My twins are doing really well now! But our sleep is the thing that I'm trying to improve. Having a baby is like this really tough new job that gives you no free passes, you know? You’re just sort of stumbling around in the dark hoping to find the right answers as you go. And I definitely have not figured it all out. The best way to describe it is: just when you think you’ve figured it out…it all changes again. I've read every sleep book you can imagine, so I thought I would share what worked for our family. But I've learned over the years that the old adage is true: Every baby is different.
So, to step back in time:My six week old twins did really well with short daytime naps and slept three to five hour stretches at night because of that. However, when they reached the 4 month mark, they started waking at night more frequently. Probably that 4 month sleep regression everyone talks about.
If you have a newborn, I wouldn’t try any type of sleep training just yet. Newborns sleep a lot and for good reason. Their brains are working so hard to help them develop so many critical skills.
Swaddling works really good. It’s kind of like magic for young babies. But you don’t want to do it with babies who are rolling over, as they can smother and won’t be able to get themselves on their back again without their arms. So, it’s not a great long-term solution. Plus, with my first kid, I had to wean him off of his swaddle which took a lot of time and it was pretty tough for him to sleep without it. So, if you’re desperate for sleep, then go for it, but otherwise I would try to find other ways of helping them sleep.
The Keys to Sleep
A couple of key lessons I’ve learned (and Elizabeth Pantley from The No-Cry Sleep Solution will probably back me up on these:
Minimal nap times. For my babies, that means 45 minutes up to 1 hour and 15 minutes each time. But if your baby takes 4 naps per day, then they should be a maximum of 45 minutes at a time. I’m not sure if this will continue, and every baby is different, so if yours likes to have long naps but less naps overall, then that’s great. But when I think about the overall hours that a young baby sleeps 16 hours for newborn to 3 months, and 14-15 hours for older babies), if you add up the nap times, then you might be left with only 7-8 hours for nighttime sleep. And if you’re putting Baby down to sleep at 7-7:30pm, then she will wake up at 3am or 4am and be ready to play! Let’s do the math, just to be sure (I know, your sleep deprived brain is not happy with doing math but stick with me):
x 45 min each
= 3 hrs total daytime sleep
16 hrs total sleep in a 24 hr period
- 3 hrs
= 13 hrs for nighttime sleep (maybe a bit too much at night)
X 1 hr 15 min each
= 5 hours total daytime sleep
– 5 hours
= 11 hrs for nighttime sleep (now that’s better!)
For an older baby(4-6 mo), they only sleep 14-15 hours (depending on the baby), so you get significantly less time at night. Now, at night they do wake up for short periods, but I co-sleep with my girls, and so they don’t typically wake for more than a minute or two. That might be different for different situations.
For a 4 month - 6 month old baby:
3 naps at 45 min each
+ 1 short catnap in the late afternoon (as you transition to 3 naps) at 30 min
= 2 hrs 45 min total daytime sleep
– 2 hrs 45 min
= 11 hrs 15 min nighttime sleep (just right)
See how that works out? That’s why I get confused when sleep experts say, let your baby sleep for 1-3 hours at a time for a nap. How does that work? They only sleep a certain amount in a 24 hour period, and if you let them sleep too much in the daytime then you’re headed for lots of tears at night. Anyway, these are just my theories and I don’t know if they make sense or if they are best for a baby’s health or not. So far my girls seem to be doing well with these short naps, and they sleep pretty good for 4 month old babies. I don’t expect them to sleep 5 hours or 10 hours at a time, plus they are twins and wake each other up a lot.
Additional Nap Tips: The 1st and last nap can be very short, like 30 to 45 minutes. Then, you can stretch out the middle nap (or middle two) to 1 ½ hours to 2 hours. My babies seem to need this sometimes and their happiest period is usually after a long midday nap.
