Did you want to read a whole post about my babies’ sleep? I apparently can’t stop talking about it or thinking about it, so I figured I’d write down what our sleep training experience was like. This post is mostly going to deal with nighttime sleep, as naps are currently an entirely different beast.
If you found your way here googling something along the lines of “sleep training twins,” welcome, friend. I may not be able to help or advise you, but I can offer you a virtual hug in solidarity and I can tell you what things were like for us.
Our twins, E and L, started out life as pretty good sleepers. Well, VERY good sleepers, actually. (But that would change. Dun dun DUNNNN.) By about 3 months old, they were sleeping through the night without a wakeup or feeding and we were loving it. Shortly before 4 months of age, though, it all went straight to Hell. I suppose it was mostly the four-month sleep regression, but around this time we also had to stop swaddling them because they were rolling over, and we moved them from bassinets in our room into cribs in their own room. It was a lot of change for them and it changed their nighttime sleep quite a bit.
The result was that babies were waking up VERY frequently throughout the night and started wanting a nighttime bottle again as well. E was the better sleeper — she rarely woke up except for the bottle. When she did randomly wake up otherwise, though, it was always a completely jarring, inexplicable 4AM wake-up with inconsolable crying for an hour or so. Awful. L, on the other hand, consistently struggled to sleep. He struggled HARD. He’d developed a sleep association with being held/patted and could only fall asleep like this. After we carefully transferred him to the crib, he’d wake up again crying in minutes — often before we even got back down the hall to our room. It turned out reflux was a factor, so we got him on Z@nt@c, which helped a bit, but he still would wake up every 30 minutes to 2 hours overnight and would require holding/patting to go back to sleep. Sometimes he’d need to be held for half an hour only to wake up again 20 minutes after we put him down. I can’t overemphasize how excruciating this was. A lot of nights, we wound up with one of us “sleeping” while holding L in our bed and the other one awake trying to console a screaming E in the nursery. My husband and I were exhausted.
Even though I’d heard great things, I wasn’t sure if the Ferber method, which involves letting babies cry a bit, would work for us. I’d heard anecdotally from other parents who had babies who, instead of ever calming down when they started crying, would only cry harder and harder and harder and be impossible to console — “tension increasers.” I wondered if our L might be like this. He often got SO worked up crying and seemed to have a lot of stamina once he got going. I was prepared for the possibility that Ferber might not work out for him. My worry was unfounded, though. It turns out he will wind down, if we just let him.
This is just your disclaimer that some babies are not going to do well with this kind of plan. If you’re reading this wondering if it could work for you, you know your baby best! If you try it and he gets worked up and never winds down on his own, it might not be the plan for you.
So here’s what we did: my husband and I both read the relevant chapter in the Ferber book, the most important part being the exact method of sleep training. We wanted to make sure we both knew the method so we could be consistent in how we applied it. We also waited until the twins stopped wanting their nighttime bottle, which happened gradually around 5-6 months of age. (You can still do this method even if your babies eat at night, but I thought that — for us — it would be simpler to wait. I wanted to know that if they were crying, it was not out of hunger.)
Basically, you start with your bedtime routine. For us: the babies have a bottle in the living room, then we go into the nursery, dim the lights, turn on white noise, put on pajamas/sleep sacks. Then we hold and cuddle the babies for a few minutes before kissing them goodnight and laying them down in their cribs, turning out the light, and leaving the room. We let them have their pacifiers in bed in case they want them, but we don’t put them into their mouths for them. (They have to do that themselves — we don’t want them relying on us to get up and replace the binkie.) It’s a pretty simple routine and therefore easy to be consistent.
At this point, they will start to cry! The basic idea is that you don’t just let the baby “cry it out” (a misnomer — that term applies to a different method, not Ferber). Instead, you check in with the baby every few minutes, making sure that he’s OK, offering comfort and consolation, but just not doing the sleep association you’re trying to break. In our case, we did not hold and pat the babies, because this was the association they had become dependent on. We needed them to learn that they could fall asleep without being in our arms and being patted.
So once the babies started to cry, we kept an eye on the time. Each of us was assigned to one baby for the night, so we could be consistent in who was doing the check-ins. The first night, you start by waiting three minutes, for example. When the time came, we went in, talked to and soothed the baby for a minute or so, then left the room again. If the baby was still crying, we started to time it again, this time for five minutes. If the baby is still crying after the five-minute check-in, you then wait ten minutes before checking in. Your goal is to have the baby eventually fall asleep when you’re out of the room. They eventually form a new sleep association: being in a crib in a dark, quiet room, without parents nearby. Then, the baby should learn to fall asleep this way consistently.
The obvious question with twins who sleep in the same room: won’t one baby’s crying wake the other baby? When L woke in the middle of the night before sleep training, we RACED into the room to get him and soothe him before he had a chance to wake his sister. How on earth would we manage to let him cry for 3, 5, or 10 minutes at a time without waking E?
