None of the following is as straightforward and simple as it appears. That is my warning. Establishing good sleep seems to be a circular process at times, and is certainly affected by sickness, teething, growth/developmental spurts, and growing up.
The other thing that affects baby sleep is YOUR mood. No lie. It affects them in general, I think, especially when very little. Having twins, I learned some valuable skills that I still use now – such as consciously relaxing my entire body when they were both tiny and screaming. This would inevitably calm and relax them….whereas on the occasions I was tense, the screaming would notch up a level.
End of disclaimer.
Daytime sleep – the wonderful, all powerful nap. This was something I knew would be important from the get go. With two babies, you want tandem sleep. I thought.
I don’t honestly remember much of the first few weeks, but sleep was a near constant thing. I think Coconut may have dropped a sleep between feeds first? We just totally followed their lead. Around six weeks I bought a bunch of sleep books which have since been discarded.
I don’t remember if it was eat, play, sleep or play, eat, sleep – I suspect the second, though again, we just followed all hunger and sleep cues.
That continued as the babies aged, and certain (slow) patterns began to emerge. We are now at one good long nap a day, though we had two jolly nice naps for months before they outgrew it.
How did I do it? I didn’t. Not really. The babies did. (And no matter all the tips in the world below, none will work till your baby/toddler is developmentally ready!)
First rule: never put a wide awake baby down for a nap just because you need a break, you think they should be sleeping, or the clock says they should be sleeping. If we tried sleep and it didn’t work, back on the floor they went to play and we tried again five minutes later. This saved a lot of wailing on their parts, and stress on mine.
Second rule: You need to be pretty cued into your baby in terms of knowing how they show if they are sleepy, happy, hurting, etc.
Each baby got what they needed to sleep – be it babywearing (TMD and myself are both experts at wearing a baby to sleep and then getting them down safely onto the sofa – soft structured carriers, ringslings, wraps. They are all doable. Or, of course, you can let the baby sleep on/with you!), cuddles, bouncing, etc etc.
Gradually certain sleep cues were built in. This was a special toy for Coconut (Pooh, which evolved into her much beloved transitional object and best friend Bunny) and a muslin to suck and hold for Snort. It also involved contact with me, and singing. They do have milk before most sleeping, but milk does not really function as a sleep cue for them, a thing I am very very glad about!
I very consistently sang the same song for every nap (and nighttimes, but you’ll read about that later). I very consistently made sure they had their special thing-a-ma-jig to cuddle. I very consistently would pick them up to calm and cuddle if they got upset…which was rare, as I tried to respond to their needs, made changes very slowly, etc….consequently, they’ve generally been happy during going-to-sleep times. Generally.
I guess you could say the sleeping rules came into effect. They knew what to expect, and so did I….to a point, anyway.
Gradually holding them while rocking switched to rocking till they were dozy, then holding them still. This morphed into just holding them still, which in turn led to putting them down on the couch, me sitting between them with a hand on each tummy/back (and, of course, the endless fucking singing and cuddle toys).
Eventually I would lift my hand away before they were totally asleep…. I then stopped sitting on the couch and began to sit on the floor…which morphed, in time, to putting them straight onto the couch to sleep and them smiling up at me, grabbing their toy, and curling up like little cats.There was even a blissful period where me beginning to sing cued them to run around and grab their toys, and then come up to the couch all ready to sleep.
All of these changes happened slowly and naturally, with no conscious planning.
Third rule: If you try to make a change and it doesn’t work with your baby/toddler, it could be because it’s not suited to you. Or, it could be that you are changing too much, too fast – or, as was often the case in our house, your baby/toddler just isn’t ready.
My contact with them has changed over the course of their sleeptimes – at this point, I keep my face quite neutral, I don’t initiate picking up (but if they ask I will always do so), I don’t make a lot of eye contact. This used to sound heartless to me and I wouldn’t use this approach with baby babies, but I know I am their best love and plaything, so I provide physical warmth and closeness without trying to engage them too much intellectually. Of course there are always times I hold eye contact as one or the other drifts off to sleep, and that’s lovely, too.
