Another question about what am I supposed to do with twins?
February 14, 2012 11:33 AM   Subscribe

So how do you get twins to fall asleep in bed, i.e. without carrying them around for hours?

I've been reading books about babies and everyone seems to think that one way or another you have to teach your kids to fall asleep in bed, so that when they wake up in the night they can fall back asleep on their own without being carried for hours. So our twins are six months old now and I don't understand how we're supposed to do this when there are two babies at once. If one baby is awake for any length of time in the crib it will wake the other baby and then we have two babies who are awake and need to be carried around for an hour. This means that if either of the babies starts making noises one of us has to run in and remove it from the room as quickly as possible. However they're getting much too heavy to carry around for hours several times a night and I'm getting increasingly annoyed. So how do you teach two babies to fall asleep in bed? Right now we have two cribs next to each other in the same room. Do we need to move them into separate rooms? I should mention also that they're non-identical and are in fact opposite in most respects, so we have completely different procedures for getting them to sleep, i.e. one needs a pacifier and the other hates pacifiers, one needs to be held vertically and walked and the other usually falls asleep with a bottle, etc.

I'm pretty much only interested in hearing from people who have experience with actual twins, and not so much interested in hearing from people who've had children one at a time and think they can extrapolate from that. For people with actual experience with twins, I thank you in advance for your input and I will also thank you afterwards as well.
posted by creasy boy to Education (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
My friends have twins so I hope that it's ok if I answer this. Put them in different rooms! It doesn't matter if they are twins are not, if they are waking each other up, put them in different rooms. Start there and see how that goes. One might be a sleeper and the other one not but you'll never know until you separate them and then deal with each as individuals.
posted by dawkins_7 at 12:11 PM on February 14, 2012

My triplets were always in the same room and shared a crib for the first three months. But we never ever rocked them to sleep, they always went to bed awake.

I think in your case, moving them to separate rooms would be a good idea, at least until you can get their sleep under control. (We did CIO at 6.5 months, but I don't know if you're opposed to that. Even then they didn't wake each other up.)

I don't think it matters, but mine are all identical.
posted by pyjammy at 12:17 PM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Separate rooms is what our friends with 1 yr old twins did. It seemed to work great, especially for the one twin who was a quicker sleeper.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:17 PM on February 14, 2012

I don't have twins, but I have 6 friends who do (that's 12 twins plus other kids when we get together!!!), and despite having two at once, their stories are the same as my situation: two kids in the same damn room, regardless of age.

It's not unusual for kids up to two years of age to have this issue; yes, at 6 months it's getting pretty old, but it's not at all unusual. I have a one-year old at the moment who won't sleep for the life of himself. My older kid slept 14 hours by 5 months, but I digress...

As much as I hate parenting books, we used the ideas from No Cry Sleep Solution and it worked great with both one year old is still coming along, but we started far too late to implement, so that's our own fault.

If that doesn't work, then by 6 months old they are plenty old enough to just dump them into their cribs and let them figure it out for themselves.
posted by TinWhistle at 12:20 PM on February 14, 2012

our friends with 1 yr old twins

I should clarify: the babies are 1 yr old now, but the parents put them in separate rooms to go to sleep from very early, definitely before 6 months. The babies had quite different personalities, and one was always waking the other up, so it was really good to get them into separate rooms for night-time.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:28 PM on February 14, 2012

I'm a fraternal twin (we sort of look like Luke and Leia and are about as dissimilar) and would sometimes drive one of us around in the car to help us sleep. To this day I still love falling asleep in moving vehicles, though I think I remember hearing that I liked the car more than my brother did. We also had colic at different times, which is of course a complicating factor, and lived in a small house without a lot of "other room" options.
posted by jetlagaddict at 1:20 PM on February 14, 2012

Mrs. tronec here:
Dear Tired Mom of Twins,

Reading your questions about twins sleeping at night brought back many memories. Eighteen years ago I gave birth to two twin boys who joined their sisters who were 2 l/2 and 5 l/2 years old. Before they were born I had read a helpful book on twins by Elizabeth Nobel which stated that most parents of twins are tired the majority of the time. I asked myself how in the world I would be able to get a decent amount of sleep! Our sleeping arrangement was the greatest help—it was unconventional but worked great for us. We put a king-sized mattress on top of box springs on the bedroom floor (for the twins and me) and a twin-sized mattress beside it (for my husband). I nursed them to sleep at bedtime and when/if one of them awakened at night, I simply nursed that child, and he and I went back to sleep. I didn’t get up at night to change diapers unless it was absolutely essential, and neither one of them woke up the other one. When they were around one year old, they were moved into two cribs in another room, transitioned to drinking milk from a cup, and slept through the night most of the time.