Well, it turned out to be quite simple: they just…don’t bother each other. We didn’t need to do anything. When one baby cries, the other baby usually sleeps through it, or seems to be generally unfazed. I think sleep training them in the same room wound up being beneficial in this aspect, actually: they’re now accustomed to each other’s noises and can sleep through the commotion if their twin wakes up. So, twin parents, don’t let this worry you too much! Your twins might not mind at all!
Here’s how it went:
Night 1: Check in at 3, 5, and then 10 minutes for every subsequent check in. If they wake in the middle of the night, start over at 3 minutes.
I was so nervous the first night! I had the book at hand in case I needed to re-read anything. I made a stiff drink, and went back through my friends’ encouraging words I had saved in Twitter for moral support.
E cried for less than three minutes and then fell asleep, therefore never needed a check-in. She woke twice in the middle of the night and needed a single check-in each time, then fell asleep before a second check-in was needed.
L cried pretty hard at first. He was still crying at the three-minute check-in, still crying at the five-minute check-in, and still at the 10 minute. But then, to my great relief, he started to wind down! Once he fell asleep, I was on edge waiting for him to wake up again after a few minutes, like he normally would. But he didn’t. It was amazing. He woke four times in the middle of the night. Twice he fell back asleep before we needed to check in; the other two times he needed a single check-in then fell asleep right afterward.
As a side note, even on the very first night, the Ferber method already involved SO MUCH LESS CRYING than our typical nights had. I think there’s a misconception that this method is cruel or causes the baby to cry alone in the crib all night. I was so pleased and relieved that they were already getting more sleep and crying less than they had been in the past 2 months. As my husband said that night, “they were ready — we were just fucking it up!” Our old method was not only not working, it was probably making things worse.
In an unexpected way, the whole process also was such a relief. I was so much less tense when I went into the room to check on the babies — I knew I didn’t have to stand there holding/swaying/patting the baby for minutes on end, then carefully transfer him to the crib without waking him, only to hear him crying again five minutes later. That burden, that pressure, that outright dread was gone. I didn’t realize how stressful it had been until the burden was lifted. All I had to do was check in! I could do that. I had gone into this expecting the first night to be so hard because of the crying. The crying for the first 30 minutes wasn’t great, to be sure, but this night was already so much easier, and involved so much less crying than we were used to. I couldn’t believe the difference.
Night 2: Check in at 5, 10, and then 12 minutes for every subsequent check in. If they wake in the middle of the night, start over at 5 minutes.
E fussed for less than 5 minutes and then fell asleep. She woke once in the middle of the night and needed 2 check-ins before falling back to sleep.
L also fussed for less than 5 minutes before falling asleep. He had one wake-up and needed one check-in.
I couldn’t get over how much better this was! Night two and the method was making a world of difference, not only for E, our easier sleeper, but also L, our struggling sleeper, had the same great results. Amazing.
Night 3: Check in at 10, 12, and then 15 minutes for every subsequent check in. If they wake in the middle of the night, start over at 10 minutes.
E did not fuss at all at bedtime. She woke twice in the night and very quickly put herself back to sleep. Zero check-ins needed.
L fussed for a few minutes at bedtime, then had three wake-ups during the night. He put himself back to sleep each time. No check-ins needed.
Night 4: Check in at 12, 15, and then 17 minutes for every subsequent check in. If they wake in the middle of the night, start over at 12 minutes.
E went to sleep in a few minutes and slept through with no audible wake-ups or check-ins.
L cried a bit on this night and needed the 12-minute check-in. After that, he went to sleep and slept through with no more audible wake-ups.
Night 5: Check in at 15, 17, and then 20 minutes for every subsequent check in. If they wake in the middle of the night, start over at 15 minutes.
E went to sleep right away and woke once during the night, but no check-ins were needed.
L went to sleep after 5 minutes and slept through, no audible wake-ups. No check-ins.
Night 6: Check in at 17, 20, and then 25 minutes for every subsequent check in. If they wake in the middle of the night, start over at 17 minutes.
E went to sleep right away but then woke up crying half an hour later. She went back to sleep easily, though. No check-ins needed.
L went to sleep easily and stirred audibly once during the night. No check-ins were needed.
Night 7: Check in at 20, 25, and then 30 minutes for every subsequent check in. If they wake in the middle of the night, start over at 20 minutes.
Both babies went to sleep without fussing and slept through with no audible wake-ups or check ins.
TL;DR: The Ferber method worked for us just like he says it will in the book. By the second and third night, the babies were sleeping 100x better than before. Even on night one, there was LESS crying and MORE sleeping for all four of us. We are so, so glad we tried this. It’s no exaggeration to say it changed our lives for the better.