April 2, 2015

FIAO 7.3: Adventures in Sleep With Twins - There Is Light At The End of The Long Sleepless Tunnel

After nearly two months of waking up an hour after bedtime, 30 minute naps and nursing every hour from midnight until 7am we finally reached our breaking point.

We sleep trained.

Well, kind of. We did probably the gentlest, loosest version of sleep training there is aside from none at all. Despite my previous post about being glad they're not sleeping through the night (I still am!) they were not themselves anymore. Our days were miserable. They were just so tired. It wasn't fair to or healthy for them to keep going this way. So, after reading about all the different techniques (thanks to many google searches, facebook groups and the book Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Twins by Marc Weissbluth) we quickly decided that a combination, minimal cry approach would be best for us and them. For one thing, they each have their own sleep issues. Viv goes down easily and can sleep through anything but now once she's up she's up so the late night wakings were turning into marathons of nursing and playtime. Jules fights every single lay down and wakes up every single time Viv cries but will usually fall asleep nursing and can be put down then although if she wakes up soon after it's hell to pay when she realizes where she is.

Then you have to take into account all the different factors that were causing our sleep issues. We had colds, Jules had her surgery, they each got two teeth and then went through a growth spurt and a cognitive leap. Our worst week so far was when they were figuring out how to roll over and they wanted to practice. All. Night. Long.  We've felt guilty, for whatever reason, leaving them for even a minute to cry. They have learned this and I'd swear they're manipulating us into letting them stay up and get up all night long (that is if 8 month olds were capable of such a thing) In short, it's been hard as hell to get them and us to sleep at night and something had to give.

I just kept reminding myself that sleep begets sleep. We had gotten ourselves into a vicious cycle of no consistent day or night sleep and we were all paying for it. They weren't napping often or long enough during the day, weren't going down without a fight at night and were waking up nearly every hour all night long. And suffice it to say they were miserable! For the first time in their lives they have been crying for no reason so much more often, unable to be soothed no matter what we did and just downright grumpy almost all the time. We have now gotten into almost 2 and a half months of this pattern and their moods are miserable. I miss my happy, sleeping 15 hours a day babies.

Some people say that by six months even breastfed babies can go 6-8 (or even more) hour stretches without eating overnight. The girls proved to us months ago that they could do this so I started forcing myself to stay awake during those every-other-hour-from-midnight-on feeding sessions they had both taken a liking to. Turns out, they weren't eating very much, if anything, at all. They were comfort nursing.

Really? Cool guys, that's great, happy to help out, but not when you both want to do it all night long for MONTHS. Sorry girls, mama's just not cut out for that. So once we ruled out hunger and any other factors like teething or illness we decided to give our mish-mash of totally individualized and modified sleep training techniques a go.

Here's How We Figured Out What Would Work For Our Girls:

We started messing around with all aspects of their sleep and noting everything we could. We tweaked their feeding and sleep schedules and tried different nap and wake times, dropping their fourth nap, then the third which has come back but is super short. We tried a super early bedtime (6pm) and a later one (8pm) and seem to have found a happy medium around 7:15-7:45 ("medium" meaning they will get up for the day at 8 rather than too early or too late). This way Dad gets some time with them every day too. Again, we are guiding them in the right direction but letting them take the lead on when their bodies really needed rest. Putting them to bed when we wanted was not ever going to work.

We did trial and error with everything sleep related: their sleep attire, room temperature and bedtime routine. We tried out different loveys and blankies (loosely knit or breathable muslin so there was minimal risk), played different music or a new white noise and leaving the room pitch black or using a nightlight. We played with giving a bottle before or after nursing and early or late in the routine. We even switched up their cribs at one point and ultimately ended up separating them. We made a note of what worked and what didn't and came up with a plan. Some nights they slept, others they didn't.

We bought a video monitor (actually it's a security camera that connects to our phones) which helped us feel much more confident in our choice to let them cry for a few minutes. It is so nice to be able to watch them and know what they're up to rather than going in and checking and possibly messing up the process.

The heart of the issue became very clear after all of this, especially after watching them struggle with falling asleep - they just had no idea how to put themselves to sleep yet and until they figured it out we would be fighting this losing battle. Worse, they were not able to transition their sleep cycles without me early in the night and early in the morning which was causing the 1 hour wake ups after bedtime and the marathon nursing sessions. Yep, despite our best efforts to teach them healthy sleep habits they learned that we would always come in to help them simply for the fact that we can't listen to them cry (that and there's always the risk of one waking the other one)! Effing twins! Sure they've been allowed to cry here and there but it's rarely been for long enough for them to actually get to the self soothing part so they just have no idea how to do it when it's time! They can. They just don't. So here we are 8 months in - fabulous responsive parenting skills, two exhausted babies. Lovely. It was time to do something.

