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Twins, Multiples, and Closely Aged Siblings – Part II

We had SO many great questions about twins and siblings that we thought it might be helpful to post more of an informal Q/A blog. Scroll down through and we hope you’ll find some helpful information relevant to your particular situation.

Meg (right) and her twin sister. Some of Meg’s fondest memories with her sister are falling asleep together in their shared room.

Questions and Answers:

What do I do if one twin/sibling sleep needs some improvement but the other twin/sib is sleeping well? I’m afraid one will wake the other so I just keep doing what I’m doing!

There are two main options in this case and they depend a bit on your child and set up of your house or apartment.

Option One: The first option (and one we find most parents choose) is to just do it! Embrace the fact that one child will disrupt the other as you embark on change and prepare yourself for how you will respond to two babies in the night instead of one (and perhaps line up some help during the day so you can nap or start on a weekend). Decide if each child will have his/her own caregiver in the night or if one caregiver will tend to more than one child. It’s important to note in the approach with one caregiver for more than one child, one caregiver (ex Dad) may be handling, say an 11pm wake up while a different caregiver (ex Mom) may handle bedtime and, say a 2am wake up. This can work as long as your children are familiar and comfortable with BOTH caregivers. In the short term you will have a spike of sleep disruption – the whole, “it gets worse before better” adage will be doubly true for you. But, in the end your babies or children will be used to sleeping in the location you desire and get used to each others’ little wiggles and grunts in the night.

Option Two: The second option is to MOVE one child out. Typically you move the more adaptable/predictable sleeper out. For example, perhaps your 3 year old moves to a guest room or mattress on your floor, while you are working on transitioning your baby into what will become a shared room. Or, your twin who is sleeping well moves into a pack n play in your room temporarily as you work on improving your other child’s sleep. The biggest potential downside in this scenario is that the child you move out may start to enjoy his/her new location and not wish to go back into his/her room. So, this strategy tends to work best for adaptable children.

I’m afraid one child will wake the other as I try to make changes to improve things.

Yes, this is a real concern to parents and similar to Question 1. Even parents whose children have shared a room well for a long time find this to be the case from time to time during illness or after travel.

If your baby is having trouble falling asleep and goes to bed before your older child – you can probably do all of your sleep interventions at bedtime BEFORE your older child goes off to bed.

If your older child goes to bed before the baby (which happens quite often if a younger child is napping and older child is no longer), then wait until your older child is in deep sleep (about 45mins to an hour or so after he’s gone to bed) and bring your baby in to bed to start work. (In this scenario it may be helpful to give your older child a heads up in a calm, non stressful way that s/he may hear the baby in the night and assure them you will be helping the baby get back to sleep.) In deep sleep your older child probably won’t even be awaked if you are in the room doing a lot of interaction with your baby and even if your baby does wake your toddler, at that time of night it would typically be very easy to comfort him back to sleep quickly.

This is all more tricky if both children have the same bedtime and/or if you think most of you work will happen in the second half of the night or early morning. In that case, see Question #1 about whether it makes sense to temporarily separate or just to embrace the resulting wake ups. The biggest trouble spot will come in the second half of the night when sleep pressure is lower and it’s harder to go back to sleep if awakened. For adaptable older siblings you may wish to transfer them into another room for this part of the night until the baby is on track (kind of like a “free pass” into another room if baby wakes them loudly). Another option is to solve your baby’s sleep problems in your room FIRST, and then combine siblings – working out any additional lingering minor issues at that time.

When is the best age to combine siblings in the same room. The AAP recommends room sharing with your baby for at least 6 months. If you have the option to choose, the best time to combine sibs is when night sleep is predictable. And by predictable we don’t necessarily mean sleeping through the night. Predictable may mean one or two quick feedings with well consolidated sleep in between. If you can tiptoe in quickly, and feed or care for a baby quietly, this can work well for you. For some babies this is as early as 5-6 months and for others it’s not until closer to 9-12 months. Use yourself as a rule of thumb; if your baby is still very unpredictable and waking you frequently it’s probably not the best time to combine siblings.

Sometimes a compromise strategy will include partial night room sharing. Your baby may share a room with his/her sibling for the first (generally more predictable stretch) of the night allowing parents to have some alone time in their room. Then, after a night feeding and transition into generally more unpredictable sleep, you may bring the baby back into your room to finish up the night.

I’m afraid my toddler will put something unsafe into my baby’s crib. This is also a very real concern and it’s important to know your child and what they like to get into. Baby proofing and making the shared room simple is a good start. Keeping small toys/pieces/legos/etc out of the bedroom is essential. Teaching safety is important too. Just as you would start early teaching about road safety or climbing (gently saying, “no road, danger” or “no climb, danger”) with simple, calm, clear instructions you would do with a toddler trying to put something in baby’s crib. If your child is just too unpredictable you may not be able to combine the children at this time.

