8 Steps To Sleep Training Twins: The Myth and The Legend

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Everyone tells you to get sleep while you can before the baby is born. Everyone tells you to rest and relax, and enjoy every last moment of silence. Easier said than done. For all those who have been pregnant with multiples you know that sleep escaped you at about 5 months along. You were huge, and unwieldy and simply lying down or getting up, turned into a 3-ring circus. Then your little bundles of joy arrive and you are through the moon … that your belly no longer enters the room 5 minutes before you do. Sleep is a thing of the past, but you prepared for it right? Yea, right.

Fast forward a couple months, and you keep hoping they’ll sleep through the night. But when they do sleep longer than a couple of hours you automatically think something is wrong. This cute “we don’t sleep” charade goes on for a couple more months and all of a sudden your 2AM search history is filled with tips and tricks to get twins to sleep through the night. You read articles and buy books but every bit of advice is directed at people with ONE baby. It’s literally like someone did a “Find and Replace” for “baby” in a book about sleep training twins and replaced it with “babies.” News flash, there is a difference between sleep training a baby versus babies.l-sutton-sleep-training-twins

This is for all those moms and dads of twins who are desperate to know the trick to sleep training your babies. Well, I don’t have a trick but I can tell you what I did, and what I did worked.

As with many twins, our babies were breast and bottle-fed. They continued to wake up one to three times a night even at about the 7-month mark. Shockingly they would go to sleep all on their own (maybe we were lucky with this). The problem was that they would wake up multiple times in the middle of the night and not necessarily be all the unhappy. However, the only thing that would make them go back to sleep was milk. My husband and I found ourselves always feeding them in the middle of the night because we too wanted to sleep – and letting them “Cry It Out” seemed counter productive (we wouldn’t be sleeping because they would be crying, and if one baby was sleeping he would surely be woken up when they other was having their special CIO time). It was a quick 10 minute bottle and off they went, back to dream land. As a working mom, my sleep is precious. And as much as I loved snuggling with the babies in the middle of the night, I realized I had to give that up to be able to function the next day.

Here’s how we finally got some shuteye, and our house became a happier place. Enter the twin version of “Graduated Extinction.”

  1. I chose a time were I would be OK without having much sleep (I mean relative speaking). I had 2 weeks off around the Christmas holiday. This was the perfect time. This is critically important. With one baby you can sleep train whenever because so what if you are up for 2 hrs in the middle of the night. But with two, you are up for 2 hrs with one, and then right after you are up with the other. Oh the joy.
  2. I knew that the babies were consuming enough calories during the day to be able to forego their middle of the night bottle(s).
  3. I did read several books about the CIO method and settled on a variation that seemed like one I could tolerate: Graduated Extinction. With Graduated Extinction you gradually let the babies CIO in intervals, adding time to each “set”. 
  4. I chose to sleep train the babies at the exact same time in the same room. I noticed that some moms/dads mentioned splitting them up but I went with my gut. How would they be used to each other’s cries for the long term if they were in separate rooms? While our sleep training would take a bit longer, the end result would hopefully be permanent.
  5. Our first night was special. As always our babies went to sleep just fine but low and behold they awoke in the middle of the night. Since I only had 2 weeks to make this sleep training work I was motivated. I would not and could not pick up or feed the babies. Whether it was both or one of the babies, I would follow the same method.
  6. The baby or babies would call out/cry/scream and I would immediately tend to them, but I would not pick them up. I would make sure they had their pacifier, I would make sure they were comfortable, and I would rub their back (one of our babies liked the back rub, the other did not). I would not speak to them, pick them up, or feed them.
  7. I would quickly exit the room and wait for 5 minutes. If the crying/fussing continued I would enter after 5 minutes. Pacifier. Back rub. Switfly leave the room.
  8. Then I would wait 10 minutes. And repeat. 15 minutes. And repeat. Etc.

That first night was a doozy. It was a total of 2 hrs and 45 minutes before that little monster fell back asleep. I can’t say the next night was much better, or the next, or that first week. But I could tell that they were starting to understand that there was no middle of the night milk treat. There were ups and downs. Sometimes they would wake at the same time, sometimes even right after the other had fallen asleep. But the process still stayed the same. We explained the method to our friends, family, and babysitters to ensure that everyone understood what we were doing. And don’t you know – after 2-ish weeks, we cut out the middle of the night milk and we were sleeping through the night. We definitely have had relapses, and there have been special circumstances (a sick baby, a very, very wet/dirty diaper) where we have had to alter our nighttime routine but for the most part, we sleep.

My advice to you: Don’t wait as long as we waited. Commit to sleep training early, and commit to following through. Set aside time where you can easily give up even more sleep than you’re used to. Good luck comrades, I raise a bottle to you.

About the Author

Nice to meet you, I'm Lindsay. I am a working mom of twin boys (born in April 2014) - which means life isn't crazy, it's BANANAS. I work at an advertising agency in Boston, MA where I specialize in social media and content. I also happen to moonlight as a Spin instructor. So if you're ever looking for new workout music or inspiration, I'm your gal. I love ice cream more than air, I can't stand when people step on the backs of my shoes, I love to ski, swear like a sailor, never wear my hair down, am very sarcastic, have a husband who is an amazing kiteboarder and stay-at-home dad, and a husky named Maverick.
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