By Kimberly Cartwright
I hear all the time how lucky I am that all my children nap at the same time. I am blessed with decent sleepers, but that is just part of it. If we are being totally honest here I had to put a lot of work and deliberate planning into getting my children to nap at the same time. Twins are not born on the same schedule. Fraternal twins are 'regular' siblings that happen to be born at the same time. Identical twins might share DNA, but they do not share personalities. This means you have two distinct little people who might have different napping tendencies. You can let them nap on their own, but that could mean someone is always napping. That also means someone is always awake. I love my kids, but I need my time during the day to get things done! I needed to get my twins on the same schedule for our whole family to function well.
Getting one child on a schedule can have challenges, and getting two on the same schedule can sound impossible. Don't worry. I am here to help you out. You can get your twins to nap at the same time. It is possible, and it happens in my house every day. You might have to make some adjustments to how you do things, and you will have to prioritize. It is hard when one baby doesn't nap well, and you have two babies to handle. You need to give your babies and yourself some grace, and maybe lower your nap standards a bit. But you will get there. I am not an expert, but I do have a set of twins that nap successfully. Here is how I got my twins on a solid nap schedule.
To begin with, you need to think ahead. Naps in the first six months change relatively frequently. You go from four to three to two pretty fast. Once you hit two naps a day you tend to stay there for a decent chunk of time. Then you move to one nap for a couple of years. I like to look at where I would like that one nap to be. I know you can't predict a few years down the line, but adjusting what is already working is much easier than starting from scratch with a toddler. That one nap is going to be your anchor. This is the nap you want to make the most important one of the day. It should be in the babies' bed as much as possible. You want to utilize all your night time sleep aids you feel comfortable using- white noise, swaddles, pacifiers- whatever you feel is best. You will want to be home as much as possible for this nap. Schedule your day around it. This time is going to be protected for the next few years, so it is best to get used to that now.
The exact timing of this anchor nap will shift (i.e., it might not always be at 1pm every day for three years), but it needs to be one you focus on. The next most important nap is the first nap of the day, the morning nap. This is the second to last nap to drop, so it makes sense you want to make sure a long term nap is important. Do your best to make this one as consistent as possible as well. Unfortunately, two major naps a day kind of limits how much you can get out and about. If you have other kids, this can really be an issue. If given the choice between messing with your afternoon and morning nap, focus on the afternoon. Once again, that's the anchor nap. Focusing on one nap at a time limits some of the stress in a day. You have one period you work really hard on naps, and you can relax the rest of the day. The midday and evening naps are dropped within the first few months. I wouldn't worry too much about them.
This might sound like it goes against the babywise thoughts to not worry about some naps. Let me explain that a bit more. I don't mean don't try to get your baby to nap during the non-anchor naps, you should. Do your best. But when you have two babies that are crying or not wanting to sleep you sometimes need to draw a line and decide when to call it a nap. These early to go naps are, in my opinion, just not worth the stress and struggle. Aim to get your twins to nap. If they are just not having it these are the naps to relax about though. Try a bouncer or swing, let them nap on you if they need to, or just move on with your day. You will not ruin your babies or their napping ability if you are not a drill sergeant at each nap. It is very easy to get overwhelmed and stressed out when a baby is having bad naps, and you have two babies. An important part of babywise is that the baby fits in to the family. This means if you have other kids that need to get out of the house that midday nap might be in the car. The evening catnap is sometimes only 20 minutes. Making a whole production of it was not something I wanted to do, so that was done in the bouncers. We made these naps work with the whole family knowing that yes, our babies needed to rest, but we had to meet the needs of the other family members.
I chose to rely on the clock for my anchor nap more. This was the nap I put all my hardest efforts into. As I said for us this is the afternoon nap. With two babies, I relied on the clock because I had two different sleep personalities. Basically the goal is to do everything in your power to keep your babies in this nap time and sleeping if possible. Don't worry about one baby's crying waking the other. In the early months it really doesn't seem to faze them. I am a fan of the pacifier. If my girls were crying, I would go in and first replace the pacifier. If that didn't work I would try to shush them gently. Pretty much do what you would normally do to help soothe your baby. A few things helped me out. I did my best to not pick them up. I know, this is so hard! But if your goal is to get your babies to sleep you don't want to be picking them up repeatedly. I tried not to make eye contact. This sounds mean, but seriously a little eye contact can be all it takes to perk up your baby if they reach a lighter sleep stage. If you look at their bellies you can still see everything you need to help settle them, but you avoid perking them up with eye contact. The goal is to be almost an object yourself, uninteresting and as unobtrusive as possible.