Nap transitions and twins with different sleep needs. We have a four part napping series in our Resource Blog and hopefully you found that helpful in figuring out expectations and norms for your baby. The link for the nap transition blog is located here. Most families with twins or multiples prefer their children to be on roughly the same nap schedule. It would be difficult for one baby twin to nap in the morning and afternoon while another baby twin naps midday. You’d have napping babies all day long! The dicey part can happen when one baby is ready to transition and the other isn’t. In that case, remember your 20/30 minute rule from Part I of this blog!

For example: Baby A is 14 months and is not ready to transition and needs more sleep than her twin brother. Baby B is 14 months and ready, but his parents want him on the same schedule as his sister. Sample schedule: Baby B always wakes first at 6:30am and wakes his sister shortly thereafter. Baby A is ready for her first nap at 9am and sleeps well until 10:30am. Baby B needs a short morning nap so he’ll nap again in the afternoon, so he goes down for his morning nap at 9:45am – 10:30am (in a separate room) when both babies are up. Baby A and Baby B are tired and ready for their second nap at 2pm and sleep well until 3:30pm (in the same room). Baby A and Baby B get ready for bed together, but since they stand and talk to each other, Baby A gets put to bed first around 8pm and then Baby B about 20- 30 mins later. Baby B has a 10 hour night and approx 2 hours of daytime naps, and Baby B has a 10.5 hour night and approx 3 hours of day sleep. Both babies are within the average goal range for their age and on roughly the same schedule. As noted here you can also make room adjustments for twins and as long as you are consistent within those individual changes (ie: baby B naps in a separate room in the mornings but not in the afternoon) your baby will understand.

Changing bedtimes as nap transitions occur. This scenario may come up as described in the twin example above, but more commonly happens with different aged siblings sharing a room. If your children will share a room long term, try to avoid the habit of using “staying up later” as a milestone or rewards for growing up, or having a new sibling. As room sharing siblings grow, there will be times when their bedtimes will trade places and an older child may go to bed earlier than a younger! An 8 month old with three naps will go to bed later than a 3 year old who is no longer napping and a napping 3 year old will go to bed later then a non napping 4 year old. A napping 20 month old may go to bed later than a non napping 3 year old, and a napping 4 year old may be up later than a non napping 7 year old. (Keep in mind, these examples assume similar wake times for both children sharing a room).

What do you do about a younger sibs naps when older has an unavoidable activity (like therapy). Babies are adaptable and although it’s ideal to have naps taking place in the most sleep promoting environment – like a crib in a cool, dark room – it’s sometimes not possible. Whether it’s because your 3 year old has gymnastics one morning a week at 9:30am or your 4 year old has doctor prescribed therapy, it’s all about timing. If music or gym class is important to you try to keep it to just once or twice a week and try to schedule a class when your baby can nap en route or be worn in a soft carrier during the sibling’s class if s/he’ll sleep there. If morning nap was short due to an activity prioritize your baby’s afternoon nap and start it a little earlier than usual to help him/her catch up.

Can a toddler and infant share a room through teething, colds, change successfully? Teething, illness, travel, and pain can disrupt even non room sharing children and room sharing sibs are no exception. Although you may end up having “double trouble” for a few nights if one child is waking the other, if your baseline sleep was good before the disruption you should return to that quickly after the illness has resolved. And, the plus side of room sharing can be so worth it – connection of siblings as they grow, a little time to chat/coo quietly as they fall off to sleep, having the comfort of another person in the room. It can be wonderful for them too!

A personal note: Most of you know Meg has 4 little girls born within 5 1/2 years. Meg has two sets of room sharing siblings who have shared a room since infancy. Erin has two little boys who also share a room. Although our children are great sleepers, we still go through some of the same regressions, temperament nuances (er, tantrums?), illnesses, shifting sleep needs, and just occasional bad nights that you do! We thought it would be fun to share some real life photos!

A summer weekend in a two bedroom rental. I can’t say this night went smoothly – it was very hot, VERY dark, and C had a tantrum at bedtime and ended up on the floor on pillows with us to be closer. M got up to go potty around midnight, but got lost in the dark and ended up scared in the pitch black kitchen so I slept in her bed to comfort her. All legit in a new place, and all in a nights work when you have several little ones – next year we will bring a nightlight!
Meg: Our third child is unique, and tests every aspect of sleep at all times and always has. I have to be on my toes to maintain good sleep with her and even her best sleep isn’t as good as her siblings, though she is well rested on the whole. I have come to accept this. This photo was taken during a sleep training episode. Our goal was to transition C FROM a crib mattress in our room (started due to some nighttime anxiety/dreams which we wanted to be supportive of) back TO sleeping in her own, shared room with her little sister. Daddy moved into the bed on the floor for a week to ease the transition and then gradually moved out. It went well and she is still in her room where we prefer unless it thunders or she has a bad dream. Oh and yup, that’s a pacifier in my 2 year old’s mouth!  🙂

Sometimes you need the help of the older siblings if you are on your own most nights putting a lot of kids to bed!

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