Managing Twin Sleep Without Sleep Training

If you watch almost any “twin preparation” or “twin sleep” video, you will probably hear this advice first.

“Sleep train them as soon as possible!”

I watched those videos in dismay for all the other soon-to-be parents of multiples who were wondering how they would survive nights and days getting two (or more) babies to sleep. For me, sleep training was never going to be the answer. I had already walked as far down that road as I was going to with my eldest son. If you want to know more about that, you can watch my video on why I stopped sleep training and also how his sleep was as a toddler.

When I was pregnant with Mirai and Taishi I thought long and hard about how we were going to manage sleep, particularly since I wouldn’t have much help in the nights as I planned to breastfeed and my husband would be helping my then 2.5 year old who would be going through an adjustment as well. During my pregnancy, I also got interested in the Montessori method. The main advice given by Dr. Montessori is to “follow the child” and this pertains to sleep as well. Observing your child’s needs and adjusting accordingly was my only plan when the twins were born. And I have to say that over a year later, it worked!

Here’s a little background on how our sleeping arrangements progressed:

When the twins first came home from the hospital, we had them sleeping together in a crib. I already had a crib from when Asahi was an infant, so I figured we would just use it and see how it went. For the first few months, both babies were able to be nursed or rocked to sleep and placed in the crib. But they still woke up every 1-2 hours with an occasional longer stretch. During the day, they mostly slept in the crib in our living area (at first we rolled their nighttime crib from our room to the living room but then we ended up buying a collapsible crib for this space.) Taishi started using a pacifier around 3 weeks old and took to it easily. This helped me to have at least one baby more settled. Mirai needed more assistance with sleep during the day and at night. From about 3-9 months old, I carried her for every single nap! She also started bedsharing with me around 5 months old because I simply couldn’t put her down in the crib at all. Taishi has always been able to fall asleep independently using a pacifier. Around 9 months, Mirai was getting good at nursing to sleep and Taishi stopped liking sleeping in the crib. After trying to nurse her to sleep for naps a few times, it turns out she was ready and started being able to sleep in the bed for naps. This was a huge relief! Finally I didn’t have to carry her! We experimented with using a futon but ultimately it wasn’t comfortable for me so we purchased a second smaller bed to place against our current one, making one HUGE cosleeping bed! It has worked for us ever since!

At a year old, this is the sleep routine for naps and bedtime: I nurse Taishi in the living room before we head into the bedroom for sleep time. Then I put on the white noise and their sleep sacks, and give Taishi his pacifier. I pat him gently if he needs it while I nurse Mirai to sleep. Taishi is usually asleep within 15-20 minutes and Mirai takes about 20 minutes for naps and 45 minutes at bedtime. If one wakes up in the night, I just nurse them back to sleep or in Taishi’s case, offer the pacifier because he usually wakes up looking for it. He will usually nurse 1 or 2 times per night quickly though. Mirai wakes up more often, about 3-4 times since she is a light sleeper. Overall, I am very happy with this situation!

Sleeping together in their crib as newborns
We used our crib in the living area during the first few weeks so we could keep an eye on them as well as my toddler

Some Tips For Twin Sleep

Besides the obvious things such as creating a relaxing bedtime routine and trying to stay relatively consistent with sleep schedules, here are some other things that helped us:

  • Educate yourself on biologically normal infant sleep. If you go into it knowing that babies are going to wake up frequently and be difficult to put to sleep, it is much easier to accept and respond to them. Here is a concise summary of normal infant sleep.
  • Arrange the support YOU need in order to respond to your babies 24/7. This can look differently for different people. For some, this means relying on a partner to help with your portion of the household duties. For others, this is hiring a caregiver to come and watch the babies so you can take a break. For me, this meant realizing my entire job was to care for my kids and I didn’t take on other responsibilities outside the home. For working parents, relying on family members or services from your local city office can make a huge difference. Do what you have to do in order to have the energy to keep responding to your kids at night.
  • Be flexible and let your children lead you. Our sleeping arrangements changed every few months with the twins. Yours may change more or less frequently, but the purpose of doing so is the same. You are following your children’s lead and adjusting to their needs. Some babies will prefer a crib, some prefer bedsharing. You can’t know when they are born how this will play out, but you can be flexible in fulfilling their needs. The same goes for sleep schedules. It can be tempting to put your babies on a strict schedule, and for some this works! For others, it doesn’t. Or it works for a week and then not anymore. The one exception to this is trying to get your babies on the same schedule. This isn’t always possible but it is helpful, especially if you are putting both babies to sleep by yourself. Try not to stress too much though because it will make you crazy! My boy twin always needed more sleep than my girl twin, so he would often sleep much longer at nap time than her. I would let him sleep, but usually I would wake him around 30 minutes after my girl woke up, especially when they were taking 3 or 4 naps in a day. Now that they take 1 or 2 naps, I am not as worried about one sleeping way longer than the other because I trust that they will sleep as much as they need.
  • Be open to safe bedsharing. This is a controversial topic that people don’t like to talk about, but I am going to anyways. With my eldest, I didn’t bedshare much, only for certain particularly wakeful periods of sleep and certainly not consistently. I didn’t plan to bedshare with the twins necessarily but it ended up being the easiest and most realistic option as time went on. Where I live in Japan, bedsharing is incredibly common and has been practiced by the majority of families for generations. You don’t see a greater amount of sleeping “incidents” here because of factors like lower rates of obesity, maternal smoking and alcohol and drug use. Educate yourself on safe bedsharing practices such as the “Safe Sleep Seven” and do what is best for your family.
Both twins love bedsharing now! Taishi likes to fall asleep on a pillow but I always move it when I leave the room.
Our bedsharing set up
  • Consider using a pacifier. Not all families choose to use a pacifier and not all babies take to them, but I have to be honest and say that Taishi taking a pacifier is what saved me when putting both babies to sleep by myself most of the time. The fact that one baby could fall asleep relatively independently while I helped the other one was incredibly helpful.
A swaddle is not Montessori aligned but we did what we had to do!
  • Utilize babywearing, particularly the back carry. During those months when Mirai would only sleep in the baby carrier, I would often have to replace Taishi’s pacifier or rock him a bit while bouncing Mirai to sleep. It was actually helpful to have her in the carrier vs in the bed at this stage because I could just walk over to his crib and assist Taishi instead of leaving Mirai in the bed to cry. Once she was big enough for the back carry around 6 months, it was even easier because I could pick Taishi up out of the crib and rock him if I needed to. With twins you just have to do what you have to do sometimes!
Mirai asleep in the carrier and holding Taishi
  • Use white noise if you aren’t already. The tricky part with multiple babies in the same room is that they can tend to wake each other up. I’ve heard some babies don’t have this issue but mine did! A white noise machine on full blast is incredibly useful for drowning out any light noises in the room or outside of it.
  • Know that it’s not forever! Everybody says it, but after three kids I can say it’s 100% true. It’s not forever. They will sleep longer as time goes on. It’s going to be okay. You are doing an incredible job!

How did you manage sleep with more than one baby?

2 thoughts on “Managing Twin Sleep Without Sleep Training

    1. With him he used a crib until he was about two years old. He slept in the crib in our room until he was about 9 months old and then we moved him to his own room (still in a crib). When he was 2, we moved to a new apartment and he started sleeping in a floor bed and he is still there now at 3.5 but sleeps with my husband since I use our bed for myself and the twins.

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