January 22, 2015

FIAO 7.1: Adventures in Sleep With Twins - What We're Doing

I've talked before about my experience with sleep training children and how I believe "crying it out" should only be used as a last resort, with babies older than 6 months and only with a complete understanding of how to use the method. Well, we're at a crossroads here in the B household. Our twins, those wonderfully sleepy newborns that started sleeping for 6-8 hours a night at 3 months have transformed into nap fighting, up-all-night demons for the last month. Ugh. And for the first time we contemplated letting them cry it out. Double ugh. 

There are a number of things contributing to this change: it started with the 4 month sleep "regression" and now we are dealing with teething and the 6 month growth spurt. We talked about re-evaluating our sleep plan but have decided to forge on after doing some more research. I feel like as new parents we needed to understand what is happening at this time and why so many of us go through it at the same time. Babies don't just all of a sudden suck at sleeping at any given point, it's just life getting in the way. Just like with you and me.

Sleep "regression" is actually a misnomer, no matter what age it happens. Although it seems like it, babies don't just forget how to sleep well at four months (or six, eight or twelve), rather it is caused by a sort of awakening. Right around four months is when the blissful ignorance of newbornness wears off and they become aware of their surroundings and how the world works. This is also the time that the first signs of separation anxiety and parental recognition occur. Babies are becoming more social and there's an awareness of cause and effect. Think about it, this is the time that everyone loves as their baby seeks them in a room of strangers or smiles upon their entry into a room. Peek-a-boo finally makes sense and is fun! But no one loves it when that same baby can't seem to settle down at night without mama's presence (or boob) and yet the two go hand in hand.

Just imagine it, you're all of 120 days old and your parents, who are your whole world, who you rely on for everything all day long, keep disappearing on you for reasons you cannot possibly understand, just as the world is becoming real to you. You are able to feel so much now and for the first time in your little life you can no longer sleep through discomfort, whether it's from being wet or cold or overtired. Your eyes are bright and clear enough to make out scary shadows and your ears are strong enough to hear strange sounds in the night. Your days are full of new sensations and patterns and at night your brain is working overtime to make sense of all of these wonderful new things. Much like how adults find it difficult to settle when they have a lot on their minds, babies run into the same trouble, despite seeming to not have a care in the world. Along with all of this there are the more obvious reasons for sleep disruption - new teeth are slowly making their way through their gums and their bodies are stretching out, growing at the fastest rate they will in their entire lives. It's no wonder babies seem to forget how to sleep around this time, leaving us parents bewildered and exhausted. Compound that with two babies are us twin parents don't stand a chance!
So I decided to prepare early on. I read Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Twins by Marc Weissbluth. Dr. Weissbluth discusses the different sleep training techniques and from this information we have created our own version of "sleep training" that includes respecting the girls' natural ability to sleep. I believe that it's never too early to lay the foundation for good habits so we started as soon as they got home. We use the eat, play, sleep schedule and watch for tired cues which are pretty obvious these days - eye rubbing, zoning out, inability to be pleased with anything. They are usually up for 2 hours max in between sleeps so we also watch the clock. Every time we put them down we follow the same routine whether it's naps or night time: lights out, music on, wrapped in blankets, pacifiers in, rock until they stop crying, then lay them down drowsy but awake. We do use props - music, mobiles and pacifiers but only at the initial bedtime, not after. From there we use controlled comforting. We don't count minutes or let them cry but they sometimes will fuss a bit or babble and we let them. If they cry, we go in, put a hand on them and soothe them. If they don't settle we pick them up and rock until they are calm and then place a hand on their back or belly for a minute to reassure them. When their eyes are closed or they seem close to sleep we leave and let them fall asleep without us there. Unless they are hungry or need something they will go to sleep majority of the time. The aim is to help them learn how and when to fall asleep but without having to cry alone.  As long as they're content we leave them in their cribs for the time that we would like them to be sleeping. So during the day they seem to need 3 45-60 minute naps (eventually I hope we get to two but they're not there yet). If they wake at the 20 or 30 minute mark I check diapers and then lay them in the same crib. Usually they will play or pass back out. At night, and again this is only if they're not upset or need something, they lay until they fall back asleep or it's time to eat. We don't try to keep them on the same schedule they just do it naturally but I am definitely going to keeping them on the same one if try if they do start to waver. We follow a routine and I stick to it as much as I can. The only thing we are training them to do is develop good sleep habits with a semblance of the schedule we'd like them on in the future. They are learning how to self soothe without the stress of crying. Time has yet to tell if it's going to work so I will not draw that conclusion just yet.

