Twin Mom Carrie gets tips on scheduling from Good Night Sleep Site Founder and twin mom Alanna McGinn.
First and foremost, thank you for taking the time to share your insights with The Twin Source community! I first discovered your excellent advice through Twitter. Your guidance always resonated with me as being very logical, sound, and compassionate for parents seeking advice about scheduling and sleep training. When I found out you are a mother of twins, I knew I needed to interview you for The Twin Source!
Thank you, Carrie! It was so great to connect with you on Twitter. Being a twin mom, I know how important it is to be part of a moms of multiples or parents of multiples community, so that we can reach out to one another when needed. It’s such a blessing to have multiples, but it’s a lot of work too! So I think your website is a great resource for twin parents. I was happy to find it, and I am happy to be a part of it!
You started your career as a certified Sleep Consultant after helping friends and family members. Can you talk a bit about how you got started?
My personal sleep journey began after the birth of my first daughter. Like many of my clients, I was a sleep-deprived parent. I found it frustrating because there was so much information available on pregnancy, birth, and breast-feeding/bottle-feeding, but where was the information on sleep? All we new parents are told is that we’ll never sleep again.
I started researching, reading, and speaking to whomever I could about infant sleep and sleep training. I became quite passionate about it, and the plan I developed for my daughter and our family was a success.
As you said, I then started helping friends, and friends of friends, and soon there wasn’t a day that went by when I wasn’t talking to a mom about sleep. It was actually my husband who pushed me to become a sleep consultant. I wanted to get certified, so I found and studied under Deborah Pedrick at The Family Sleep Institute. Shortly after, Good Night Sleep Site was born—as were my twins, Duncan and Lila. They were the best case study!
How did you develop your process for and beliefs on helping other parents create schedules and sleep train their babies?
I practice the philosophy that there isn’t one way to sleep train your child or children. I work very closely with parents in determining what process is best suited for their own parenting philosophies. I don’t have one program that I teach or one sure-fire method that I use.
My main goal is not only to get babies or toddlers the healthy sleep they need but also to educate parents on the important fundamentals of a healthy sleep foundation for their children.
I think there is a bit of taboo surrounding sleep training. The stigma may come from too many stereotypes and assumptions and a misunderstanding of the process. Can you explain what sleep training is for those who might be wary about it and why you see it as important?
There can be a stigma, unfortunately. I would love to change the term “sleep training.” It can sound so strict and severe, when in reality encouraging and teaching your children healthy sleep habits is anything but. People assume a sleep consultant is just going to tell them to let their children cry it out. That’s simply not true.
I define sleep training as encouraging your child to sleep through the night as well as at times during the day. For a baby or toddler, naps are just as important as getting the right amount of consolidated sleep at night. Babies and children need a lot of sleep—much more than we adults need.
I try to educate parents on the facts. The facts are that the amount of sleep children get can affect:
- Learning and memory. Sleep causes memory consolidation and enhances organizational skills, planning, multitasking, and executive functioning.
- Safety. Overtired children have impaired hand-eye coordination, which can impact their fine motor skills.
- Mood. Children who are tired can be more hyperactive, oppositional, and aggressive. Children also become more irritable, angry, and easily upset when they are overtired.
- Illness. A person’s immune system has more trouble fighting off illness when he or she hasn’t gotten enough rest.
While I was pregnant with my twins, one of my biggest concerns was how I was going to ensure that they were feeding and sleeping in tandem—and in a way that was manageable for me! In my mind, scheduling and sleep training for twins was almost a requirement. I just needed to find what worked for my family. Can you speak about scheduling and sleep training for twins?
I think it’s safe to say that scheduling and sleep training for twins is necessary for survival! I remember when I was pregnant with the twins, I was concerned about that as well, especially because I also had a 3-year-old and a husband who worked some nights. How was I going to manage it? Making sure my twins were on the same feeding and sleeping schedule was the only way I could.
