If I could sum up the most valuable bit of information that I could for parents who are expecting or have already had twins or multiples in a single sentence it would be this. Get your kids on the same sleeping and eating schedule! There we go, that’s easy enough right? A simple, grammatically correct, ten word sentence which contains a clear message. Looks like this parenting gig is going to be smooth sailing. Don’t be ridiculous, it’s not going to be easy at all. In fact, not only is parenting in general not that easy, but following my simple and grammatically correct nugget of wisdom is, itself, going to be harder than it sounds.
The Difficulties With Infants
I remember not really understanding why parenting was going to be so difficult before our twins came along. I heard that infants need about 15 to 16 hours of sleep a day. Before having kids, on a good night I usually slept 7 to 8 hours, so assuming I slept my maximum and my kids slept their minimum, that would leave me with a glorious 7 hours per day of “me” time. What I didn’t realize was that for infants to sleep and eat, it requires a lot of participation from the parents.
The Food Factor
Assuming you are breast feeding, the amount of time that it can take to feed your infants can vary quite a bit based on milk production and how well your newborn has taken to feeding. For that reason it makes it difficult to talk specifics regarding the amount of time people spend feeding, but I have heard people talk about spending as little as about 3 hours per day to as many as 6 hours per day. The reason is that, initially, your infant will need to eat about every 2 to 3 hours (day and night) and each time it can take anywhere from about 20 to 45 minutes. In short, feeding your new bundle of sleep deprivation is going to be a very large time sink.
The point here, as it relates to twins, is pretty easy to glean. If you are feeding your twins one at a time, then you will end up spending roughly double the time doing so, and that could be anywhere from about 6 to 12 hours per day. This is a situation that will significantly eat into any “me” time that you thought you were going to get, and therefore, tandem feeding is really something that you should try to establish. It will also set the stage for meals as your twins get older, which will still be a time consuming and attention intensive task. So, anything you can do to coordinate feedings will help you to free up a little more of your precious time.
As I mentioned, my advice may be harder to implement than you realize and these are some of the reasons. It requires a fair bit of coordination and planning to tandem feed your twins. Breast feeding pillows and a helper are great tools to alleviate some of the awkwardness of getting your twins to successfully feed at the same time. The pillows help provide a platform to make it easier on mom’s arms, and the helper can bring the babies one at a time to allow mom to get comfortable and position them correctly one at a time. Getting a single baby to latch to it’s mother’s breast can be tricky enough, but with twins, you may only have one hand available to do any repositioning, but practice will help.
The Sleep Factor
Surely, you may think to yourself, if I can’t catch a break while the little ones are eating, then at least I should be able to take some time for myself when they are napping or sleeping. Well, I can’t speak for every infant on the block, but for us that was patently false. When our kids were infants, initially they would generally fall asleep only if someone was holding them and bouncing, feeding them or if they were in a moving stroller. It would take about 45 minutes of lulling to get our kids to fall asleep, and there were 3 naps per day, plus bedtime, so there goes another 3 hours of your day and this doesn’t even count the two times in the middle of the night that you put them back to sleep after feeding. To be fair though, it didn’t take as much time to get them back to sleep during the night, but could still take 15 minutes each time.
Finally, the last major time sink relating to sleep has to do with their naps. As mentioned earlier, napping required pretty intensive parent participation. After having spent 45 minutes bouncing with them in our arms or walking them in the stroller it was really not worth the gamble of putting them down in their crib because that would likely result in them being roused from their sleep, so not only have you spent about 3 hours getting them to fall asleep during the day, but now you were also committed to walking them in the stroller, or holding them while they sleep which would take up 4.5 to 6 more hours of your day. On the plus side, when bouncing them to sleep and then letting them sleep on your chest, at least you can catch a nap yourself, of course the downside to this is that you are really only catching up on your sleep, and therefore this is not really that precious “me” time that you long for.
With twins, it should be fairly clear that if you don’t get your kids on the same food and sleep schedule, you are going to be run ragged and be out of time to do all of the other things that need to get done during your day. I give my wife, Jenn, full credit for really establishing the nap routine because she was the one that was almost always out with the stroller for long walks during nap time rain or shine. The great thing in our case was that we had met a really great group of new parents through a local parent group and the moms in that group organized a walking group that would meet up for stroller walks and this provided a bit of a social aspect to the napping process.