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Solving Sleep problems

Read articles about sleep and your child’s development.

Chireal has written an article for the NHS mother and child magazine about her own positive experience of understanding her twins sleeping behaviour and how she managed to overcome her children's possible sleep problems. Published 2004.

Multiples and sleep : a personal experience

Sleep can be a major concern for many individuals; but no more so than parents who understand the reality of sleep loss and the effects that sleep deprivation can have on them the individual and the whole family, both physically and mentally. Expectant parents should prepare themselves for 2-3 hour intervals of sleep interruptions during the early stages of their newborns life. Allowing for this makes the prospect of feeding a newborn during the night more bearable. Dealing with the concept of expecting more than one baby and not knowing how much sleep you will actually get may fill parents with trepidation at the thought of bedtime and yet, this takes away some of the pleasure and joy derived from pregnancy.

The reality of having twins means pre-planning and organising every aspect of everyday life, any additional children and your expectant babies. This can seem a daunting but necessary task. Mothers of singletons may get away with "winging it" however; mothers of multiples are in a position of having to co-ordinate daily life to precision.

When I was pregnant with my twins, I found an abundance of literature on sleeping behaviour and how to get your baby to sleep, advice on the best ways to get babies to sleep; the do's and the don'ts. Notably, the main themes that I drew from these articles were the importance of structure and routine. Finding the time to read all the available material is a subject that deserves its own forum. However, an interesting observation was that I could not find information regarding twins and sleeping behaviour. The question therefore remains: "how would I get two babies to sleep at night?"

Learning your babies language

I did not know what to expect about the prospect of raising more than one baby, nor did I know any one personally who had done so. In order to answer this question I had to use my experience of being a mother for the past ten years and combine that with my knowledge of psychology, which I have studied and worked in for the past four years. Some parents may wait until their babies are born and then observe the individual behaviours and temperaments before they can start a plan of action. This is what I chose to do; I believe that this was a good idea because all babies are different. Some babies like to sleep, some babies need less than others, and some babies are able to adjust to the outside world easier than others and so on. As a parent, getting to know your child is crucial as it will determine how you will parent and solve many behavioural issues including sleep. What is worthy of note is that I was able to use some of the main principles of sleep routines with my twins with a few specific adaptations.

Understanding your babies' language and behaviour is a key element in parenting and this principle applies to the issue of sleep patterns. How do you know when your baby is tired, over stimulated, angry, frustrated, overtired or irritable? Parents are all too well aware of the signs that their baby is happy, but not so in tune when it boils down to the other important emotions. Babies are limited in their capacity to communicate with adults, crying is their form of language. You may not like the sound and your baby may not like making that sound, but until they have developed the fine and complicated art of speaking, crying is one of the main ways your baby will communicate with you. Parents therefore must try and understand their baby's language and decipher what behavioural signals their baby gives before they start to cry. This was the key that helped me unlock the secrets around my babies' sleeping issues. I was able to understand why they were upset and shouting/crying for me to attend to their need.

Parents of multiples will have the task of learning the language of all their babies, working out whether they are affected by their siblings crying or not. Some babies are perfectly able to fall asleep when their twin is making lots of noise, others may not fair so well. In this instance taking the crying baby out of ear shot until they are settled is required before bringing them back to fall asleep once they are calm. However I was fortunate as my twins slept perfectly well when the other was upset.

Like adults, babies have different ways of getting themselves off to sleep some may need to cry a little. If you understand that type of cry you will not be so tempted to rush in and rescue your child just as they were beginning to fall asleep. The best way to articulate this concept is to imagine that you are just on the verge of sleep and you give a little moan suddenly your partner rushes in picks you up and jolts you out of your slumber, starts patting you on the back saying in your ear "there there". You would find yourself having to start the process of falling asleep all over again. For a baby this may mean they get frightened, and frustrated, thus they may communicate this by crying.

A parent in this situation may think the child has problems going to sleep as they have to settle the frustrated child and try and get them back to sleep; when in fact it has been a miscommunication between parent and child. This was a difficult lesson for me to learn as my natural instinct was to rescue my distressed baby(s), however through time I realised that in order to understand their language I had to wait, listen and observe, before I attempted to calm my child(ren).

A bed time routine

Some literature suggests to parents of singletons to start a routine at 4 months as they state newborns are too young to respond. However, I believe that babies are never too young to start to begin to learn and familiarise themselves with their surroundings and their parents lifestyle. For parents of twins, having a routine from day one is paramount, if only for their own sanity.

I found that developing a pattern and routine throughout the day with twins was essential when trying to establish a good sleeping plan. This meant that I would bath, feed, play and get my babies to sleep at the same time. The babies began to acquire a familiarity with their sleeping environment, which helped them to feel secure and safe at bed and nap times. Simply, I would always put my babies in the same positions, and I would always use the same familiar words and phrases each time they were getting ready to sleep. My babies were able to recognise what was happening, and prepare themselves to sleep as they knew that when all these things have happened it was time for bed.

In order to assist my babies to sleep through the night I ensured that they did not get an emotional attachment to waking up for their feed. They may enjoy seeing my face and feeling my warm body, but they needed to learn that night time was a time to sleep. Trying to avoid this type of association with babies that are breast feed is a lot more tricky but still achievable. During the night (10pm feed) I would have the light low, I avoided talking and making loud noises. I would always put my Babies down as soon as the feed was over, to avoid unnecessary stimulation.