Routines are important for children. Once my twins were old enough, my efforts went into getting them on the same routine. The eating part was fairly easy, of course, but with consistency their sleeping schedules synched up as well. Unless you’re okay with constantly feeding a baby and having a baby up with you 24/7, then getting your twins on the same routine is the best route to take.
Also, twin parents who schedule and sleep train their babies don’t have to worry so much about one baby waking up the other if they are in the same room and one is crying. Chances are they are going to sleep in the same room for a while, so the best thing to do is to get them used to each other’s sounds right from the beginning. Trust me when I say once they are used to one another’s cries, one will sleep through the other’s sob fest. We eventually sleep through our husbands’ snoring, right? Well, for the most part anyway!
Did you learn any lessons from your own twins in those earliest of days?
My twins are separate individuals and therefore had their own personalities, eating habits, and sleeping habits. My daughter gave me a battle when I tried to put her down, but she was a great sleeper as far as taking long naps and having nice long sleep stretches. My son, on the other hand, went down a lot more easily but was the king of catnaps.
What I learned from them was that, no matter what kind of sleepers they are born as, all children can establish healthy sleep habits if they are encouraged to do so. My three kids, who are entirely different from one another, and my clients’ children are examples of that. Now, there isn’t a nap that goes by where my king of catnaps doesn’t have to be woken up. It’s amazing!
Besides the obvious—that there are two babies—what are some differences you have seen when working with twins, and what kinds of adjustments need to be made when it comes to sleep training?
There isn’t a huge difference, really, other than the obvious. You’re dealing with two babies instead of one, and each one is his or her own individual. When I choose a method for sleep training, I choose one that fits the parenting philosophies of the family and the personality of the child.
If parents start sleep training when their twins are young—say, 5 or 6 months—one method may work on both babies. Babies that age adapt much more easily to changes than when they are older. As the babies get older and develop their own personalities, it might be necessary to choose two different methods, as one method may work better for one child and another method may work better for the other child. In that case, both parents may need to be more involved in the process, and it could take longer. But the fundamentals of acquiring healthy sleep remain the same.
What advice can you give to expectant twin parents that will help lead to sleeping successes?
You want to focus on encouraging your babies to have the right amount of sleep, at the right time, and at the right consolidated length. The components of healthy sleep are the same, regardless of how many babies you have. Your babies are born with the ability to sleep, but falling asleep and falling back asleep unassisted—a huge component in sleep success—is a skill your babies will need to learn and therefore practice. It’s up to you, the parents, to allow them to practice that skill.
Remember that sleep is a biological need; it’s not a luxury. It’s just as important to sleep your children as it is to feed them. And parents need to sleep too! Well-rested babies are happier babies, and well-rested parents are happier parents and better parents for the entire unit.
On Good Night Sleep Site, you have a fantastic quote: “Consistency is key to getting any routine in place.” Can you discuss why that is so essential and how it can help both the parents and the babies?
I can’t tell you how many times a day I say that to my clients. Consistency is key! Without it, forget it. Babies and children thrive off routine. The three major components of healthy sleep are for your babies to:
- Follow a consistent soothing routine.
- Be able to put themselves to sleep consistently.
- Have a consistent sleeping place.
The only way to learn and properly practice a new routine is to do it consistently and without confusion. It’s when parents go back and forth while sleep training that a child gets confused and doesn’t adapt to the new routine and method. And rightfully so! Just like walking and riding a bike, a child must practice the task consistently until he or she masters it.
Can you speak a bit about the benefits of self-soothing for infants?
A main goal when sleep training is for the infant or child to be able to fall asleep on their own—meaning they don’t need you in order to fall asleep. I don’t mean that you can’t rock your babies or cuddle your babies. Give you babies as much love and as many cuddles as you want. But having your babies fall asleep on their own, in their consistent sleeping environment (preferably their crib), is one of the most important components of healthy sleep.
