I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a while but have put it off because I want my blog to be about the positive aspects of being a twin parent. But after what is now almost a month of intense molar teething, one cold and then another, I feel compelled to write the truth about sleep deprivation when you have twins.
I don’t want to scare expectant twin parents; and should make it clear that this is one person’s experience. I know quite a few twin mums whose babies sleep far better than mine do. But as a first time mum I was hugely naive about how little sleep I would be getting when my twins arrived, and would have liked to have been better prepared about what to expect in the worse case scenario, so here it is.
As newborns, we woke the girls every three hours to feed them on the advice of our midwives. At first I woke for every feed. Each feed would last at least 45 minutes then 20 minutes of winding and nappy changing. We always fed one after the other, as I hadn’t learnt to tandem feed at that stage. So I’d get about 45 mins to an hour sleep before starting again with the first baby. We soon realised that I’d need my husband’s help with the night feeds, so I started expressing at the same time as feeding the first baby, which meant he could feed the second baby, which gave me two hours sleep in a row before doing the next feed. Occasionally my poor sleep-deprived husband would spill a bottle of expressed milk everywhere or fall asleep while it was heating and boil it dry. I was almost too tired to care enough to threaten todivorce him, though I’m sure that spilling expressed milk is legitimate grounds for marital separation!
After a few weeks when their weight gain was ‘satisfactory’ for the health team, we stopped waking them and amazingly, one of the girls would do stretches of 5-6 hours! We began to get three hours sleep in a row, it was wonderful.
Everyone advised me to sleep during the daytime when the babies napped, but as much as I tried, they’d never nap at the same time, or I’d just get both down to sleep, close my eyes only to be painfully awoken by the other one. That kind of awaking, when you’ve literally just fallen asleep is the most excruciating kind, and so I gave up trying to nap during the day. Instead I’d use their nap time to do all my chores so that I could go to bed earlier, soon after they’d gone to sleep.
We had a few months when we got into a rhythm, having about 5 hours (albeit broken) sleep per night was do-able. Then, at about 4 months old something happened. I’m not sure what, could have been the winter with cold after cold, proper teething, or it could have just been the girls’ mental development reaching a point where they knew that they were being left to sleep alone in their cots and were not happy about it!! Suddenly they were waking up every two hours and feeding back to sleep was the only way to settle them.
Gradually the amount of milk I got from expressing dwindled and so I gave up, as I was spending longer expressing than feeding them myself would take! Luckily feeds had dropped to around 20 minutes, but every two hours each meant I was now getting less sleep than ever – most nights I would get a total of just two or three hours broken sleep. I was broken.
I would start the day completely exhausted, wondering how on earth I would be able to look after these babies all day by myself. I got ill all the time & I felt really low; I had never felt so low. I was supposed to be enjoying my babies and cherishing this new phase of my life but I felt like I was being tortured. In hindsight my depression was probably just severe exhaustion.
They weren’t great at sleeping during the day and at one stage the only way I could get them to sleep was to drive them round and round. I was completely unsafe to drive and on one occasion I remember knocking a grassy bank with my car. It was the wake up call I needed. I decided to do something about the girls’ sleep problem – my sleep problem. I read every article ever written about improving babies’ sleep. Still, I could not bring myself to sleep train. There was no way I could leave my babies to cry at night, and leave them alone to wonder why I wasn’t coming – I knew it wasn’t the right thing to do. I researched gentle sleep training methods but none seemed gentle enough, all of them went against my instincts.
I’d been resisting co-sleeping all the while. I’d read too many horror stories and almost everyone I knew was of the mind that it was a bad habit to get into. One night though, my husband hadn’t been able to wake me up – I had stopped waking up to the babies’ cries – I felt like an awful mother but my body was in shut down mode – so my husband used to get them up, bring them into me to feed then take them back into their nursery to sleep in their cots. That night, he fell asleep and forgot to put them back. We woke up in my bed at 7am. We had all slept from 1am to 7am!!! 6 hours!! That was the most sleep I’d had since before pregnancy!! The girls were 7 months old.
I researched as much as I could into cosleeping and soon found lots of support for cosleeping and then there was no looking back – it was absolutely the most natural thing for all of us and we were all finally happy. Now I felt guilty for not doing it sooner.
I’d like to say cosleeping solved all our sleep problems, but we still have regular sleepless nights with colds, teething, development leaps etc. we have had about a month now with terrible sleep; I’m currently getting about 5 hours a night; but the days of two hours broken sleep seem like a distant bad memory and I’ve accepted that this is the way things are for now. It’s been 16 months of sleep deprivation, and I genuinely don’t know if I’d even be capable of sleeping 8 hours straight any more. And I’m not going to give it that much thought, because I’m not going to get the chance to find out any day soon!!