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Sleeping through the night

Yesterday I had a conversation with a woman who has one child, a singleton 16-month old little boy. She kept telling me she doesn't know "how I do it" with two 16-month olds, all that waking up in the night. Truth is, our toddlers sleep through the night. We put them to bed at 8 pm and they wake up at 8 am.

Sleeping through the night is a hot topic with young children. The first year, sleeping through the night is a relative term. A newborn needs to eat more frequently than a 10-month old. After the one-year mark, I want to sleep through the night, fully. I don't want a relative term. Sometimes I find that other moms use "sleeping through night" when they don't mean it. I have heard moms say their children sleep through the night when 1. they co-sleep 2. they "only" go in the nursery once or twice or 3. they have no set bedtimes. My first "slept through the night." We usually put him to bed around 8 pm. After a year old, he usually went to sleep in his own bed and he would crawl into our bed at some point in the night (he co-slept the entire first year). We usually heard him at some point in the night, even if we didn't go in to him; oftentimes, we were in the nursery once or twice in the night. Did he sleep through the night? I thought so. Then I had twins.

My twins sleep through the night. We followed Twelve Hours in Twelve Weeks: A Step-by-Step Plan for Baby Sleep Success by Suzy Giordano. We didn't start right away with a schedule. It wasn't really something I was interested in, having co-slept with my first and breastfed on demand. I wanted something that worked for all of us, but was sensitive to our children's needs. Our twins came home from the hospital on a schedule, eating every 3 hours, then every 4 hours. It worked for us. Around the time they were 10-weeks old, all hell broke loose. For 3 days, I slept on the nursery floor. They woke up at separate times at 45-minute intervals. Why? I don't know. I barely slept. I was stiff from sleeping on the floor in a comforter. I was tired from waking up so much. I didn't think they slept all day. I didn't play with them at night. I didn't feed them when they woke up "off-schedule." I couldn't think of anything I was doing wrong. Thankfully, there was a twin group meeting that week. I dragged my disheveled self to the meeting and asked, "What should I do?!" A fellow twin mom recommended 12 Hours in 12 Weeks. I went out and bought it the next day, devouring the book in 45-minutes and writing our new schedule that very evening.

I immediately noticed improvement. We slowly moved in the right direction until our twins were right on schedule. They "slept through the night." We fed them at 10 pm and again at 7 am. During the day, they took a one-hour nap in the morning and a two-hour nap in the afternoon: three "baby free" hours. I even got my two-year old to take an afternoon nap during their naptime. It was glorious. We had to make sacrifices, such as scheduling appointments and playdates at times that "worked" for us. I ran errands at times that "fit in our schedule." When family came to town, I made sure my husband supported my endeavors to keep our twins "on schedule." Sometimes that meant ending playtime with the grandparents early for nap or reminding my dad that no matter how warm the babies are, they may not nap on him. (My dad is a baby-nap magnet.) My husband and I preferred to feed the babies their bottles so they drank them "on schedule," no dilly-dallying. Our schedule was posted throughout the house. That first year, my husband could call from school and know exactly what we were doing at any given time. There were sacrifices, but there were huge rewards. I felt rested. I knew I had "me time" in the afternoons. I had time for laundry and cooking dinner. I showered. When we put the kids to bed, we had time to ourselves in the evening. The babies slept at night between feedings, no going in the nursery "one or two times." We did not go in the nursery at all between the 10 pm feeding and the 7 am feeding. Not on principle, but because the babies slept.

We got rid of the 10 pm feeding. The babies started sleeping from their last feeding at 7 pm to their first feeding at 7 am. Yes, the evenings were fussy. We pushed the 7 pm feeding up to about 6:30 pm to put an end to the fussiness. We loved the schedule. I loved the sleep. The first year, though, there are a lot of hiccups. The babies get angry because of developmental stages: they want to crawl, but can't yet. They want to hold the spoon. They don't want a sippy cup or whatever. And that terror called teething. Teething was a major problem at our house. Our 16-month olds have 14 teeth each. When their teeth started coming in, they came in pairs and groups! All of these things mess with the schedule. When teething was bad, the babies would wake up in the night. Ironically, they woke up every 6 hours, when the Ibuprofen would wear off. Or a cold would hit our house and they would be congested, bless their hearts. We followed the sleep methods in the book and would get them back to sleep. When they had colds, we would let them sleep more upright in bouncey sets or their swings (strapped in). It helped them breath better.

A funny thing happened in our adventures in scheduling: the babies preferred to fall asleep in their cribs. I remember my oldest wanting me to rock him to sleep. He wanted to drift off in my arms and then be laid down in his cribs. The twins want to fall asleep on their own, in their cribs. We use things to make a consistent sleep environment: the Sleep Sheep (familiar sounds) and their blankets (has that "home" smell). They can fall asleep in Pack'N'Plays away from home or, of course, in their own cribs. It is very easy to put them to bed, much easier than putting our oldest to bed at the same age.

