I sleep trained the triplets when they were 2 months adjusted (approximately 9 weeks old adjusted). The entire process probably took a week and a half. By the end, I could put all three babies down to bed at night and they would simply go to sleep without crying. Sleep training is one of those sacred topics that people often feel very strongly about one way or the other. Full disclosure- I used the cry it out method. In many ways, I am relieved that the decision to sleep train via cry it out was already made for me when I became a mom. With my first child, I was returning to work 6 weeks after maternity leave because we needed the money. I needed my firstborn to go to sleep at night easily so that I could somewhat function at work. I read various books in preparation for sleep training and decided that the universal advice was to try some form of cry it out. When my firstborns’ sleep training went well, I knew it was an effective method that I would use for any other kids I would be lucky enough to have. I wasn’t working when I had the triplets but I still sleep trained them. The reasons I sleep trained are fourfold:
- Track record. It had worked well with my two singletons.
- Time Management. Putting the babies down for bed when they were tired without hours of rocking and soothing allowed me to spend time with my other two kids.
- Logistics. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t rock and soothe three babies at once. There would always be one or two babies not getting my attention when they were trying to fall asleep.
- Self preservation. I needed some time to myself. Even if the big kids didn’t need my attention, and even if I somehow grew 4 additional arms to hold all three babies, I wanted time to do something other than soothe them to sleep every night. Time to myself makes me a better, more patient mom.
I hope that listening to my reasons for sleep training helps you consider this method. Even if you have triplets and no other kids, there are still points in favor of sleep training. You can’t soothe three kids at once very easily. You need to take time for yourself. And sleep training can work. It has worked for all 5 of my kids.
Before I get into the details, I should mention two additional points.
- I viewed sleep training in stages. The first and most important stage was going to bed at night. When they were 2 months old, naps were still all over the place. So I focused first and foremost on nighttime sleep habits. When they got older and daytime naps became more clearly defined, I instituted the same routines we already did with nighttime sleep, which made the daytime nap process fairly easy.
- Sleep training at night did not mean I expected the babies to sleep through the night at 2 months old. In fact, the triplets didn’t sleep through the night. It simply meant that I could put them down for bed and that they would sleep a fairly long time before needing a nighttime bottle/breastfeeding. They would also return to bed after that nighttime feed, as opposed to their daytime routine of playing, tummy time, etc.
Here’s what I did. I followed Marc Weissbluth, M.D.’s philosophy set forth in Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. I did purchase Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Twins,* but the same general principles can be found in either book. My takeaway from Dr. Weissbluth is to put your child down to sleep before they get overtired. You have to be vigilant and watch for signs of tiredness, and work towards putting them down as soon as you notice those tired signs. The reasoning for this method is that the process of falling asleep is a learned skill. It is easier for them to learn self soothing when they are calm, and so you have to notice signs that they are tired but not too tired so they utilize that time to learn self soothing. When they are very small, babies tend to slow down their physical activity, or stop babbling or just generally calm down and stop being as focused and energetic. I would watch the triplets for signs of tiredness. If any one of the triplets showed those signs, they all went to bed, regardless of the energy level of the other two. I did this for two reasons. First is that the other two were likely very soon going to exhibit signs of tiredness too. Second and more importantly, I wanted the triplets to get used to being together when going down for naps. That meant they would all get used to each others cries and idiosyncrasies when it came to settling down to sleep. My son, for example, likes to roll around for a bit before falling asleep. He bangs against the crib every once in a while. I wanted the girls to get used to that. One of the girls likes to bite her blanket and wave it around. I wanted the other two to get used to that distraction.
Bedtime Sleep Training— Look for tired signs
When I first started sleep training, the babies were young enough that I couldn’t readily discern their own sleep patterns or tendencies. For example, I now know that one of the girls, P, can sleep long naps and goes down without a fuss at nap or bedtime. Z, our boy, is a light sleeper who takes a long time to settle down and is quick to wake after a short nap. This was completely unknown to me at the beginning, so this meant I just had to follow all three babies’ cues to and go with the cue of whoever was tired first. So at the beginning, the time for bed was dictated by whichever baby showed signs of tiredness. All three babies would then be put down for bed.
