The Story of How Two Babies Learned How to Sleep

August 1, 2012

I previously posted about the basics of our sleep training strategy.  Here’s what we did starting from Night 1 and how it went.  I know it’s a lot of detail, but when I was doing research, this is what I wanted, but couldn’t find, so hopefully this helps at least one other family trying to sleep train their baby.

What Graduated Extinction Sleep Training Looks Like

Night 1:  This was a rough night, as I’m sure all first nights of sleep training are.  We decided to go for broke, so we unswaddled them and took their pacifiers away.  Baby C fell asleep after crying for 20 minutes, but Baby R went through all 5/10/15/20 intervals, so we had to rock him to sleep.  About four hours after we put them to sleep, Baby R woke up and cried through another set of intervals, so we rocked him to sleep again.  During that time, Baby C woke up, cried for about 20 minutes again and then fell asleep.  Other than to eat, Baby C didn’t wake up again until morning.  Baby R cried another 30 minutes about 9 hours after we put him to sleep for the night.

Day 1:  Baby C definitely got the idea much faster than Baby R.  The most he cried at a time was 15 minutes, but Baby R went through the 5/10/15 intervals for his first nap.

Night 2:  We introduced lovies, which are supposed to smell like us and comfort them in their crib.  Baby C only cried 10 minutes, but he didn’t actually fall asleep for a half hour.  Still, I thought this was a good sign that he was just hanging out in his crib trying to fall asleep.  Baby R fell asleep after just  5 minutes of crying!  Could he have learned that quickly?  Unfortunately, no.  Just over two hours later, he was awake and cried for 25 minutes.  Baby C woke up a few hours later and cried for 20 minutes.  Did I mention that sleep training two babies means NO sleep for mom and dad because they don’t wake up at the same time?  Baby C was fine for the rest of the night, but Baby R woke up around 5AM and cried for 40 minutes.  It was really, really hard to remember that we had to keep going, but what helped is to think about all the crying that we had endured and that it would be wasted if we stopped now.

Day 2:  Both babies cried about 30 minutes total, but they also didn’t sleep very much at all (2.5 hours for Baby C, 1 hour for Baby R!)  Baby R had a pitifully hoarse voice too.  It was hard to let them cry at all today.

Night 3:  This was the night before I went back to work and was hoping to get some sleep.  Baby C fell asleep after 10 minutes with very little crying, but Baby R cried for almost an hour and we had to rock him to sleep, but he didn’t really wake up again for the rest of the night other than to eat.  Baby C cried for 50 minutes later in the night and we put him in the swing to get him to fall asleep.  Needless to say, it wasn’t a very restful night.

Day 3: The rest of the days, I don’t have many notes for because my partner wasn’t really into recording the nitty gritty details, but you can look at the graph below to see general sleep/crying patterns.

Night 4:  Tonight, we decided to shift strategies a little bit and increase night feedings because they were eating less during the day.  Apparently this is common when moms go back to work and it’s also common around 4-5 months because babies become really distracted at that age (see this explanation).  We were hesitant to change what we were doing because everyone says that the key to sleep training is to be consistent, but I really believe that if something doesn’t feel right, you know your babies best.  At some point, you have to trust your gut, but don’t trust your heart because it will tell you to pick up your baby the minute he cries.  So, we decided that if they had been asleep for at least a REM cycle, we’d feed them and then put them down drowsy, but awake and if they started crying, then we’d start intervals.

Night 5:  Starting tonight, night time crying was barely an issue!  They basically went to sleep when we put them down for the night or just whimpered a little bit until they fell asleep.  Also, they stopped waking each other up with their crying because when they did cry, it wasn’t for very long.  With the added feedings, there was WAY less crying at night.

Day 5:  Both babies took great naps today, about 5 hours each and ate more during the day.  Do I dare think that we might be stabilizing?

Night 6:  They both fell asleep without crying and only cried 10-15 minutes total the entire night!  But, they also woke up more often to eat.  Could they be catching on and being manipulative?  I think we’ll put down our foot tomorrow night and only feed them if it’s been at least 3 hours.

Night 7:  They both fell asleep again without crying and only got up twice.  I fed them both times and they ate a lot, which affirmed for me that they needed to eat and I wasn’t being a pushover.  Again, they only cried a total of 10-15 minutes all night.  I can definitely live with this!

Day 7:  Another monster nap day for Baby R (over 5 hours!) and virtually no crying for either of them.  Hurray!

It “Worked”

From this point on, nights were great.  They almost always fell asleep with no crying.  They’d get up twice to eat and then go back to sleep with virtually no crying.  The few nights when there cried more were generally attributable to something like needing to burp, rolling over, or getting an arm or leg stuck in the side of the crib (who wouldn’t cry if that happened?).  So, again, I think it’s really important to recognize that you know your baby.  If either baby cried with that hint of desperation in his voice, I knew it was something other than trouble falling asleep.  The first few nights, I wouldn’t have been able to tell, but by this point, it was clear when they were struggling to fall asleep (more of a grumbling cry) and when there was something else wrong.