I realize that the above arrangement is not possible or desirable for many people. Regarding your specific situation, if they will stay in cribs it’d be worth a try to put them in separate rooms. It would be helpful if you could figure out the reason(s) why each child awakens so you could address those. Some questions I can think of are: Are they eating and drinking plenty before going to bed; are they warm enough; is their room dark and quiet (or with soft music if that seems to help); are they teething; is their sleepwear extremely comfortable? A very predictable quiet routine before bedtime can help with sleep. You might want to experiment with other ways to calm them to help them go back to sleep (examples: gently patting their backs, singing the same soothing song(s)) rather than carrying them around at night. The babies should, hopefully, be able to get used to a change in how they handled when they wake up at night, but the time of change can be hard on everyone..

One of my mottos when my twins were young was “Simplify, simplify, simplify.” I tried to do as much baby care at the same time in the same way as much as possible (examples: feeding and changing diapers). The summer they were toddlers I dressed one in red tank tops and the other in blue so I could tell them apart from any distance as they looked quite a bit alike! Also, “thinking outside the box” was helpful as was brainstorming with my husband about baby matters. Perhaps you know a friend or two with whom you can (almost like detectives!) discuss possible “solutions” to the challenges. A pediatrician acquaintance with a young baby told me that just when she thought she understood her baby, the baby changed. I found that to be SO true. Lastly, trying not to compare with other moms with babies helped me feel better about my own style of mothering.

I hope that at least a bit of these reflections are of some use to you.

Remembering those days,
A Fellow Mom of Twins
posted by tronec at 1:54 PM on February 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

First, it's not entirely out of the question that babies can sleep through the night at 6 months. Our pediatrician told us to go through with sleep training with the twins at 6 mos, and they did it. Baby #3 was able to do it sooner.

Second, I think one thing that we had going for us was that the sound of one baby crying was actually soothing to the other one. In my non-scientific observations, if one was crying, the other slept through it nicely. In general, our kids are great sleepers, so maybe we just lucked out.

For us, the key to getting them to sleep was having a consistent bed time routine (bottle, story in bed, then lights out). We used the Ferber method and essentially let the kids cry it out. Depending on your parenting style and your kids, this might not be an option for you. It worked for us, so I'm putting it out there. (Also, neither of the twins had an interest in pacifiers.)

When it came time to cut out night feedings, we again had the kids cry it out. It took one rough night and a couple of not-too-bad nights, and by night 4 we had twins that slept from 8 to 8. Our sanity increased exponentially at that point. It always breaks my heart when I hear of any parents that are still up at night with their fussy sleepers past 6 months.

So here's what I suggest:
1) Separate the cribs on opposite sides of the room. While putting them in separate rooms will solve the problem in the short term, I think your babies need to learn to sleep with each other in the room. It won't really make a huge difference, but there's a bit of a difference between someone shouting at you from 2 feet away vs. 7-8 feet.

2) Do some proper sleep training with them. Carrying them around for hours to get them to sleep is no longer viable. Try any of the methods out there. The requirement that you physically hold them to fall asleep is counterproductive, in my opinion -- when you rush in there and pick up the soon-to-be-crier, you keep the behavior going night after night. Personally, I say go with Ferber and let them both cry it out. This means crying it out at bedtime and crying it out when they wake up at night. Sounds pretty harsh, I know, but your sleepless lifestyle is worse. Chances are we are going to screw our kids up in countless ways as they get older, so having them cry when they go to sleep will just be a blip on the radar. :)

Also: If the pacifier is becoming an issue (e.g., baby wakes up and cries if (s)he doesn't have it), it's time to ditch the pacifiers, too. With twins, you need to eliminate as many of the variables that cause sleeplessness as possible. The more individual accommodations you make, the more things you need to deal with. That is the opposite of what you want!

