One of the most common pieces of advice that seasoned parents offer to new parents of twins and multiples is to get the babies on a schedule or routine. A poll on this site attracted hundreds of votes, heartily in favor of a regular, timed routine for eating and sleeping. The parents' comments offer even stronger recommendations.
"My boy/girl twins were not on a schedule at first, but let me tell you, that changed really quickly. Saved my sanity. That's for sure." - Shanna
"Keeping the boys on a schedule was and still is VERY important... we still keep a schedule when it comes to meals, and bed time routine. Its best for all of us. Kids need structure. They like to know what is going to happen next." - Jenna
"...a schedule was necessary to ensure their survival when my – quite premature – twins came home. I was asked to track all input/output for months. I already spent most of the day and night feeding them and/or pumping. If they had not been on the same schedule, chaos would have ensued." - gala
"The girls are 18 months old now and a schedule has not only made my life easier and more predictable but the girls also love their schedule and don’t like it when its disrupted. Being on a schedule removes those avoidable stresses so we can enjoy life and have a sense of humor about the unexpected happenings in a life with twins." - Sandra
Many parents credit a schedule with saving their sanity. But what exactly does it mean and how do you achieve it?
Parenting Twins Isn't the Same as Parenting Singletons
Some parents are horrified by the thought of instituting a schedule, preferring a more relaxed, less rigid approach. Many parenting experts that favor a "feeding on demand" model oppose the notion of schedules. This may even have worked great with your other children. But, nearly all parents of multiples will agree ... it's different when there are more than one. A different approach may be required in order to meet everyone's needs more efficiently.
A Schedule is a Partnership
View your schedule as a partnership between you and your babies. It's your job to develop the schedule, but it is based on their needs. In general, you are aiming to feed them, change them, play with them, and put them to sleep together. Together, as in both -- or all -- babies at the same time. But while that's the goal, parents must recognize the individual needs of each child, who won't always be hungry, sleepy, awake or playful at the same time. Even though they are twins (or more), they are individual children and they do have individual needs. The best way to meet everyone's needs may be to keep them on a schedule.
In the beginning, a schedule may simply be feeding the babies and putting them to sleep at the same time. As they grow and develop, it may become a routine of sleeptime. waketime/playtime, feeding times and bathtime. Many families adhere to a schedule even as their multiples grow into toddlers, keeping to an assigned timeframe for meals, naps and bedtimes.
Working Towards Unity
Monozygotic -- or identical twins -- may adapt to a schedule more readily because their shared genetic disposition gives them similar metabolisms. However, even non-identical -- that is, dizygotic or fraternal -- twins can thrive on the same schedule with a little bit of encouragement and parental determination.
In order to establish or keep your twins on a schedule, you may have to coax one baby to play along. This might even mean waking a sleeping baby to feed her in tandem with her co-multiples. Well-meaning nurses, grandmothers and friends may express horror at the notion of waking up a sleeping baby, and the suggestion may seem counterintuitive to parents whose goal is to achieve more sleep. However, waking up one baby a few minutes early so that you can feed both babies at the same time will actually be more efficient than feeding them individually every other hour.
Another way to develop a schedule is to create routines. You can't make your babies live by a clock -- they can't tell time, after all. But building routines into activities can provide signals to the babies that keep the schedule on track. Aim to do the same things about the same time each day, and in the same way. Follow the same patterns and processes as you prepare the babies for feeding, sleeping or bathing. A familiar routine can give babies cues that it is time to sleep so that they will fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
A Schedule is a Guideline, Not a Law
Be flexible, flexible, flexible, flexible. Update and adapt your schedule as your childrens' needs change. The best schedule is organic and dynamic, responding to your childrens' natural rhythms and patterns. It evolves over time and accommodates seasonal changes, weekends and vacations. It is developed with guidance from a pediatrician and medical professionals, particularly if babies were born prematurely. It is based on your babies' cues and requires parents to become intimately familiar with how their children communicate their needs through crying and body language. Finally, it flexes to accommodate special situations, such as when babies are sick, teething or undergoing other physical adjustments.
Not every family with multiples finds that a schedule works for them. Ultimately, the best approach is what works for you. There is no right or wrong way to do it.
Tips for Putting Twins on A Schedule
- Try to feed twins and multiples at about the same time. If one wakes up to feed, wake up the other.
- Be flexible; update and adapt as things change.
- Talk to your pediatrician for guidance. Also consult other parents of multiples to see what worked for them.
- Remember that your children are individuals; you can't force them into a schedule. Just do the best that you can.
- While these books aren't specific to twins, many parents recommend Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Marc Weissbluth (compare prices) and The Contented Little Baby Book by Gina Ford (compare prices).
- Learn to interpret your babies' cues and cries to understand what they need.
- Give it time. A schedule doesn't happen in a day; it evolves over weeks and months.