Our Method (Keep in mind we are only on day four but so far it's worked well. I will update again in a week or so.):

Once they had chosen their preferred loveys, we found a combination of soft music and a loud fan that does great at blocking out noise and keeps them sleeping longer. We noticed they sleep better when they have had a full 5-6 oz. bottle of both milk and formula or if they have actually eaten food during the day. Once we had this down we were ready to let them cry learn how to fall asleep on their own.

No really we can't (well, Dad mostly, he really can't) listen to them cry so thankfully for our sake they seem to have caught on pretty fast.

First off - we separated them. I really didn't want to but I saw no other choice. Viv is in our room in the pack and play and Jules is in her crib. 

We do our bedtime routine and lay them down awake. If they cry we help them get calm or wait until they're just doing their protest whines* then we leave and set a timer if they start to fuss or cry.

We do checks every 3-5 minutes if they're still crying. Again, sometimes they do those protest yells for a few minutes again during the transition and I don't really count that as time because usually it's a sign that they really are tired they just want me to help them get to sleep.  If it escalates into actual crying that's when I start the timer. If it escalates into screaming I go in no matter what time we're at. I won't allow them to scream for me.

When the timer goes off and they're still crying one of us goes in and quietly says "It's rest time, I love you and I'm here if you need me but please lay down." No more talking after that except shushing if they get really loud.  We only pick them up if they're screaming.

We pat/rub them until they are calm but not asleep. We break a big ST rule here but I will not walk out on them until they are calm. Sometimes it takes a minute, sometimes it takes 20. I just won't leave them while they're still upset.

We do not allow them to go longer than 5-15 minutes of crying but we also reset the clock every time they settle, even if they are only quiet for a bit before crying again. The longest they have gone is 20 minutes of on and off crying and I was with her for the last 10. Sometimes they will get calm for minutes and then start again full-blown. I do it all again, every time. One thing I've noticed is that they have never fallen asleep crying - they always stop first, love on their lovey or suck on something before drifting to sleep. We have the video monitor for Jules and the audio for Viv so we know what they're up to at all times.



Guess what has happened in the last four nights?  Bedtime has gone from two 45 minute battles to one five minute pretty easy lay down. They slept a blissful 4 hours straight the first night after only a 20 minute battle with Jules and a 10 minute one for Viv an hour later. They slept 5 hours the second and 5 again last night. We're going on six already tonight. Of course as I started to write this CJ was working on soothing a hysterical Viv at bedtime but she may finally be in the throes of teething. If she is we will help her more. Update: He got her calm, came out here and less than 3 minutes later she was asleep.

It. is. working.

Not only are they sleeping but guess what?! They're actually settling down and soothing themselves. They're really doing it!  Not only that but they're transitioning from one sleep cycle to another without me! They can and they are and no one is dying or hating me or giving up on me!  It's a miracle!

They are helping themselves do something that I still struggle with at 31 years old.

Jules sucks on her fingers or plays with the tag on her lovey (Ellie the elephant). She also stares up at the ceiling, rocks her head back and forth or scratches the mattress.

Viv uses her lovey (Leo the Lion) as a pillow, adjusting him under her head until she gets comfy then rubs the fur on his head until she falls asleep. Sometimes she rotates herself all the way around in her crib until she's on the opposite end and sticks her hand through the slats.

I don't care how weird they sound, they're sleeping and they're doing it themselves!


Since night one they have slept through their usual wake up an hour after bedtime, are taking longer naps during the day (1.5 in the morning and 2-2.5 in the afternoon and maybe a 25-30 min one in the evening) and are genuinely happier. I'm glad we waited until they were 8 months old and I do believe that all our work in establishing healthy sleep routines and associations has paid off but I have to (once again) eat my own words and admit that they needed a little help getting there. No, they're still not sleeping through the night and we still bring them in our room when they wake up for a feed but they now go back to sleep instead of nursing all night. At the very least we now have our evenings and naptimes to ourselves again. So yay for keeping the AM baby snuggles while finally getting some sleep AND more mama and dad solo time!

A (finally) well-rested Maigen

*I have literally been attached to my babies for 16 months (ok maybe the first 8 don't really count) and I know, without a doubt, what is an actual "I need you" cry and what is an "Uhh, not cool mom, I want to be up/out there/sucking for fun/fighting sleep" yelp or howl. As much as CJ would like to think their little arias or coughs are distress I know otherwise.  They're FINE. Just let them BE. Like I said, if an 8 month could manipulate a grown man, these girls have got it DOWN...

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