Birth and Beyond

Lesson 4 of 8: “Sleep”

Trevor and Alex in Rocking ChairAhhhh, Sleep.  This is probably the most difficult part of newborn multiples.  New parents always experience sleep deprivation, but with twins, triplets or more, the intensity is severely magnified.  If at all possible, try to line up some personal or professional help, so that you can get a “night off” once a week for the first several weeks.

(NB — if you are breastfeeding, remember the rule of demand and supply: if there is not enough demand, your body will reduce your milk supply.  So arranging nighttime help will mean dad can take a break and the help can bring you the babies in bed to feed, so at least you can take it easy that night.)

Newborns sleep about 16-20 hours in a 24 hour period.  Unfortunately, those hours are not consective, as their small tummies need to be fed (and their bums therefore changed) approximately 8-12 times in a 24-hour period for the first six weeks or so.  Let’s examine the ins and outs of sleep, and how to get it!

 

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To begin with, please print and separately complete this survey  (no peeking at each other’s responses).

When you have each completed the survey, compare your responses, and read together relevant sections below.

 

Leadership guru Steven Covey says “Begin with the end in mind”.  This mantra can easily be applied to parenting multiples.  For example, are you planning to have your two (or three or more) 8-year-olds in bed with you?  If not, then why start off that way?  Although a co-sleeper or “Arm’s length” style baby bed can be a useful asset in the early weeks with newborn twins, by the end of the first month at home, you may want to begin moving your babies to their own area of your home, if you do not plan to have them sleeping with you long term.  The longer you wait to make this transition, the more challenging it may become.

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Audio Note

Newborns are noisy, and as new parents, you will already only be half asleep with fear.  Now add the snorting, noisy breathing of two (or more) newborns at your ear.  As you can probably imagine, no one will be getting a lot of sleep!

That being said, many breastfeeding mothers prefer to have the babies in a crib in the same room, as having them close by can make night time feedings much easier for the first while.  Again, you will have to experiment, and see what works for your unique home and family situation.  As you may have already discovered, everyone has an opinion on what is the “right” way to do things, but ultimately, YOU are the expert when it comes to your children — trust your instincts, and go with them!  The right thing for your family is what works.

Now… Let’s examine each of the survey questions in some detail(please, if you haven’t already completed the survey individually and compared notes with your partner, do that now, before looking at the ideas below.) 

Spencer: "These-are-MY-babies!"

1. Babies in Bed

This has already been addressed above.  Professional opinions differ about whether it is safe to have one or more infants in bed with you (called “co-sleeping”).  In any case, many cultures practise this type of family bed sleeping arrangement, while others do not.  You will have to work out what works for your family.  (Note: There are specific times when babies should NOT be in bed with you, e.g. when one or both parents have been drinking or smoking.)

2. Fussy Babies and Midnight TV

tvThis is kind of a trick question. Newborns fall asleep quite easily. If you were watching TV while feeding, the average 3-week-old would be back asleep within minutes.  HOWEVER…. remember the Covey mantra:  “Begin with the end in mind.

A newborn may be non-plussed by dad watching TV while feeding, but let me assure you, the average 6-month-old will love and cherish this special midnight encounter, and so will the average 2-year-old who has come to expect it!!!  Keep midnight feedings low-key and business-like.  What appears sweet and cuddly at the beginning can soon develop into a future habit which can be a huge challenge to break.  Keep the future in mind.

Newborns do not know the difference between night and day (it’s all the same inside the womb!)  so it is your job as parents to teach them this important difference.

During night time feedings, lights should be dim, and there shouldn’t be a lot of talking or action.  That doesn’t mean you have to be mean to your babies when they wake up to feed, but the 2 a.m. feeding and changing is not the time to teach your babies the latest song you learned at the drop in centre!

You are there to get the job done, and get everyone back to bed and quickly and undisruptively as possible.  (Tip:  to facilitate speedy feedings if you are using formula and bottles, keep a cooler by your bed so you don’t have to go to the fridge and get the goods!  Better yet, prep/sterilise bottles, and then use a ready-to-feed formula that doesn’t need to be refridgerated to warmed up.)

3. Sleep Schedule

Although the early days with newborns encompass mainly “cluster feeding” (around the clock “feeding on demand”), by the end of the first week, a pattern should emerge (this will be easy if you have preemies, because the NICU will have put your babies on a schedule — just follow it!)  The schedule should look roughly like this:  Eat/change diaper, sing or talk to your baby, or share a little toy (during the day only), then swaddle them and lay them down to sleep.

Again “Secrets of the Baby Whisperer” is an excellent read on sleep schedules, as is “Babywise”, co-authored by a father of triplets.  (Both books are available on Amazon)

We will get more into schedules in a subsequent lesson.

