It wasn’t long after we brought our quadruplets home from the hospital that we realized sleep training would be critical for survival at our house. Our new normal involved caring for four premature infants around the clock, and if we didn’t carve out time to sleep, it would be extremely taxing for us. Since there are no books available for sleep training high order multiples, I consulted other mothers of quadruplets then read On Becoming Baby Wise: Giving Your Infant the GIFT of Nighttime Sleep and Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Twins. I adapted my findings the best I could to quads, and our babies slept in eight hour stretches by about four months of age. Here are some tenants that helped us achieve a full night’s rest:
Followed a Feed Schedule
While our babies were in the NICU, they were kept on a three-hour feeding schedule with feeds (6 am, 9 am, 12 pm, 3 pm, 6 pm, 9 pm, 12 am, 3 am). Once they came home, we kept this schedule because the babies typically slept better with predictable feeds and full tummies. Maintaining this schedule with four babies required a little creativity since we rarely ever had four adults available to help. We quickly figured out how to tandem feed two babies at the same time by laying a firm memory foam pillow across our lap and laying two babies on top of the pillow, back to back. When there were two or more adults, all four could easily be fed together. If only one adult was available, the hungriest babies were fed first, followed by the second two. At first, we used alarms to wake us and maintain our schedule through the night. However, when the babies were about two months old, we stopped setting alarms. We generally scheduled the final bottle of the day just before we hoped to go to bed ourselves (e.g. 10-11 pm). This allowed us to get a decent stretch of sleep without interruptions, even if the babies only went 3-4 hours. During the night, when one baby woke in the night; the other three were awakened and fed a bottle. This allowed us to keep all four on the same feeding and sleeping schedule.
Set the Stage for Sleep
Regardless of whether it was naptime or bedtime, we always ensured the nurseries are conducive to sleep. For us, this meant using sound machines set low (about the same volume as a running shower) to help muffle foreign sounds and the grumblings of siblings. Many claim that multiples don’t disturb each other, but ours did during infancy and still do as toddlers. We also invested in overnight diapers for bed to reduce the chances a wet diaper would result in a nighttime waking. Finally, we always followed the same routines for going to bed, which included putting each baby in a sleep sack, turning their mobile or crib soother on, and handing them a Wubbanub.
Watched for Signs of Drowsiness
Instead of putting our babies to bed asleep, we watched for signs of drowsiness and put them in bed still awake. We often watched the clock to anticipate when the babies might begin slowing down and their eyes would appear heavy. When we caught the opportune time, they generally went immediately to sleep without protest. If we missed the sweet spot, we typically had a greater struggle because the babies would become over tired and too irritable to sleep.
Followed the Feed-Wake-Sleep Cycle
During the day, we followed the Babywise method of following a feed-wake-sleep cycle. Once the babies finished bottles, they stayed awake for “playtime,” which consisted of activities such as tummy time, bouncy seats, or looking at board books. Wake time was initially very short, sometimes only 20-30 minutes, but eventually extended to about 90-120 minutes. We found the order of the three components was critical. If we ever deviated from it, things went awry with naps and bedtime.
Anticipated Babies Waking
Even babies who have well developed sleep patterns can and will occasionally wake up during naps or at night. When we first began sleep training, we moved our baby monitor away from our bedside. We realized that if it was in close proximity to us, we heard every little movement in the night and reacted too quickly. If the babies made enough noise to wake us in the night, we gave them a few minutes to resettle. If they weren’t able to settle independently, we listened to infer meaning (e.g. diaper, gas, hunger?) and then did our best to troubleshoot. With multiples, we kept in mind how each of our babies had their own set of unique cries and responded accordingly. Sometimes our babies would wake up to coo happily for a few minutes and then return to sleep. When that occurred, we allowed them to chatter and didn’t intervene.
Amber is the proud mother of girl-boy-girl-boy quadruplets who debuted in July 2012. She continues to practice school psychology in the public school system part-time. When she’s not busy wrangling toddlers, Amber maintains a family blog at FourtoAdore.com where she shares her family’s shenanigans. She’s also a frequent guest contributor on Fort Worth Moms Blog. You can keep up with her musings on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.