Once your babies are old enough to self-soothe—around 4 months—it’s important to encourage this skill and to place them down when they are drowsy and not asleep. Once your babies know how to self-soothe, they will be able to easily put themselves back to sleep when they wake up in the night without you there. A win-win for both mom and baby. Everyone now is getting the healthy sleep they need to be a happy, well-rested, functioning family.
Here’s a tip to help along a self-soother: Introduce a lovey or comfort item to your child. This lovey is a great way to transition from, say, a soother or rocking to sleep. Having a sleep association that doesn’t require mom or dad to step in is okay. And a little stuffy or blankie may be the perfect replacement.
After the first year, the babies become toddlers and their sleep habits evolve and grow. How can parents keep great sleep patterns going through the years?
I get asked this a lot: “How can I guarantee there will never be problems?” Unfortunately, no one can guarantee perfect sleepers. But as long as the main fundamentals of healthy sleep are consistently being practiced, your little independent sleepers will remain as such without too many hiccups down the road.
Stick to routines. Remember that children thrive off routine. They also need limits. Parents hate when I ask them to set limits, but sometimes with toddlers you need to step back and ask yourself who’s in charge. If your toddlers are training you at night, then that needs to be turned around and limits need to be set—and consistently so. There’s that word again!
Let’s talk about daddies (we love ’em!) and how critical it is for fathers to be involved. We at The Twin Source have a philosophy that parents are co-captains in this crazy journey and that, with twins in particular, both parents must play an active role from day one. There’s not much choice, really, since one person only has two hands! How do you encourage new parents to work together as a team when it comes to sleep philosophies?
We do love daddies, don’t we? And you’re right: Twin parents especially must work as a team. It’s so important and even necessary at times. I always encourage dads to get involved with sleep issues as early as they can. Not only does it benefit moms as far as helping them out, but it can also help your little ones master their self-soothing skills more quickly if daddy is putting them down instead of mommy.
That’s because sometimes moms soothe their babies by feeding when they are tired and desperate—and understandably so. Having daddy there to put the babies down to sleep drowsy can be a great step in eliminating that temptation for mommy to nurse the babies to sleep. Feed and pass off, moms! Go and get the sleep you need, and let daddy step in for a bit.
Before starting any type of sleep training program, it’s so important for both parents to sit down and discuss which method you want to use. Please try and get on the same page. You will both need each other’s support. Sleep training twins can have its difficult moments, and having the added pressure of a partner who is not on board can make it near impossible. It’s so important to agree on the necessary steps involved and to go at it as a team.
We can’t thank you enough for sharing your expertise with us. Any last bits of advice you would like to pass along?
Having multiples is truly a blessing! I am in awe of my twins every day, and seeing their big sister fall in love with them more and more each day is amazing.
Some of the parents I help just need someone to tell them it’s okay. It’s okay to admit that you’ve hit your wall and that you feel you’re not able to be the best parent you can be because you need some sleep. It’s okay to say, “My baby needs to sleep, and I need to do what it takes to get that sleep for him.”
Having a new baby is a joyous moment, but it comes with struggles. Add twins to that, and the struggles can double. It’s okay to ask for help; it’s a must sometimes with multiples. You can’t do it alone, so reach out to your partner, family, and any resource you need. You need a team to take care of the tiny duo you gave birth to, and that’s okay.
Alanna McGinn is a mommy of three children (one plus twins!). She is committed to helping families with their baby and toddler sleep needs and has a special place in her heart for tired twin mamas.
Alanna is a work-at-home mom, a certified Sleep Consultant, and Founder of Good Night Sleep Site. She was taught by one of the pioneers in sleep training, Deborah Pedrick of The Family Sleep Institute. Through her studies, experience, and day-to-day life, Alanna strives to help all families overcome their sleep challenges and have happy smiles in the morning. “I know how completely frustrating baby and children sleep can be—trust me, I’ve been there!” she says. “With years of experience and expert training, I can help parents who are looking for healthy sleep for their entire family.”
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