I'm going to be really honest here. Handling the anchor nap this way can be hard. I personally don't like doing cry it out, so I spent a lot of these early anchor naps popping in and out of the room. For me, it was worth it that I was soothing my babies as I felt I needed to, but I was still working towards a solid anchor nap. (It was also my son's nap time, so it was beneficial not to have a ton of crying.) This can be stressful. I would sit outside my babies' room with a book, making it easy to pop in and out quickly and quietly. My husband would take a turn and give me a break on weekends. I would do everything in my power to have my girls stay in nap time the full length of the nap, by the clock. It was so hard sometimes. All I wanted to do was do things for my family most of the time, like make dinner. I didn't want to spend hours of my life trying to get my babies to nap! There is no nice way to say it, but the results are worth it. Set yourself up for success and lower your expectations of what you will get done during nap times in these early months. This is frustrating to say, especially knowing I didn't like it either. You want to get some me time, maybe grab a nap yourself, or even just throw in a load of laundry during nap time. Instead you are nap master the whole time. This is so annoying! It is easy to get discouraged, especially with two babies. This is the time to consider your larger priorities here. Your biggest goal is to get your babies napping. If that doesn't happen nothing else will. It is way better and easier to bite the bullet and accept focusing on getting this nap down than spending months wishing your kids napped at the same time.
For those naps that were going to be dropped early, I would get my girls up if they really were not in to napping. I couldn't and didn't want to spend my entire day just getting babies to sleep. If they were fussing too hard I would move the naps to the bouncers, or just let it go. It sounds a bit like quitting, but really it is cutting your loses. Two babies crying is STRESSFUL. Give yourself and your babies a break on these naps. I would start them out, and if my girls slept for them awesome. If they hit the 45 minute intruder hard, I would put them in the bouncers. If they just wanted to be awake, we would just be awake. I think twin naps are a great case for choosing your battles. I chose to fight for the naps that were going to last the longest, and looking back I think I made the right decision. Yes, some days had a lot of little cat naps. Some days had perfect naps. But I tried not to worry about perfection; I kept my eye on the prize.
Twin naps are a good time to take some notes. Yes, you have homework to get good naps in. It is very easy to forget who woke up early, who had a hard time falling asleep, or who rocked the nap. I wrote down how naps went for each of my girls. By doing this I could see the individual patterns each girl had. This allowed me to see who needed work where. More importantly, it let me see progress that can get lost in all that goes in to caring for twins. My girls had a tendency to take turns having rough naps. It made me feel like naps were not going well at all. But when I looked over my notes, I saw that as individuals the girls were actually doing okay. It was just that their rough times didn't overlap at all, so overall there were more of them. Seeing this pattern encouraged me to keep working towards our nap goals.
Once the anchor nap and morning nap started to be consistent you can start to take advantage of the times one twin wakes early. It can be hard to find one on one time with twin babies. Both of them need you so much you can feel like you don't get to just be with them. When my girls started taking more consistent naps I would get whichever girl woke up too early and snuggle with them on the couch. This gave me the chance to really love on just one baby at a time, which is so needed with twins. These cuddle sessions were some of the sweetest I had with the girls, and neither of them had issues with naps as a result of getting up early for extra love.
Getting twins on the same nap schedule can be tough, but it is so worth the effort! I am thrilled that my girls nap at the same time every day (and at the same time as their big brother). Focusing on the anchor naps allowed me to still get the needs of the whole family met, and it gave me a much needed break when things didn't go well. I didn't waste time stressing about naps that would disappear in a few weeks’ time. Taking notes let me see how well things were going with my girls as individuals, even if as a duo, well, things weren't so awesome. Taking advantage of some early wakings gave me much needed one on one cuddle time. Again, I am not claiming to be an expert. I'm just a twin mom who has been there with rough naps. I have never regretted the work I put in to getting my girls on a consistent nap schedule. My girls go happily to naps, take their full naps, and are rested and healthy.
You can read more about Kim and her twins at teamcartwright.blogspot.com