Have a Routine
We do early bedtimes (6 or 6:30pm) with the same routine every single night. We massage, diaper change, nurse, then offer a bottle, then swaddle with very loud white noise, and dark room. I lay beside the sensitive sleeper while she sucks her thumb with the other hand swaddled. The other baby has learned to put herself to sleep after being swaddled and doesn’t even need me to lie next to her. ~ I'm so proud! ~
We are now transitioning to no swaddle, so this routine might change. And sorry, but with twins, I don’t have time to give them both a bath at night (who has that kind of time??). Maybe when they’re bigger. A Mama can dream.
Making it Work in a Small Space
Okay, for all Mamas who live in a small apartment, this next part is for you. We are temporarily living in a studio apartment-type living situation. There are no doors anywhere other than the bathroom. The bedroom has an open doorway. I have a six year old that I homeschool, so there’s a lot of activity happening during the day and also early evening. Dishes clanking, talking, bumping into stuff, running, etc. It is very challenging to keep it quiet enough during naps and bedtime, but I’ve come up with some tricks. First, we got a big sheet of pink foam insulation (not the fluffy stuff, the hard foam stuff). It is 4 feet by 8 feet and we use it as a “door” with some curtains hung from the top of the open doorway to the bedroom. It blocks a lot of sharp sounds and a person can talk quietly in the kitchen/living room and the babies cannot hear it. Second, I bought an mp3 of white noise online and I play it on repeat on my laptop during naps and at nighttime. We got external speakers so we can turn it up loud enough to block sounds. My husband and I can quietly make supper with the white noise on and the girls sleep right through it. One of my babies is a very sensitive sleeper so I know that it works. Third, naps are at the same time every day, give or take 30 minutes. If they’re up at 6:30am, then the naps are at 8:30am, 11:30am, and 3pm with bedtime starting at 5:30pm. If they are up at 7am the naps are at 9am, 12pm, and 3:30pm with bedtime starting at 6pm. Given that they are almost 5 months old, they have pretty much successfully transitioned to 3 naps versus 4.
Sometimes, none of this works for my sensitive sleeper because she’s teething or working on a new skill. Then, I rock, bounce, jiggle, whatever works to get her in a relaxed state.
When they are sleeping poorly at night I try to do extra skin-to-skin during the day. Lots of cuddles, attention, playing and interacting. I find when I do this that they sleep a little better the next night. Also, I make sure they get enough physical exercise in the day so that they’re tired at the end of the day. In other words, don’t stick your baby in a stroller or car seat all day. Let them roll around on the floor, play with toys, kick a lot, and be a part of the family. Even when they were 2 months old they did better when I involved them with the family more.
Things I haven’t solved yet
One of my babies wakes up at 3am or 4am every morning crying out really loud. She started doing this at about 4 months old. I’m not sure if it’s because she’s teething, having a bad dream, or what. She wants to suck on her thumb to feel better. So, after lots of trial and error I un-swaddle her halfway, let the hand out that she’s most practiced at sucking, let her nurse while I jiggle her (otherwise she screams) in my arms and then transition to her thumb. When she wakes up screaming, she can’t seem to find her thumb. But once she’s relaxed then she can find easy. I’m planning on getting her an all-rubber soother for the times when she just can find her thumb. With twins, it’s really critical that I keep them both quiet or they will both wake up and it’s very tough to get them back to sleep in that scenario. So I cannot wait and see if she’ll go back to sleep on her own after screaming or she’ll wake up Baby #2. Plus, if I try to give her the breast when she wakes up she screams like a police siren! I wonder if any other Mamas have encountered this problem. It would be good to hear what worked for them.
The magic sleep trick
Here’s another sleep trick that my husband discovered (Daddy’s can sometimes be so wise about their little ones!): When you are rocking, nursing, or just lying beside your little one, close your eyes and have a soft smile on your face. Nine times out of ten, it works! Baby will close their eyes too! This also helps if they’re overstimulated from too much eye contact in the day. My sensitive sleeper seems to get very overwhelmed right before bed, but when I close my eyes she relaxes. Give it a try!
I hope some of my ideas help other Moms that are desperate for sleep. Good luck, Mamas! Remember, we’re all awake with you, all around the world, just rocking and singing and nursing and soothing our babies to sleep.
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