I know how terrible things are at 6 months when you're sleep deprived with twins. Again, a lot of the stuff I suggested may not be stuff you are comfortable with, but there's no reason why you can't be sleeping through the night! Good luck.
posted by puritycontrol at 3:25 PM on February 14, 2012

I like tronec's style. It's pretty much what we did with our twins. I'm the dad that slept on a single bed for a while. Somebody told me never to expect a good nights sleep ever again, so when I get one, I appreciate it. The twins are four now and sleep hasn't been an issue in years.
Tl:dr cosleeping worked for us.
posted by mearls at 4:47 PM on February 14, 2012

We separated our boys (for naps and sleep) at 8 months, and should have done it sooner - probably at about 6 months, where you are, which I recall being a particularly brutal age. Since we have a smallish condo, we left both cribs in their room and put up the pack n play in another bedroom. This helped a lot because we wouldn't have to do the mad dash to pick up the one crying in fear of the other waking up. I think they also got used to falling asleep on their own this way. I used both a crib soother (Fisher Price Rainforest Waterfall) as well as the Twilight Night Turtle and occasionally a white noise machine, all of which helped them with falling asleep on their own.

Our twins were also teething at the time (which I wasn't aware of) and we also did the rock-them-to-sleep thing. We had a bedtime routine, but they still didn't settle until around 10pm after the up-and-down rock-each-one nightly ordeal. This was a phase, albeit a really difficult phase. Not sure if you are pro-cry it out, but at desperate times I did that, and there was some improvement. I think it was just a difficult developmental phase: growth spurt, teething, learning to fall asleep on their own, separation anxiety. We also ditched the pacifier at this time because it was too much for us to do [if you keep the pacifier though, I'd highly recommend a pacifier clip so that the baby can find it and pop it back in themselves; my daughter was paci-crazy and this worked really well]. I just found I had to stick it out with rocking each of them to sleep. While it is so hard to do this in the moment, I just felt that it was what they needed at the time. I now look back with tenderness at those nights. While I am glad to get more sleep now, those times are gone, and I am glad I did it and made it special at the time.

FWIW, at around 8-9 months our boys started going to bed earlier (around 8pm) and with only 5-10 minutes of crying before falling asleep. If they cried for longer than that, I knew they either needed a diaper change or something was wrong/they were hurting. It just seemed like at 6 months, they weren't mature enough to be able to do it.

Our twins are 17 months and we still have them separated for naps and bedtime.

Best of luck to you.
posted by sealee at 7:42 PM on February 14, 2012

Response by poster: Well, thank you everyone for your answers. I'm not sure if I found what I'm looking for. I guess what I realized reading these answers is that the reason we can't let them cry it out is because they often drink bottles during the night, so if they're actually hungry I don't want to just let them cry for an hour. They're both in the 99th percentile for size and they eat all day long and still eat several times a night, so I never know when they're awake because they're hungry and when they're just awake for no reason and have to go back to sleep. I guess there are other reasons why we don't just let them cry it out but that's the main reason. We could let them cry it out when we're putting them to bed for the first time, but I guess we just don't have the heart to do that and plus they cry really loudly. We probably will pull the cribs further apart. I don't know what else we're going to do. I'm not sure what else I expected from this thread -- you've all given very good answers, but of course we'd pretty much considered all the angles already and we're probably not gonna do very much different. If anyone is still reading this thread, it might comfort me to know: if we just keep slogging through and I carry kids around five times a night like I have been, there must be some point in time where this stops naturally, I assume? I mean, people don't carry their 14-year-olds around every night, so surely there must be some point where the problem simply resolves itself?
posted by creasy boy at 11:15 PM on February 14, 2012

Mrs. tronec asks:
Have you thought about putting them back into the crib after they’ve taken a bottle from you at night? Or, if they can take the bottle themselves, giving them the bottle in the crib and leaving them there? If they cry, then you will know that they are not hungry. They could get used to being in their crib after taking a bottle at night rather than being carried around.
Also if you have not already done so, talk to your pediatrician for ideas.

Mr. tronec says: Our hearts go out to you. Dealing with interrupted and irregular sleep is very wearing and can make you less able to think clearly, and thus make everything feel more difficult. If you can find a “sub” that could give you a break for a night every week or two, it might give you some altitude.
posted by tronec at 10:43 AM on February 15, 2012

FWIW, I know you don't want parents of singletons to try and answer, but in some measure, you do just simply have two babies, which are just like any other babies. I tried cry-it-out with my son at 7-8 months and it did not work at all, but when I tried again when he was 12 months, it literally took one night and he slept through the night, every night, after that.

