Helping Twins Sleep — Surviving the Early Weeks With a Consistent Routine
Twins are an awesome blessing and (they can be) an overwhelming challenge. With any newborn the most eye-opening reality is how little sleep parents will get and with twins the difficulty is obviously doubled! The following are some tips that worked for me and my twins.
First few weeks
It is helpful to have support in the form of another set of hands in addition to Dad’s and Mom’s, if possible, for at least few hours each day in the early weeks. If you are able to set-up help, either through family, friends or a doula*, you need to take advantage of the practical support.
One of the parents should get a nap during the time you have support. Sleeping when the babies sleep is just the best way to get through the early weeks without getting completely sleep deprived.
Every new mom needs rest to heal from delivery and if the mother is nursing, she really needs to sleep between feedings and keep her activity to a minimum while she is healing from delivery and establishing a good milk-supply.
Twins that come early
Twins that come early and have been in the hospital a few weeks often come home on a strict 3 hour feeding schedule. Stick to this schedule, if possible, as much as possible.
If one or both of your babies is small – under 7 lbs., you’d still want to feed them when they show signs of hunger before the 3 hrs. are up. Babies know when they need calories and should be fed if they are exhibiting hunger cues such as their hands to their mouth, rooting behavior or crying (a late hunger cue).
Many twins coming home from the hospital on a three hour feeding schedule often stick to the schedule. Learn to listen to your babies. Babies will tell you what they need. When if comes to any newborn, rigidity does not work for anyone.
Sleeping and eating
It will be easier to keep your twins on the same sleeping and eating schedule if you can. There may be times when you just need a break and one baby is awake and hungry and the other one is in a deep sleep. It is okay to let the other baby sleep if you need to.
If you will be alone with the twins, staggering feedings, by even 15 min. will be helpful so that both babies aren’t wanting to feed at exactly the same time.
Breastfeeding mothers may find a twin nursing pillow an essential piece to have before the babies arrive. This type of pillow raises the twins to the level of your breast and you can tandem nurse in a much easier position – even if you are alone, when you get the hang of it!
Newborns are not patient when hungry, so nursing at the same time for the first 7 – 8 weeks can be very helpful. I found after they outgrew the pillow, I would nurse whichever baby was hungry at first, then if the 2nd baby started to fuss, I’d put the first one down and feed the second one and then pick-up the 1st one and finish his feed. It worked out well this way.
Go with the flow!
The key for your sanity with one or two babies is to learn to “go with the flow” and deal with whoever needs you most in that moment and then move to the next one down the line!
Put yourself and your husband in this rotation if you can! Twins do learn to wait. Talking to the other one or both as you tend to another child or to another task can help them calm down and learn to wait.
When I had my own babies – 3 singletons and then twins – I had a hard time letting them fuss at all. I think one of the biggest mistakes I made was to pick them up quickly when they started to stir.
When I worked as a night doula for triplets, there were times when I was caring for two of the babies and the 3rd one would start to cry. I was amazed to see that if I spoke to him or her, they often would settle rather quickly, falling back to sleep.
We can sometimes be so afraid our babies won’t sleep that we undermine it by responding too quickly. It is easier said than done, to wait before responding. But sometimes you have no choice and you may find that the baby will settle if left to fuss a bit.
As twins age
As my twins got older, during the night feedings I would tend to the one who woke me first. After they were 2 – 3 months old I noticed that it was always my son who was waking first and his sister was really sleepy when I woke her to feed when he was done.
I finally decided to “bite the bullet” and not awaken my daughter to see how long she’d sleep. Well, she slept through the night way before my son did.
It became easier feeding just one during the night. You will come to find that same pattern will emerge with yours, perhaps. But be assured that they WILL SLEEP THROUGH THE NIGHT eventually!
Until then, get your own sleep whenever and wherever you can. Make a plan with your spouse to take turns getting in naps and/or have family and friends stay with the babies when needed so you can get a nap or a good night’s sleep.
Hire a day or overnight doula* so you can get some straight sleep a night or more a week or take a nap when your day doula is there. A day doula can watch the babies and get some practical things done for you too such as laundry, light housework, dishes, cooking, etc. while the babies are napping, too.
As far as twins sleeping together because they “like” being together, I didn’t find this to be the case with mine. If anything, they would wake each other up when they were in the same crib. I found it better to have them sleep separately. I read books before my twins were born where they spoke of twins preferring to be together. I felt mine were oblivious to each other and didn’t actually notice each other for a few months. Then it got really fun and their interactions were comical when one baby finally noticed the other. My twins were fraternal twins. It may be different for identical twins. You will soon find out what works for you and your babies.
Creating a Routine
- Feed the babies together (or lightly staggered) if possible.
- Put them down to sleep after feedings
- Decide if they are better sleeping next to each other or apart.
- Don’t let the twins sleep more than 2.5 – 3 hrs. a stretch during the day; they will put their longer sleep stretches at night if you don’t let them sleep too long during the day.
- Watch for the patterns that will develop. One baby may need to eat more often or sleep longer than the other. Respond and adjust when you are ready by letting one sleep longer or feed more.
- Develop a sleep routine when you see a pattern. Bathing in the evening, then feeding then settling for sleep will help them start to create a pattern. Keep lights low at night and darken the room for naps.
- Get sleep where you can until they are doing longer stretches. Enlist friends, family or a professional doula* if you feel like you and your spouse need a break.
By Susan Shepard/Owner of MothersCare Doula Services of CT
*MothersCare Doula Services is a CT based doula service offering both day and overnight doulas to help families get off to a good start with non-judgmental and practical support for the whole family.
About Susan Shepard
I am the owner/partner of MothersCare Doula Services in CT. I am a Postpartum doula and my business partner, Sheila Marley is a Labor doula. MothersCare places both Labor and Postpartum doulas with CT Families. I am the mom of five beautiful children, one set of twins. The best quote for me as a young mother and the catalyst for MothersCare is “It’s not weakness to know you need help, it’s wisdom.”