We are still working on naps, but from what I have heard and read, naps are much harder and most babies don’t have really regular naps until around 6 months, so I am not going to worry about it too much until after that!

Yes, I’m a Nerd

Here are my nerdy graphs that show how, especially at night, the amount of sleep they were getting, generally increased and the amount of crying generally decreased.  (The blanks are from days where we forgot to keep track.)


As you can see, progress was definitely not linear, but it did feel like we were making progress every day.  I’m not quite ready to chalk it up as a 100% success because of the naps, but it’s really incredible to see how much better it got after just a few days.  It certainly didn’t feel like that during those first nights!  Also, I am 100% certain that we didn’t traumatize them or teach them that we won’t meet their needs and am confident that this will help them be better sleepers as toddlers and even as adults.  (See this recent article linking ADHD symptoms in children to lack of sleep!)

Happy sleep training!

Sleep Training – The Basics

July 30, 2012


We had been pretty lucky in terms of sleep.  By 3 1/2 months, our boys were down to one 3AM feeding with a maximum of 2 quick wakings that required just a few minutes of soothing (putting a pacifier back in, patting a stomach, stroking a forehead) or transfer to a swing.  Then, about a week after they turned 4 months, they turned into antisleep maniacs.  They weren’t going to sleep, they weren’t staying asleep, they weren’t even going to sleep if we put them in swings.  The dreaded 4 month regression had descended upon our family.

The week before this happened, my partner and I attended a presentation by Karen Pollack, who gave us the basics on sleep training and a brief overview of some common methods (Pick Up, Put Down (Elizabeth Pantley’s No Cry Sleep Solution), Sleep Lady Shuffle (Kim West’s Good Night, Sleep Tight), Progressive Waiting Intervals (Richard Ferber’s Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems/Marc Weissbluth’s Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child/Twins), Extinction (Weissbluth)).

My partner and I were inspired to try graduated extinction (also known as progressive waiting intervals, controlled crying, cry it out, intervals, etc) so we too could have babies who slept for 12 hours with no feedings or parental soothing required.  Karen made it sound doable and the idea of a night of uninterrupted sleep sounded so incredible that two days later, we tried it.  BIG MISTAKE.  We tried it for two naps, but quickly realized we had a lot of questions about how to do it because everything we knew about sleep training was from a two hour talk!  It was also my last week of maternity leave and I didn’t want to deal with sad, crying babies all day, so we stopped to better prepare ourselves.  Then, the 4 month regression reared its ugly head and I couldn’t help thinking it was karmic punishment for being greedy trying to eliminate our one night feeding.

Be Consistent, Commit to Sleep Training

What everyone tells you, no matter what method you choose for sleep training, is to be consistent and stick with it until it works or set a time frame during which you won’t give up (like two weeks, not two hours!).  (Here’s a good NYT article about that.)  Clearly we didn’t do that with our first effort, but we decided with our renewed effort that we’d start the Friday night before I went back to work so that we could start it together and my partner, who is much less moved by crying babies, could deal with naps during his paternity leave.  My only hesitations were that maybe it wasn’t a great idea to start during the 4 month regression and that my going back to work would itself be a big change for them.  In the end, we couldn’t imagine enduring another week of them waking up every couple of hours, so we dove in and decided we were in it until they were able to put themselves to sleep for naps and at night.

My caveat to the “be consistent” mantra is that you have to be confident enough to adjust your method slightly as you go along.  Of course, don’t change to a completely new strategy on day 2, but as I’ll explain in a later post about what we did day to day, it’s important to be able to see how your babies are responding and act accordingly.

The Method

Cry it out (CIO) gets a bad name because it sounds harsh, but there are so many variations of it that you can adapt it to your own tolerance and parenting philosophy.  We started the first night with 5/10/15/20 intervals.  We put each baby down to sleep drowsy, but awake.  As soon as they started crying for real, not just grumbling, we started the timer.  After 5 minutes, we went in and did whatever it took to soothe them.  We’d pick them up, sway them, talk to them quietly, etc.  As soon as they stopped crying, we put them back down and left even if they started crying again right away.  After 10 minutes, we did the same, etc.  If during any interval, they stopped crying for 15 seconds, we started that interval over.  So, if they cried for 3 minutes during a 10 minute interval, then stopped for 15 seconds, and started crying again, we wouldn’t go back in until after another 10 minutes.  This gives them credit for their “progress”.  After the 20 minute interval, if they were still crying, we’d do whatever it took until they fell asleep.  Usually, we just picked them up and held them for a few minutes and they would fall asleep within minutes because they were exhausted from crying.

The next time they woke up, generally hours later, we repeated this unless it was time for a feeding.  Also, it’s obvious, but we counted the intervals for each baby (only an issue if you have more than one!) and deliberately kept them in the same room.  Even though we knew this would be more work now (waking each other up), we didn’t want to deal with reteaching them to be together later.

The next day, for naps, we used 5/10/15 intervals and the next night, we increased to 10/15/15/20 (we generally wanted the total time they could cry at night to be close to a sleep cycle, so 45 minutes – 1 hour).  Each subsequent night, we increased the intervals, but reduced the number of intervals so that the total was still around 45 minutes – 1 hour.

