Calling all parents of multiples

I have been thinking of you a lot recently as I see more and more multiples in my private practice. Trying to get into a rhythm with one baby can be challenging, attempting to do this with multiples can be exponentially more intense, with two or more infants with similar needs, needing you, at the same time, nearly all the time. Here are some suggestions that may help. Firstly, if your multiples were born at 37 weeks then you can use their actual age, otherwise I tend to adjust to the corrected age and find that if they were born in the early weeks of the final trimester then ultimately you may discover that their sleep-related age is halfway between the actual and the adjusted. But for now, work from adjusted age ranges.

It may be helpful to make some initial decisions around sleeping spaces and to mention that as soon as they are mobile then a separate sleep space each is recommended and for all infants, I suggest a full-size cot by 4 months onwards. I find that multiples may sleep better if space allows for the cots to be parallel to each other so that they can see, hear, and sense each other. At this stage, it may be spatially necessary to move them into their own room- and the parent can share with them until you deem it is appropriately. Within this guidance you probably are hearing that generally, when possible, I do try and keep them together, whilst I appreciate often it can be that with twins, you take a child each- when establishing positive sleep practices, I am focused on what you would like for them, and work on that basis. This helps to set the scene too for bed and nap routines that can happen simultaneously as you will see below.

As soon you feel able, it is a good idea to implement an age-related feeding and sleeping balance to your day. You can find this content in either of my books or in my online courses. I tend to work on the concept of a wake window or profile that describes the amount of time that a baby will be awake before becoming ready to sleep, be it bed or nap time.

The idea is that you are both observing your child’s sleep signals- such as brief eye rubs and yawns and simultaneously having an idea of how long they are awake before they will benefit from being prepared for sleep. This information is based largely on their age and on the anticipated sleep pressure that rises before a nap that will helpfully relieve this. I find it helpful to know that the wake profile in the morning for babies under 8 weeks of age may only be forty-five minutes to not more than one and a half hours, and ultimately not exceed two hours throughout the day. It’s similarly important that you can be flexible in this and learn what your own children may do when sleep time becomes relevant. The same is true for feeds.

Having worked with thousands of families with multiples it always appears that they can’t help but to create a flexible rhythm to the day and that providing feeds and sleep simultaneously, naturally occurs. To help this further I do make a few suggestions such as waking them both within fifteen minutes of each other, once one of them has woken in the morning after 6am and no later than 7.30am. This can help synchronise the day from both a feed and a sleep perspective. I propose once awake, get up and start the day and expose to bright and when possible, morning light and start the day with your first feed within about half an hour. These actions help to regulate the body clock, set the tone for the feeds for the rest of the day and make room for the first nap. I then continue this practise throughout the day-waking them within fifteen to thirty minutes of each, adjusting appropriately, so that they are mostly in sync. Generally, I find that with this assistance, multiples have a beautiful way of synchronising their sleep experiences which can make this instensive time a little smoother.
Within in this, I entirely appreciate their individuality and differing needs, but at the same time understand that if you were to have two of three opposing schedules through the day, you will potentially be running on less than empty. From this guidance you will probably understand that I tend to try to have sleep occurring at the same time, with one major task that I really encourage parents of multiples to establish is the concept of one parent, two/three children and one bed and/or nap routine. I appreciate it can feel easier to stagger or to take a child each, but if the art of just one parent can be established early, then once more, I find things can be continually refined and made simpler for you.

Your routine can be 10-20 minutes of preparation in the bedroom that the sleep will be happening in. This could mean that the final milk feed is offered in the living space and then once they have been bathed or cleaned up, the rest of what is part of the bedtime ritual is bedroom centric. Taking them together to the room that can be dimmed with low lighting. Initially changing the first child into their sleep clothes and sleeping bag and then the next one and then engaging in some calm, connected activity together such as cuddles, book-sharing, story-telling or low impact play before placing them in their respective cots. Under 6 months I would encourage my percentage of wakefulness approach which means that you practice having them awake going into the cot with support provided they are not overly distressed. If your multiples are older than 6 months, then I propose my stay and support approach instead, which means that once in the cots, another adult will be helpful so that we can now take a child each for this staged-based learning phase, if required.
With reference to nighttime feeding, I am inclined to allow them to wake naturally and feed on that basis. If they are waking at different times and this is very disruptive then you can attempt to feed the other child, after having fed the first one and see does that help synchronise overnight activity. It may not and you can review this and see whether it is worth just allowing the night to naturally evolve with all the other practices that you are implementing, as set out. Once they are older than 7 months adjusted, and on three solid meals a day then a night weaning exercise can then be explored so that you all move towards more consolidated nights without a feed for either child.

As with any guidance I ever provide don’t feel under pressure, remember that it can all feel intense and overwhelming, and you will be doing your best and so will they. More than ever a strong support network will be helpful as well as peer-support from multiple parents that have gone before you.

Photo by Edward Cisneros on Unsplash