially because we live in a new development with lots of construction trucks driving by and children playing outside.
We also invested in black-out curtains (not shown above) which have helped so much! I assumed you shouldn't make the room too dark during the day, as it would potentially confuse baby's way of differentiating between day and night. Boy was I wrong. "Darkness cues melatonin, our sleep hormone, so we want to make the room as dark as possible." Check out THIS article which explains more about the benefits of black-out curtains.
Living Life in Nap Jail
I will say that dropping to 2 naps has given us some much-needed flexibility to our daily routines. We can run errands, work a little longer and know what time to be home by to accommodate their naps. If I've learned anything from this experience, I learned that consistency is absolute key. My husband and I are militant with their naps, often sacrificing our weekend activities just so our girls can have good, restorative sleep throughout the day. We sometimes go off schedule, and that's OK. I've learned that if you stay on schedule 80% of the time, the other 20% is fairly easy to deal with. We adjust the schedule slightly, moving bedtime earlier if they've had a hard day. And if we simply can't be home for nap time, we plan our day so they can nap in the car. Does this mean long, scenic drives for an hour? Absolutely. It's not ideal but we make it work!
Now are they perfect night sleepers? No. Sometimes Olivia wakes up multiple times throughout the night, and other nights she sleeps right through. We're still trying to figure it out. Penelope is definitely more of a solid sleeper and puts up with a lot of Olivia's antics. Twins are beyond fascinating in that sense. I've read that if they've shared a sleep environment since birth, they are less likely to be phased by what's going on in the crib beside them.
Which Method Is The Right Method?
I should note that in the midst of writing this post, we had to implement a new method at bedtime as we were noticing our girls were taking forever to fall asleep at night. Again, we didn't realize we were using The Ferber Method until we were about a week in. After their bedtime routine, we place both babies in their cribs awake. We say our goodnights and calmly walk away with little to no further interaction. Olivia is usually the first to cry. We go back into the nursery after timed intervals, lengthening the time each round. The first few nights were horrible and my heart just shattered hearing them cry (again, it was mainly Olivia - Penelope is such a chill baby!) but it was working. I will warn you this method is not for the faint of heart! But our ultimate goal is to have independent sleepers who have a good relationship with sleep down the line.
There are several methods available when sleep training - some more gentle than others. For a long time, we would stand over them and simply wait for them to fall asleep. This backfired and we quickly became a distraction. So by stepping out of the room, we essentially taught them how to soothe themselves to sleep. This method may not be right for you, but it has worked for us. And who knows, in 2 weeks we may be trying something completely new! These girls like to keep us on our toes.
Here are my last thoughts if you're considering sleep training your baby:
-Be consistent. This is my number one tip I would give, and I know my husband would say the same. No matter what you're doing, just be consistent with it. It's amazing how much kids thrive on routine.
-Join groups. I can't even begin to tell you how beneficial the Goodnight Sleepsite Facebook community has been. Any time I've had issues or didn't know what to do in a situation, I would post my problem and a certified sleep consultant would comment with a solution.
-Don't be afraid to fail. Failure will happen. When it does, pick yourself back up and keep trying. Don't let a little baby break you!
-Check for sleep associations. Are you feeding your baby until they fall asleep? Are you rocking them to sleep? Bouncing on a ball? These are sleep associations which your baby depends on. Shake those habits early and allow your baby to fall asleep independently. Sleep is a skill which needs to be taught, and it's never too late to teach.
I am in no way a parenting expert. I am just a first-time mom who wants to share what has been working, for anyone who needs to read this. These past 10 months have been hard, I've cried and just stared blankly at my children many times, trying to figure out what they needed. I nor my husband had any experience with babies before, so this journey has been nothing but trial and error.