Anticipate an early bedtime
I knew from my other two kids that bedtime is sometimes very early in the evening- sometimes shockingly early. But I also knew that if they were put to bed before they were overtired, they would wake up happy and their good nights sleep would set the tone for a good day with more restful, restorative naps. This is another principle set forth by Weissbluth— sleep begets sleep. It sounds counterintuitive but it really has proven to be true for my kids. As a result, I listened to the triplets’ cues and started the bedtime routine sometimes as early as 4:30pm. If this time sounds impossible for you- I completely understand. I used to work and it was heartbreaking for me to put my kids to sleep sometimes only 30 minutes after we got home from daycare/work. But I was committed to giving my kids healthy sleep habits and adequate amounts of sleep, so I stuck with it. As the kids got older, they could stay up without getting tired for much longer periods of time.
Have a simple bedtime routine
I didn’t have an intricate sleep routine for the triplets at the beginning. I would simply bring the triplets to their bedroom, give them a bottle, change them, and put them into their cribs. To be honest, in the beginning, they wore pajamas all the time, so if they were clean, I wasn’t changing them into different clothes for bed. I didn’t read stories or sing songs and I wasn’t able to give them a bath every night. But something about taking them to their room for their last bottle seemed to help them realize this was a different type of sleep for the day. As they got older and we had more time for a routine, I started doing simple things like reading a short book, turning on the sound machine while I changed their diapers, and turning down the lights while getting them into pajamas.
Crying it out
When I put them to bed for sleep training the first night, I made sure they were not overtired, that they had clean diapers, and that they were well fed. They still did cry. I told my older kids to expect crying and that under no circumstances were they to go into the babies’ room. I also asked my husband to help keep me away from the babies since it pains me to hear them cry. The first night they probably cried for 50 minutes. It pained me terribly- not going to lie- but I stuck to my guns. The next night it was about the same amount of time. I’m not going to lie. I did break down and go into their room one night when I felt like we weren’t making progress. But there was nothing wrong with them. Their diapers were dry- they didn’t want more milk- and they weren’t stuck in their cribs or in any pain. The next night, they cried only 30 minutes. The night after that, only 15 minutes. By the end of the week, they were crying fewer and fewer minutes. One baby cried more than the others and cried longer, but by the fourth night I understood that to be her particular time frame and that I would just have to anticipate that behavior from her. By the end of the week we were down to 5–10 minutes of crying before they would sleep for 4-5 hours and then wake for a night feed. They had nights when they regressed slightly and I was concerned something was actually wrong. Each time I would cave and go into their room, there was nothing wrong and this would cause them to cry a little longer the next night. So all in all, after a week and a half of me getting better about letting them cry and them getting better about self soothing, they were sleep trained. By the end of that 1.5 week period, they would sometimes cry for a minute and then all go off to sleep.
If this strict of a stance makes you queasy, don’t worry. Weissbluth does note that some form of checking and consoling is acceptable, so long as you aren’t doing too much to pick them up or interact with them. The point is to soothe them and help them learn how to self soothe and go to sleep.
Nap Sleep Training
I didn’t have consistent nap schedules for the babies until they were 4 months old adjusted. By then, we had mastered a bedtime sleeping routine. Much like bedtime naps, whenever one baby showed signs of fussiness, I would put all three babies down for a nap. I used a video monitor. When someone was waking up, I would wait until the other babies were also awake before going into their room. For a long time, I just watched for signs of nap consolidation. It was sometimes maddening to have to take the babies up and down the stairs to their bedroom after a short period of wakefulness. Still, I stayed consistent. If one baby was tired, they all went to nap. The nap time routines were the most crazy around 6 months of age. After that, they started showing consistent patterns of napping. We now have two consistent naps a day— a 9 am and a 1pm nap.
I’m sure this post will spur a lot of questions and I’m happy to follow up with questions and answers, a longer post on nap training, and anything else you may wonder about. Weissbluth noted that he witnessed that older or experienced parents often had more success with sleep training because they were often more confident, patient, and tolerant of some crying. I know this is true for me. I absolutely believed sleep training would work for the triplets, and I stuck through some hard nights because I knew the result would benefit our entire family. If there is any takeaway from this post, it would be to be confident and be consistent.
I welcome comments and questions and even differing opinions! Here’s to a good nights sleep. *Link is an amazon affiliate link.