Okay so we don’t recommend leaving babies unattended on a bed while you chase after toddlers, but we also get that sometimes you have to do what you have to do (and we know this mom’s parenting partner was in the room behind the camera, so the babies wouldn’t really have rolled off the bed!)

 

4. “Cry it Out”

Also known as “Ferberizing” after author and doctor Ferber, the “Cry it Out” method is one which may be employed from the third month on, assuming babies are getting enough caloric intake during the day.  Newborns, on the other hand, MUST be looked after when they cry, as it is their only method of communicating.

Responding to the cries of your newborns helps them to learn that you can be counted on.  Hang in there… it won’t last forever, and before you know it, they WILL be sleeping through the night!!!

5. Personal Sleeping Quarters

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To be transparent, I must confess my bias that babies should have their own room, away from parents.  That way everyone is able to develop healthy sleep habits.  That being said, this may not always be possible, depending on the size and set-up of your home, and on your feeding/sleeping philosophy.  There is no absolute on this.  Once again, YOU are the expert on your children, and will soon work out an arrangement that blends well with your family’s overall needs and belief systems.

Having twins share a room is totally fine, and in fact, perhaps the best option, at least at the beginning.  (See below.)

6. Same Crib (Co-Bedding)

sleeping-bunniesThere is lots of excellent research to support co-bedding (For example, see this article by Ottawa twins prenatal educator Lynda P. Haddon)  Always lay babies down on their backs to sleep, in order to help prevent SIDS. If you are putting twins to sleep in the same crib or bassinet, I suggest rotating cribs.

So, put the babies down in one crib for the first nap, then in the other crib for the next.  This way both babies get used to both cribs, so that when it is time to separate, you are not kicking one baby out of the “home” crib.  

Also, be sure to rotate the babies so that they don’t get flat head syndrome.  (Google “occipital plagiocephaly” and “tortecolis”, or see the MBC fact sheet for further information on this phenomenon.)

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Babies naturally turn towards the light, so if you put them down and the window is on one side, then turn them around at the next sleep so they will naturally turn their head the other way.  Kind of like rotating your tires for even wear.  🙂

TIP: When placing monozygotic twins down to sleep, try putting Twin A on the left and Twin B on the right.  This is one way to help ensure you know who is who.

7. Stroller Sleepers

Again “Begin as You Mean to Go On!”  Nothing wrong with falling asleep in the stroller or car seat, but you don’t want to get into a habit of having to walk your heavy 8-month-old babies around in order to get them to sleep.  And by the time they are three years old, a stroller ride won’t put them to sleep anymore anyway, and you will have two (or more) cranky, overtired toddlers on your hands!  Establish good sleep habits early on. Put babies down when they are sleepy, but not necessarily asleep.

8. Soothers

Alex-&-Simon-staring-up-w-soothersThis question has no universal “right” answer.  Babies have an innate need to suck, and most of this is satisfied through feeding.  However, some babies need extra sucking time.  For these infants, a soother (or “nuk” as they are sometimes called) can be a Godsend.

Some people like to avoid soothers because they are trying to establish breastfeeding, and do not want to cause nipple confusion.  However, our friends with quads breastfed for 8 months, 2 on the breast, the other two on the bottle, and switched back and forth.  For them, nipple confusion was a non issue.  (An aside; soother and baby bottle nipples need to be replaced more often if a child spends some time on a medication as the medicine, over time, breaks down the rubber nipples.)

Other considerations:  Babies who use soothers need to have them replaced until they are big enough to find and put them in by themselves.  Babies who don’t use soothers may find other ways to self-soothe, for example, sucking a finger or a thumb.  Soother habits can be broken by parents at age 2 or whenever you decide you are done with the soother.  Not so easy to cut off a child’s finger.

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Audio Note

Hope these ideas help to clarify some of the concepts in the sleep survey and guide you in your discussions around how you as a couple will handle sleep once your babies arrive.

An excellent book to read when preparing to bring home your newborns is Tracey Hogg’s “Secrets of the Baby Whisperer.”  Hogg suggests a sensitive-to-babies but practical-for-parents approach to the first few days/weeks at home with babies.

Simon-in-slingOf course, reality always prevails over theory, and many a time we ourselves were overwhelmed with our two and the lack of sleep.

Sometimes this led to desperate strategies such as “swinging” the babies to sleep, carrying one or more around in a sling while we went about our business at home, or even on occasion, driving along the highway for two hours with babies in their carseats in the back, in an effort to get them to sleep.

These tactics helped us survive the next day or two, but it was always a struggle to get back on track with our sleep schedule after that.  So, try to make these sorts of things the exception rather than the rule.  The range for multiples sleeping through the night varies from two to ten months and in some households, “sleeping through the night” means six hours in a row.

Remember, they WILL begin sleeping through the night at some point, so hang in there, this new reality will be shortlived in the grander scheme of things.

See you in Lesson 5: “Schedules”

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