This also is not something I made a conscious decision to do, but once we moved into the time when both babies would sleep on either side of me while I sat in the middle, it was impossible to look at/engage with them both at the same time, anyway. The hand on the back is still how I offer them some love and reassurance if they need it. I find that certain patterns of shhing that they are used to also work wonders.
At this point in time, I can sing the sleep song while walking around (though I try not to as I think I’m a distraction) or sitting on the other couch, and they’ll go to sleep by ‘themselves.’ I’m currently morphing the singing into humming the song as they get sleepy, which will eventually phase the song out – not that I’m in any hurry to do so. I like it.
Sounds easy, hey?
Well, I went through a very bad period when Coconut dropped down to one nap and Snort was not ready. I am entering a new bad period where Coco takes much shorter naps than Snort. Responding to each babies’ needs has consistently meant that Coconut’s sleep needs changed before Snort’s did. And even now, there are days where a baby (or two) needs some kissing, cuddling, rocking. Usually, though, it’s some milk, some singing, and then sleep.
If they are obviously tired and just messing around, I am very consistent in lovingly saying, ‘It’s time for sleeping now,’ then firmly putting them back on their spot. (Though on occasion I’ve practically thrown Snort back onto the couch as he acrobatically rolled off the couch!) They now know ‘It’s time for sleeping now’ means no more playing, they need to lie down, etc.
We have found that naps set the tone for bedtimes and night sleep in our house, but that post will be coming next. No doubt TMD will be much funnier than I am, and I believe I have some awesome pictures (*ahem* videos, too!) of her tandem babywearing while marching up and down the lounge singing….and her head all wrapped up in a pashmina so no one can pull her hair. It’s hot.
I can’t stress enough that if you choose to be baby led in terms of letting them gradually develop a schedule that perfectly suits their little bodies and minds (and only possible, I guess, if you are a stay at home mum?) it requires a lot of patience, trust, and long sightedness. We decided early on to never do controlled crying or crying it out with the babies – and TMD has been the one to religiously stick to this, even when I am tempted to let them howl from here to kingdom come.
This post obviously is aimed at people who want a sort of sleep time like we have, though many, many people are content to have their babies sleep all naps in slings, or they crawl into the family bed with their baby and nap too! All a-okay and super deluxe fine in my book.
As things stand, both Snort and Coconut nap on our big couch, while I hang out on the other couch. It’s important I get a chance to physically rest while they do – my days of babywearing all naptime or staying frozen in one position while babies nap all over my lap and boobs are over, as these all aggravate my SPD/PGP. Nighttime sleeping is also on the couch, with TMD co-sleeping beside them on a mattress on the floor.
We have been working hard at clearing out their room (read: dismantling cots, putting mattresses on the floor, and twin proofing), and our next steps will be moving them into their room for all daytime and nighttime sleeps. I think they are developmentally ready, though this (as all things are in our house) will be a slow transition and TMD will probably sleep in their room for awhile till they are used to it.
Reading over this, I can see from a wider perspective that we have tried to keep Snort and Coconut feeling safe and loved. We have done this however we needed to, and would never dream of stripping away all their reassurance in one go – like crying it out does. This means we genuinely have never had either baby cry to sleep.
I think the thing that has served us the best has been trying not to get too caught up in the stress of sleeping. If a nap gets screwed up, it gets screwed up. It’s not the end of the world, though it can feel like it at times. I have a pretty relaxed parenting style and tend to laugh rather than cry (mostly!) when things go pear shaped, and I think this is reflected in the kids….both are relaxed, happy babies. Thank god.
Any questions, please do ask. I probably forgot a lot of stuff, but I hope there is at least one nugget of goodness that the ladies who asked for help can use!
Much love and good sleep vibes to you all.
*The process focused on in this blog only happened once Snort and Coco were ‘older babies.’ I think the move to more independent sleeping only happened as they approached a year old, if memory serves me.