How to ace bedtime and night feeds with twins alone! From newborn to toddler phase.
When I was pregnant with twins, one of the (many) questions and anxieties spinning through my mind was…..
“How will I get my twins to sleep at night – when I’m alone?”
My husband often works late nights so I knew that 3 – 4 weeks into life with newborn twins, this was going to be something I had to master. I already had a 6 year old boy who still needed cuddles to fall asleep and I was anxious as to how I would successfully get twins to bed, and him with time to hopefully still eat in the evening and maybe put my feet up with some Netflix after it was all over!
After many different tried and tested techniques, the following hacks and tips ended up working best for our family. I can now confidently say that at age 2 – my twins are a complete dream to put to bed after a roller-coaster of sleep regressions and separation anxiety! Here is what worked…… These are not just sleep tips, but advice on how to make your entire evening run smoother – with a chance for you to take a much needed breather and recharge at the end of it!
Newborn and up to 6 months
Please, be kind to yourself during this phase. Chances are you will still be feeling a little exhausted from the birth and a possible nicu stay so try and be mindful to your own needs during this delicate time as the calmer and happier you are, your babies will pick up on that energy too. So if things seem overwhelming – ask for help.
Now I never thought I would be a mum that had my kids on a schedule, but having twins changed all of that for sure! You will make your life much easier if you keep your babies on roughly the same feeding, changing and sleep schedule as much as you can – also throughout the night. You really want to avoid twin 1 waking you for a feed, changing them / feeding them / winding them – then getting them back to sleep, only for you to fall asleep and then be woken 30 minutes later by twin 2 to repeat the same process. This is a sure-fire way to become a walking zombie. If, like me – 4 weeks in you had to be up early for a school run for older siblings – you’ll want to catch as many zzzzs as possible. (If these twins are your first foray into motherhood, please relish those early morning sleepy snooze snuggles without the pressure of an alarm clock!). So, keep your twins on the same routine, this will make things easier in the long run. At the beginning we were put on a four hour schedule due to one twin losing weight, and I’d say this is a good basis for newborns to avoid them getting too hungry (obviously be flexible to growth spurts etc and engage with your midwife or health practitioner on how to tell if babies are feeding correctly and enough). My partner and I would wake them every 4 hours and change and feed one each then settle back to sleep. I eventually took over this process alone when he returned to work and found night waking more challenging, I then moved onto a feeding pillow “>like this one as we were formula feeding and simply placed that on the bed to feed before winding and settling them back to sleep – this makes things much easier when feeding two babies alone. If you are breast feeding your twins you may want to invest in some kind of feeding cushion designed for this to make you more comfortable.
As time went on throughout this stage I would start to stretch the feeding times out throughout the night once our twin was back to her healthy weight – and really relied on my instincts to tell me how long to leave feeds. I slept with a very dim night light in the corner of the room and the twins were by my side in a cot that was placed right up to my side of the bed (a godsend, and something I highly recommend!), I kept them snuggled in next to each other as that’s how they liked to sleep.
During the early stages before they had a specific “bedtime” (around 3 months?) I would get them ready for bed, feed them and snuggle them in these amazing chairs that gently vibrated and played soothing music – with their favourite comforter. I would place them in these just outside their big brothers room while I read him a story and did snuggles before he went to sleep. We sleep trained our eldest when I was pregnant with twins as I was too big and uncomfortable to keep sitting on his bedroom floor while he drifted off! (More on this another day). This made bedtime with the twins much easier, If one twin was upset or restless I used to hold them throughout his stories. In this delicate phase I kept me expectations low, and remained flexible to their needs and tried not to panic if one was having an off night! I tried to keep bedtime as calm as possible, a little massage and some restful music can go a long way. Once my eldest was asleep they would rest (usually asleep) next to me in their comfy chairs until I went to bed, at that point I changed them and did a dream feed before settling them down for a night.
A note on daylight – as much natural daylight you can get with your babies during the day – the better they will sleep at night. Natural daylight helps them establish their body’s internal clock (or circadian rhythm), a walk outside in the fresh air with your pushchair can do wonders for your stress levels too!
Over 3 months.