He was nursing all night up until then, so I get where you're coming from with the "crying=hunger?" thing. I think with some babies, they're just developmentally ready to sleep through the night on their own at different ages. I asked a question about sleep training a few months back, and one of the comments basically said the same thing -- her two kids were ready for it at different ages.

Also: white noise helps cover many household sounds! Have you tried a white noise machine? We have an app for our iPhones, and also a loud space heater if it's cold, and it really helps him sleep through a lot of noise.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 11:44 AM on February 15, 2012

Just wanted to chime in, that we were having the same problem when our triplets were 6 months old as well...they were used to eating a bottle at 4am, and since if one woke up, we'd wake the other two up as well, it became a habit more than a necessity. The fear of having to get up three times instead of just once was so great that I was making the problem worse.

So I finally had to be brave and not wake the other two for that 4am bottle, and you know what? They slept right through! And the next night, it would be a different baby that would wake up. So I knew they were all capable of sleeping 12 hours, but they just had gotten into the habit of that bottle.

And that's when we did CIO. I have a feeling your twins don't need that bottle any more than mine did (and mine were nowhere near 99th percentile for size.) So CIO worked very well for us, if only to break that middle of the night bottle habit.

Good luck! I certainly know of multiples at the age of mine (4) and older who still don't STTN, so I have absolutely no regrets.
posted by pyjammy at 11:52 AM on February 15, 2012

Response by poster: I guess we hadn't considered putting them back in the crib after giving them the bottle. I just pulled the cribs further apart, so now they're maybe 7-8 feet away from each other, and I'll talk to my wife about that. I guess we're just both convinced that we can't let them cry it out though, not just because they'll wake each other, but because they both will keep crying until they're sick. I mean, the girl is a little better, but the boy has no problem crying harder and harder until he's purple and wheezing and coughing, even when we know for a fact that there's nothing wrong with him except that he wants to be rocked to sleep. And, you know, when the baby is all purple and coughing we just feel like at that point we have to put a stop to it.

Also, when I said they're both ginormous for their age, I didn't mean that they really need the bottle at night so much as that they're genuinely hungry all the time, and so we tend to feel like we should give them a bottle if they want it. As far as I can tell they're both basically always having a growth spurt.

Anyway thank you again for all the answers, I will be thinking about what everyone said.
posted by creasy boy at 3:36 AM on February 16, 2012

Our identical twin boys will be three in April. It's nice to hear that some folks here have been able to do sleep training and had it work for them, but we weren't able to do it. If it's the case for you that you can't I'm here to tell you first that the lack of sleep isn't actually going to kill you (really), and second the various and sundry things we've done in case any of it helps...

Unlike your twins, our boys were (are) tiny. They were six weeks early and spent the first three or so in the NICU. The doctors had various problems with them (not eating enough, not staying warm enough, super fussy) until they put them in the same bassinet; once they did that they immediately improved and went home ahead of schedule.

So, they've always been super attached to one another, and are essentially inconsolable if we try to put them to sleep separately. We thought maybe it was just us, so we intentionally left that bit out for when they went to daycare at 2.5. Turns out that's the case always. If they can't see (and sometimes touch) each other they simply will not sleep. It sounds like this isn't the case for you, so it may make sense to try separating them, but even then you're going to be running back and forth to two rooms.

For us it worked really nicely to have them in our room until they outgrew the space because not having to get up makes life a whole lot better. It's one thing to wake up when they first stir, gently pat a back, and then fall back asleep. It's another entirely to get up and wander around while they're fussy, constantly worrying that they're going to wake up the other one. So, until they were about 1.5 they slept in a single crib with three sides that we attached directly to our bed. When they outgrew that we bought them a queen mattress that we set on the floor in their room. Along the way we tried, unsuccessfully, to put them in separate cribs, in separate rooms, on separate toddler beds, and variations on those themes.

These days they sleep ok, but definitely not through the night most nights. For a month we tried to go into their room, get them settled, and then go back to bed. You know what sucks? That. So now when they fuss my wife will wander into their room, pat their back, and if she falls asleep in there... oh well. It's a nice big bed and everyone gets enough sleep. When she's sick or one of them is I'll wander in there and do the same. Do I want them to be doing it when they're five? Nope. Do I think they will? Nope. We've seen a slow and steady improvement of their sleep ever since we stopped worrying about it, and us not worrying about getting up and going back to our room has led to better sleep for us.

Good luck, and congratulations, no matter what you end up doing!
posted by togdon at 1:13 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

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