More importantly, I would not wake my babies to feed at night time, nor did I wait for them to start crying for their food as this would only result in the babies becoming more unsettled and more awake. Instead I would anticipate their normal waking time and feed them just before. This is what I refer to as the "sleepy feed" This way babies are not awake to develop an association, they get their required calories to see them through the night and I would get good nights sleep. With twins it can be tricky if one baby wakes while you are "sleepy feeding" the other. In this case, I enlisted the help of a feeding cushion to help support the bottle; I found this to be extremely effective.

Learning how to get to sleep

Twins and multiples have been sharing the same sleeping space for nine months and may be used to the cosy if not tight feeling of another person near. I believed that in order for my twins to sleep well and comfortably, they should sleep together for the first few weeks. This allowed them to feel reassured and contented. They will still be able to feel the presence of their sibling and have some of the familiar sounds, i.e. breathing around them as they drift off to sleep.

My plan was to synchronise my babies to sleep and wake at the same time. Parents of singletons may be shocked to read that when one twin woke up from their nap, I would wake the other. This concept is alien to most individuals as it is the common held belief that a sleeping baby should be left to sleep. On the other hand parents of multiples may know and realise that having two babies asleep at the same time and awake at the same time means that they have time in which to devote to other tasks. The objective of the routine is to have both babies on the same sleep pattern.

I would put my awake but sleepy babies down in their sleeping place to fall asleep so that they would develop the ability to fall asleep independently. I also realised the importance of them being aware of their surroundings so that they were not shocked or surprised to find themselves in a different place from where they first fell asleep. This is essential, as bad habits are difficult to break, so establishing good practice from the outset assisted in avoiding possible problems. I realised as my twins got older and more mobile that they began to view their bedtime as an added activity time to play with their playmate. I decided that I had to separate them from their shared bed. I put them in our room and now they are far enough away from each other that they can not touch, but near enough that they can still see and talk to each other, for company and reassurance.

Conclusion

The trick with young babies is to understand that during the sleep cycle babies may , like adults wake several times during the night, and drift off back to sleep. Babies that have difficulty sleeping are the ones that wake during the night and can not put themselves back to sleep; they need the gentle reassurance of a parent. This is fine for some parents; however some parents may not want to wake several times during the night to comfort their baby back to sleep, as this may continue for several years. Teach your babies to be independent sleepers by developing routine and not introducing bad habits. You can then rest assured knowing, when you can sleep and how long you can sleep without interruptions. This will allow you to truly enjoy the early stages of your Child's life.

By the time my twins were 12 weeks old they began to sleep through the night. As they develop and grow I am continuing to learn their language and behaviour, and have derived a great sense of pleasure and connection with my children as I do so. I believe this has helped to make me a patient and calmer person and parent. Before I respond to my children I remember to wait, listen and observe.

KEY POINTS

  • Understand your babies language
  • Develop a routine that fits in with your lifestyle
  • Feed, wash and play with twins at the same time
  • Allow twins to sleep together (in the early days) Twins should sleep and wake at the same time
  • Always put babies down to sleep when they are awake
  • Give your babies a "sleepy feed" before you go to bed
7–8 am First morning feed
8–9 am Get babies washed and dressed ( between birth and 3 months this counts as activity time)
10–12 am Allow babies to sit or lie down. Monitor their movements and sounds, if they seem tired yawning sleepy eyes put down for a nap
12–1 pm Baby lunch time change nappy
2–3 pm Baby nap time
3–5 pm Baby tea time, change nappy and play
5–6 pm Baby dinner time last feed night time
6–7 pm Baby bed time, wash massage sooth quite relaxing time put babies to bed
10–11 pm Give baby night time sleepy feed try not to wake babies, feed in the dark and in their sleeping environment
3–4 am Optional Sleepy feed

Things to remember to be successful

  • Put babies to sleep in the same place to sleep every time.
  • Do reassure crying babies by patting them rhythmically on the back once they have stop crying stop patting.
  • Repeat if necessary, or by cuddling them, then placing them down when they are calm.
  • Do not rock babies to sleep.
  • Do not move babies around when you are giving them their sleepy feed.
  • Do not introduce bad habits.

NB: you may need to feed the babies more or less than stated on this timetable

A father's perspective

I was concerned that having our twins would mean days of sleeping in were lost forever. I thought that I would never sleep again, I love my sleep and it is important to me that I get at least eight hours each night. However, introducing a sleep plan and routine has been a godsend. Our babies are continuing to sleep through the night and have done so from 12 weeks. It is great being able to know when you can plan to do things, I like the idea that from 6pm we are winding the babies down and putting them to bed at 7 pm. The rest of the evening is yours to do with what you like. We can also go out for a meal in the evening, because babysitters do not have to do anything as the babies are asleep.

I am amazed at how well things have worked out, people are always commenting on how calm and relaxed our babies are, sometimes I detect a little envy when they realise we have managed to get not one baby but two babies to sleep at the same time and through the night. I feel as though I have a life and I can really enjoy my babies.