It’s around this age that I felt being with me until my bedtime was affecting their rest, little noises started to wake them and we got exhausted whispering and tip toeing around them! This is when I began establishing a bedtime ritual for them, so by the time my eldest was asleep at around 7.30/8pm – everyone was tucked up in bed so we could have a bit of grown up time to unwind! When my partner was home one of us would do the eldest’s bedtime and the other the twins, however a couple of times a week I would be doing the whole routine alone, when doing this I kept to the following routine:
After dinner and the inevitable clean up (anyone else look like they’ve been burgled around this time?), around 6pm – I would dim the lights a little in our family room to create a more cosy atmosphere and tried to keep things as calm as possible! I let this be a little “free time” for my eldest son who was almost 7 at this point, he would watch a movie or some Netflix or be allowed a game on his Nintendo. I also put on some calming bedtime nursery rhymes for the babies to listen to, this would allow me to get some feeds ready for the twins and finish any last bits of tidying. I then got the babies changed and into their sleep suits, ready to be taken upstairs.
TIP! “If you are not confident carrying two babies upstairs at one time (I wasn’t), pop one strapped in a rocker / vibrating chair downstairs while you take one up to put safely in the cot upstairs. Depending on how old and responsible your other children may be, the eldest may have to join for this to avoid any “the baby was crying so I gave them my biscuit” moments! We kept a travel cot out in our family room from age 3 months to almost 2 years! We filled it with some soft play toys and small books and it was a godsend for moments like these – if you are home alone with your babies it pays to have a safe area in all rooms to put them down in if you need to, I found this incredibly useful when coming home from being somewhere with the pushchair. I kept it right close to the front door, so I could pop them in whilst I collapsed the pushchair knowing they were safe.”
Once everyone was ready we would move on upstairs, now if your elder children are quite young and not happy to sit alone – you can involve them in the bedtime baby process if suitable. Maybe all sit to look at books etc, this really depends on you and your child. Before my twins were born I honestly thought this would be what I did, but in reality my son was far too excitable to create a calm bedtime for the twins! So I found what worked best for us was letting him play and read quietly in his room while I put the twins to bed, I put the monitor on in his room so he could hear what I was doing and I could talk to him through it if I needed to. He was old enough to get washed and in his pjs himself, but if he needed a bath I did this after the twins were asleep.
After he had said goodnight to the babies and was happily in his room, I would feed the babies on “>one of these cushions (a must have!) with a night light on and some relaxing music (we love the Moshi app in this house!). Then it was winding, cuddles, a little massage, and goodnights. I tucked them up together in their bed and usually they were happy to drift off there (I think having each other helped with this process!). They used a dummy so I brought extra of the glow in the dark ones to have in their bed. Once this routine was over I would pop my eldest to bed with stories and cuddles and hopefully make it downstairs to relax! I found at this age the babies would wake a few times before I made it to bed for a dream feed, but this was usually to find a comforter or dummy. There was obviously the odd occasion where things wouldn’t go to plan: sickness, sleep regressions and heat waves can all throw a spanner in the works – but sticking to this routine as much as I could really helped.
*This is a good age to try out different comforters if your babies don’t have one, one of my twins got very attached to a fluffy bunny at this age entirely by accident and still has it to soothe her two year’s later!*
It was around this stage I also became a huge fan of white noise! Having a fan on while they were sleeping – as I discovered during a heat wave – made them settle quicker and sleep better, it helps drown out the noise from downstairs and also older children who struggle to keep quiet at bedtime! We still use white noise now, at the age of two!
One to two years
At this age, emotions can start to run high in toddlers and tantrums usually start. For this reason I think the key to a successful bedtime is all about creating a routine they know and like, and makes them feel calm. If you have other children that are close in age to your twins, I’d suggest keeping them on a similar routine when tackling bedtime alone. If they are too small to have a quiet play in their bedrooms while your twins have a bedtime story and cuddles, have this be their time to look at some books or do some colouring / stickering next to you while your twins feed and get tucked in. If you have a very energetic smaller child, maybe reserve their afternoon screen time for this moment when tackling bedtime by yourself. Experts would probably disagree with me here but I’ve had a very high energy toddler and like to be realistic!