Did it Work?

Stay tuned for a more detailed accounting of how we sleep trained our now almost completely self-soothing and well-rested babies (I’m knocking on wood as I dare to type this!).

Update:  Click here for the details on how we sleep trained.

Information Sources: Pre-Pregnancy to Introducing Solids

July 30, 2012

Here’s a list of the resources I found most helpful from pre-pregnancy to introducing solids.  It’s broken down into the “waves” of reading I did/am doing.  I read lots of other books, but these are the ones that were key for me.  Also, some of them are good resources or skimable.  You don’t actually have to read them cover to cover with a highlighter in hand.

Do I actually want to be pregnant/give birth or will we adopt?

See this previous post.

I’m pregnant.  What is happening?

I found out I was having twins pretty early on, so I read the books below to learn about twin pregnancy, but if you didn’t do research ahead of time to make sure you wanted to be pregnant and give birth, see books referenced above.

Yikes.  We’re having twins!

  1. When You’re Expecting Twins, Triplets, or Quads: Proven Guidelines for a Healthy Multiple Pregnancy by Barbara Luke and Tamara Eberlein– #1 tip, gain as much weight as possible as soon as you can and drink at least 100 oz of water a day.
  2. Mothering Multiples: Breastfeeding & Caring for Twins or More by Karen Kerkhoff Gromada – See below.

The following are non-essential, but quick, skimable reads with helpful tidbits:

  1. Twins!: Pregnancy, Birth and the First Year of Life by Connie Agnew, Alan Klein, Jill Alison Ganon
  2. Double Duty: The Parents’ Guide to Raising Twins, from Pregnancy Through the School Years by Christina Baglivi Tinglof
  3. It’s Twins: Parent to Parent Advice from Infancy Through Adolescence by Susan M. Heim
  4. Twins 101: 50 Must-Have Tips for Pregnancy Through Early Childhood from Doctor M.O.M. by Khanh-Van Le-Bucklin
  5. Twin Sense: A Sanity-Saving Guide to Raising Twins — From Pregnancy Through the First Year by Dagmara Scalise

If nursing is natural and best for my baby, why is it so hard?

  1. The Nursing Mother’s Companion by Kathleen Huggins – This is a good resource when you’re nursing and are trying to problem solve or self diagnose
  2. Mothering Multiples: Breastfeeding & Caring for Twins or More by Karen Kerkhoff Gromada – I recommend every mom of multiples put a copy of this in her hospital bag just in case her babies are born early, she has a c-section, or experiences any complication that impacts milk production.  I didn’t have it and wish I had.

What about the other “fun” stuff?

  1. Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Twins: A Step-by-Step Program for Sleep-Training Your Multiples by Marc Weissbluth – You don’t actually need to read this book other than the two or three pages on which he describes how to do sleep training.  The graduated extinction method described here is what worked for us, but I think sleep training is an area where you have to pick the method, including no sleep training, that suits your family.
  2. Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods – and Helping Your Baby to Grow Up a Happy and Confident Eater by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett – We haven’t started feeding our babies solids yet, but we plan to use this method and I know a handful of parents who do this and love it.  The book is a quick read and handy resource.  Who knows if it will help my babies avoid the we-will-only-eat-french-fries stage, but for ease of introducing foods and maximum cuteness, it can’t be beat and makes a lot of sense.

I’m not a tiger mom, but I want my child to be a well adjusted genius.  What do I need to know?

  1. The Wonder Weeks: How to stimulate your baby’s mental development and help him turn his 10 predictable, great, fussy phases into magical leaps forward by Hetty van de Rijt – An easy to read, very straightforward summary of what to expect during growth spurts.  You can skip all the quotes from other parents.
  2. Your Baby’s First Year by the American Academy of Pediatrics – Another very straightforward summary of what to expect during your baby’s first year.  My pediatrician recommended this and it’s been a useful resource.
  3. Gymboree – The Parent’s Guide to Play by Wendy S. Masi and Roni Cohen Leiderman (or any gymboree book)
  4. Rockabye Baby Lullaby CDs – These are so much more bearable than many lullaby CDs out there.

A note on moms’ groups

I attended a moms of multiples support group that I loved for three reasons: 1) it forced me to leave my house, which is not so easy with two babies, 2) I could get advice specific to twins, and 3) I met cool, new people I can imagine being friends with for a long time.  So, if joining a moms’ group will do these things for you, join one!  That said, I think if I just had one baby, I’d probably just hang out with my friends who have babies.

I also feel very fortunate that I have twins because my local moms of multiples club listserv is invaluable.  Since there are parents on the listserv who have twins of all different ages, you can better prepare for things that will arise in the future and also get advice from people who are months or years ahead of you.  So, for example, if you have questions about sleep training, you hear the details of how to do it from people who just did it recently and also hear from people who did it a couple years ago and can reflect on how it’s impacted their kids’ later sleep habits and what they wish they had known or done differently.  If you don’t have twins, I think online forums are a good option, but they feel more impersonal since you’re communicating with people you’ll never meet.

Happy reading!