By Guest Blogger Davina
My first goal when we found out we were having three babies was to lower my expectation of sleep! I figured you couldn’t get upset with what you didn’t expect to have in the first place! When we brought our triplets (Willow, Connor and Summer) home after 3 weeks in NICU, it was a creative challenge to figure out how we would all sleep. Lots of people suggested keeping them on the NICU schedule, but it was a ridiculous schedule meant for a single nurse to be able to feed one baby at a time in a constant rotation and totally wouldn’t work in a real life home setting. Others suggested putting them on a 3 hourly schedule where we would just wake them all up at 3 hourly intervals, feed them all and put them back to sleep. This is what the majority of triplet parents do…they will tell you it is all about the schedule. Unfortunately, most triplets aren’t breastfed, and mine were, which to me meant supply and demand, day and night, so no schedule.
I very much wanted to co-sleep, but was completely unable to figure out how I could possibly, safely, co-sleep 3 tiny infants in our bed, and get to each one as they woke, without bumping into or waking any of the others! So we decided to go with a nursery, that was big enough for three cribs and a queen size bed. My husband and I would both sleep in there and get up to the babies as and when they needed us. After a few nights we realised this wasn’t working, due to Connor having a very loud cry that would wake the girls, so we reshuffled. Daddy would sleep in the nursery with the girls and I would sleep in the main bedroom with Connor. This worked great for a while as the girls both seemed to prefer longer stretches of sleep of 5-6-7 hours whereas Connor was stuck on every 2-3 hours, but having them separated meant that all the babies were getting their sleep needs met.
When the babies were 6 months old we moved house and got more room. I was still sleeping with Connor in our big bed and Daddy slept in the girls room. This lasted another 3-4 months when we realised that Willow was starting to want to sleep even longer…sometimes 9-10 hours and her sister would wake her with her shorter stretches of sleep. So again, as we were trying to listen to each child’s cues and find ways to meet their needs, we reshuffled. Now, Willow and Summer had separate rooms. By one year old Willow was consistently sleeping 12 hours a night, and Summer was waking once or maybe twice during the night for a feed. Connor however, had started to regress. Gone was the happy boy who would snuggle and feed and sleep next to me. Here was the boy who would wake every 30-60 minutes and then have a screaming fit for 2 hours in the middle of the night. I tried side-carring his crib, I tried waiting it out, thinking it could be teething, a growth spurt, a developmental leap. After 3 months of this screaming and sleeplessness, seeming to get worse every night, my husband said ‘let’s try him in his own room’. I have to admit, I was devastated. I wanted to co-sleep. I loved being with my boy. I loved the closeness of him. But I had to look at it from his point of view and realise that, albeit non-verbally, he was saying to me ‘mama, I’m tired, I can’t sleep like this’. My husband assured me that it didn’t mean we were going to leave him to cry, that I could still get up to him…we just had to try something different, because this was no longer working. So with a heavy heart I put him to sleep in his own room. And he slept like a baby! I mean, he woke up every 3 hours, had boobie and went straight back to sleep! Yes, it was his newborn timing, but still, after literally not sleeping at all this was heaven! I couldn’t believe that he was so happy in his own bed, in his own room, but he was…and with that proper sleep he was a changed boy during the day too. I was still sad to see the end of co-sleeping, but I had to remind myself that being a gentle parent isn’t about a list of things you tick off, like breastfeeding and babywearing and co-sleeping. It’s about respecting and responding to a child’s needs. It is hard to have triplets and try to respect each one’s individuality and different needs, especially when it conflicts with what you think you should be doing, or what you want to do…sometimes you have to ‘listen’ really hard to get what each child is telling you.
Six months later and we moved again, overseas this time. Summer was by this stage also sleeping 12 hours a night (they were 18 months old), and Connor was still doing his every 3 hours, sometimes the occasional 4 hour stretch. We had to temporarily move into a very small apartment and we had no option but to co-sleep with Connor again. The first couple of nights were lovely and I really enjoyed having him close to me again. Within a week he was back to waking every ½ hour, not going back to sleep, and then the midnight 2 hour scream fest began…it was amazing how quickly it happened. After a month we were able to move into our permanent home, with a bedroom for each child, and again, the first night there Connor immediately slept peacefully, woke every 3 hours for a feed and went straight back to sleep. If I had thought it was just a fluke the first time round, there was more proof of what he wanted and needed for a good night’s sleep.
Then just before they turned two, with both of the girls sleeping their 12-13 hours nights and Connor still doing every 3 hours, sometimes 4….he magically didn’t wake for 10 hours! No build up, no warning, he just didn’t wake! The next night he slept 11 hours…the next night 12 hours and he has slept 12 hours every single night since then. I would never have believed it, and I have no idea how/why it happened like that…one night he was waking for boobie and the next night nothing…crazy right?
So what I take from this experience is that 1. Every child is different…in how they sleep, when they sleep, when they sleep through and how they get there. 2. Not much of what my children need has anything to do with what I want them to need. 3. Listening to and responding to what my children ‘tell’ me they need is always the right way to go. 4. Always assess how things are working and be prepared to change what you are doing, day by day, month by month, year by year. And 5. Having no expectation of sleep for the first 2 years with triplets didn’t make me any less of a sleep deprived zombie, but at least I wasn’t frustrated about it, I accepted it and it all eventually fell into place.
So now, after a sleepless triplet pregnancy, and 2 years of sleepless triplet babyhood and toddlerhood I am finally sleeping a nice 7-8 hours straight…who could ask for more?
**Davina is an Administrator at The Badass Breastfeeder dedicating her daily life to empowering women to parent gently.