This is not to say they never cry or that it's by any means easy for us. Please don't think I'm that blessed. It is exhausting going in and out, sometimes several times until they are finally settled. I do get frustrated but remind myself of the goal - healthy sleep habits. Also, like most things in life you have to remember: it's hard now but it will be easier later.  Sometimes I'll be tending to one and the other will start to wail and she will just have to wait it out which may lead to her falling asleep while crying. That's when I like to remind them, as quietly and sweetly as I can, that they are the ones that decided to split into two eggs, not me. One day Jules was having her first real fit since becoming more aware and I was actually laughing while trying to calm her as she would catch my eye and give me a look like "Why the hell do I feel this way!?" Viv was sleeping peacefully when all of a sudden she let out this whimper that I swear made my soul cry. It was that sad. I had to decide who I was going to help at the moment and Viv won. That cry still gets me every freaking time. She's so good at it now and I swear she does it knowing the reaction it will illicit. Of course it wasn't the first time they cried at the same time but they have actual emotions now and real feelings tied to those cries now. And those feelings float directly into this exhausted mama's heart.  That's what makes crying it out so hard to do for every single mom and dad and it's why I can't do it yet. I can't listen to her cry for two minutes let alone five. That said, I don't believe in judging the families who do it. There are plenty of parents who swear by classic CIO (extinction) and The Ferber Method (graduated extinction) and most see results in just a few days but I've never heard anyone say it was easy for them and I can't begrudge a mom who goes through that pain in order to achieve a semblance of normalcy in her life. That ish is hard and it hurts to have to do it. Plus for some kids if you don't follow it to a T you end up worse off than before. Just because I'm not there yet doesn't mean I don't get it. Like any other mommy war battle the judgment is fierce with this one. Many feel very strongly that CIO is wrong and just as many see no harm in it. I say neither choice is right or wrong, it comes down to what is best for your family. As well as what you can handle!  As a person who has dealt with a lifetime of sleep struggles I believe my girls will let me know when their bodies are ready to sleep for longer stretches and I don't want to decide for them when that will be. I'm home with them so I can be flexible and I don't want to force them to do something their bodies aren't ready for. But I can take the time to show them how to do it and encourage good sleeping habits without sitting outside their room (even for just five minutes) and listening to them cry. Do my babies just have the most gut-wrenching cry? I doubt it but it's pretty sad!

I won't lie, there are nights like last night where If I could, I would even try "Ferberizing" (which involves going in and soothing baby for 15 seconds at increasing intervals) but I can't yet. The idea of them sleeping 7-7 sounds amazing right now! But it's so hard, especially if your baby is one of those that just won't settle. My biggest fears are doing it wrong or not being able to follow through. And a part of me really does wonder if it is doing harm, especially when I have to watch one cry while consoling the other. I see so often how upset they get and the emotion. I don't want to leave them to do that, even just for five minute intervals. So it's not for me, yet. Time will tell though. Jules was up fifteen times in two hours and we just kept settling her and walking out. She finally slept from around 11 to 2. Viv slept from 9 to 4 for the first time after weeks of waking every other hour. Maybe our modified sleep training plan worked for her but again it's too early to tell. I should add that part of my plan includes co-sleeping and side-laying nursing if they won't settle after waking around 3 or 4am.  I trust they will let me know if they're hungry or just need to be near me because there have been nights when they slept straight through with no problem. If it weren't for that I just might have died from sleep deprivation (probably not though)!

So that's the plan and we're sticking to it. For now at least. Maybe I'll feel differently someday but it's already been 6 months of spotty sleep at this point so why stop now?

What has been your experience with sleep training? Did any of the expert methods work or did you let baby decide what worked for him/her/them?


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