Once dinner is over (this tends to be a messy affair in our house) I like to let them do a little creative play in their high chairs while I finish up with the kitchen, then its upstairs to bath. This is a good place to start the winding down process so I like to choose bath products that have a calming element to them. If you have older siblings like me, I use this as their me time with a little Netflix or Nintendo or whichever they prefer – if they also need a bath – I do this once the twins are tucked up in bed. Once bathed we have a quiet play in their bedroom whilst they get into their pajamas, then we head downstairs for some bedtime nursery rhymes, warm milk and books snuggled on the sofa. If you are still breast feeding you could do this now, or wait until just before you put them down – that’s entirely up to you. This is a good moment for older children to get washed and in their pajamas ready now, making later a bit easier.
We head upstairs about 7pm, my eldest child uses this time to read quietly in his room – or on non school nights, will watch a movie in bed to allow me some time to focus on the twins. If you have smaller children close in age to your twins I’d do this next part altogether: we put some nice calm music on in the nursery and keep the lights dim. I also make my own aromatherapy spray with a gentle calming scent and give the room a few sprays of this, then we read books on the floor and have cuddles – as they have gotten a bit older there is generally more silliness, song singing and occasional bed jumping but I just go with this and let them get it out of their system! Then I tuck them in, pop on a sleepy story (again, love the Moshi app for this) and its lights out. Nine times out of ten they are quite happy by this point to drift off in their beds without my help – but it did take a lot of sleep training to get there. We have an occasional meltdown if over tiredness, illness or sleep regressions hit but I try and just comfort that child (I find with twins, these things never hit at the same time) until sleepy enough to be laid down happily.
I’ll talk more about sleep training another time but what I found worked for us was a more gentle approach, I’d cuddle then put them down with my hand rested on their leg and if they got upset I’d do another cuddle then pop they back in their cot. Once they were not crying I would keep my hand on them for a while, then sit on the floor until asleep. Once this process was mastered, I would just need to sit on the floor for a while as they settled, this progressed into me leaving the room as they were more and more awake. If they cried I would just pop my head back in the door and reassure them, then pop downstairs for a second – maybe to grab a glass of water, if they were still crying after this I’d go back in there and repeat. Although after a few days of this process they shocked my by crying for maybe 20 seconds then just chatting to each other as the drifted off. You need to use a method that works for you, I never wanted to do a cry it out method – it felt unnatural to me, so I found a gradual retreat worked best. After a few weeks of this – you need to be patient – they were happy to nod off in their bedroom without any assistance from me.
If you are struggling with sleep training and need some guidance there are somewonderful books and resources out there, I highly recommend the “no cry sleep solutions book for toddlers” – these methods helped me hugely with all of my children. My biggest piece of advice after sleep training 3 children would be to stay calm. I know, the struggle is real! BUT if you are huffing and puffing and pleading with someone to “just go to sleep!” – chances are they wont feel very relaxed, get someone to try it on you! It will pass, and if you can keep your voice and behavior as calm as possible that will rub off on them. Children are like energy sponges! If you feel frustrated sitting on their floor, or cuddling an upset child the time will go very very slowly. Make the most of these close moments and cuddles, smell their hair, kiss their cheeks – think about how freakin amazing they are. I use to sit on the floor and do some calming breaths or a few yoga poses to feel more grounded, and I’d sit and plan the following day in my head. Whatever works!
Once this process was over you are free to tackle any other child bedtimes that lay ahead of you! For me this is stories, chats and cuddles with my 8 year old. If he’s not sleepy after this I let him read to himself while I head downstairs to relax, he often falls asleep with his light on and his head in the latest Dogman book! Fingers crossed once you’ve got through this last stage there’s some relaxation ahead for you too, parenting multiples requires a lot of energy, so if you can get bedtime and night time in a good routine that works for you – the whole day becomes easier.
I’m not a child or sleep expert, just a mum who’s tried and tested these techniques and found a way that works, if part of your own bedtime routine or sleep training methods don’t work for you – change them. Find a solution that works for you and your children, I’ll be here cheering you on!
For my full blog disclaimer click here to read, I am not a trained sleep or parenting “expert”, but I am a mum of multiples myself who has tried and tested these techniques until we found what worked for us.