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