We've had varying nap schedules with them. The first year I stuck to the 12 Hours in 12 Weeks nap schedule. Around the time they turned a year old, we switched to one nap. It took place from 10 am to 2 pm. I loved that large block of time. I hated being strapped to the house during prime get-out-of-the-house hours. I fed them breakfast, let them play, then put them down to nap. When they woke up, they wanted to eat again, making it impossible to leave until 3 pm. I don't know if you've ever left the house with a toddler, but I can tell you that there aren't a lot of good places to go with two toddlers approaching 4 pm; that time starts getting close to the evening fussy hours. (Why do the evenings always mean fussy time?) Because I didn't like such a structured nap time, I started playing with the nap hours. Now we have a fluid nap schedule. If we are home all day, I may put them down around 10 am for a short morning nap. I may put them down around 11 am. I may put one down and let the other stay up. I shoot to give them each 2 hours of total naptime, all at once or 2 broken up naps. Usually, if they take a morning nap, they will still take almost a 2 hour afternoon nap, from about 3 to 5. I keep a Pack'N'Play up in our bedroom with a Sleep Sheep. That way I can lay them down at different times, if needed. Last weekend, they took opposite naps. One toddler went down at 10 am to 11:30 am. The other toddler went down to nap at 11:30 am to 2 pm. The first toddler went down from 2 pm to 4 pm. The second toddler went down from 4 pm to 6 pm. We had 2 hours with both toddlers, then they went to bed at 8 pm. When school starts, I plan on wearing them out in the morning and giving one long afternoon nap. Even with changing naptimes, they still sleep through the night. If they started having issues sleeping through the night, I wouldn't change their nap schedules so much. They also have personalities that support varying naptimes. It has worked well for us.

But, when I say they sleep through the night, they truly sleep through the night. We put them to bed at 8 pm. Sometimes they wake up at 9:30 am. Sometimes 10 am. Sometimes 7:30 am. One week, one of the twins woke up between 6:30 and 7:00 am consistently. I worried he was a morning person, but, thankfully, he fell back on schedule. Our summer plans have varied. Some mornings we are leaving early; others, late. Some days we are home all day and it doesn't matter what time we wake up. When school starts, I will set a wake up time again.

There are a few things that I wish I had done a little differently the first year. Putting them on a schedule is not one of them. There were hard times, but we stuck to it. And it has paid off. As Jane Roper says in Double Time: How I Survived--and Mostly Thrived-- Through the First Three Years of Mothering Twins:
I suspect that some of our friends and acquaintances thought we were uptight crazies for planning our lives around the girls' nap schedules and insisting on putting them down to bed every night, in their own cribs, at seven o'clock sharp. We knew plenty of singleton parents who toted their babies around at all hours... But when those rock and roll babies hit the one-year mark and still weren't sleeping through the night... several of our friends sheepishly asked us: um, how did you do it? ...When you've got twins, you don't mess around with sleep routines. You can't, or you'll never have a moment's rest yourself. Which isn't to say that it it's easy, but it can be done. Stick to your guns. You may even end up the envy of your singleton parent friends.
As for my oldest, while I was pregnant with the twins, we cracked down on the co-sleeping. By the time the babies were born, he was sleeping through the whole night in his own bed. When we potty-trained him at 3 years and 3 months, we taught him how to use the restroom, get some food, and entertain himself until Mommy wakes up (he has always been a morning person). Most mornings, by the time I wake up, he has eaten a banana and some cereal and is playing with his Star Wars toys or puzzles quietly at the table. I love waking up to, "Good morning, Momma! How did you sleep?" Such a sweet boy.

My blogs on scheduling twins the first year:


Shannon said…
I totally agree with all of this! I started my twins on a schedule at 7 weeks, & they were sleeping 9 hrs at night at 10 wks. It is tough to hear others remarks on the rigidity, but I wouldn't have done it any other way. I remember when my MIL visited when the twins were 3 months old, & didn't understand why I'd rather have dinner at home than go out to a restaurant w the babies. She felt that they should adapt to our plans, not the other way around. Well, it wasn't too long after that she was amazed that they would just lay down & go to sleep! My twins are now 4 1/2, & have pretty much had the same bedtime schedule since they were infants. It really does make a difference in regulating their little bodies & their behavior. We've never really had meltdowns due to being overtired.
Cheryl Lage said…
Kimber, we too were ardent worked SO well for them, and for us too. Enjoy those babies...and the REST!
Kimber said…
Shannon, our respective families have each had times where they questioned our strict scheduling. However, they both have done well respecting our parenting decisions and helping us stick to our schedule, even when they felt it was a little too structured! Sometimes, it helped explaining why we made the decisions we did. Sometimes, we just had to politely stick to our guns and they slowly would come around!

Cheryl, my biggest problem now is that pre-baby (was there ever such a time?) I was a night owl and I've always been a voracious reader. With all our boys reliably sleeping through the night, my night owl tendencies come out and I read into the morning hours. I'm not sure what time I read to last night, but I need a second cup of coffee this morning! Even with the boys sleeping until 9 am... :P

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