One day in the NICU I was comfortably rocking one of the babies when the nurse mentioned the babies would be coming home soon. Naturally, I wanted all four babies home. However, as I began calculating how long it took to feed and diaper each baby without nurses, I started to panic. By the time I pumped, changed each baby, fed, and burped them, it would be time to start again. There would be zero time for self-care. I imagined myself un-showered, starving, and sleep deprived. It was horrific. HOW WERE WE GOING TO CARE FOR FOUR PREMATURE INFANTS AROUND THE CLOCK?!?!?! We didn’t have it in the budget to hire a night nanny or any other household assistance so this was fully our responsibility. It was time to take action.
There are no books available for sleep training higher order multiples so I consulted other mothers of quadruplets first. Then I read two books, 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 quadruplets and our babies slept in eight hour stretches by about four months of age. Here’s what worked for us:
Followed A Schedule
One perk of having babies in the NICU was that they came home accustomed to a three hour feeding schedule (12, 3, 6, 9), which we maintained after they came home. We realized that the babies slept best with predictable feeds and full tummies. Since we were outnumbered by babies, we had to come up with creative solutions for feeding multiple babies to maintain the schedule. We figured out how to feed two babies 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 two babies were fed first, followed by the second two. When the babies became bigger and stronger, we used Boppy pillows to prop (and closely supervise) the bottles, enabling one person to feed all four together.
With quadruplets, there were no opportunities for one parent to sleep through a bottle. We both woke up in the wee hours and fed two babies each. It wasn’t easy waking up at 3:00 am, but I must admit, it was nice having hubby by my side. If it was up to one of us to take care of all bottles, there would have been no rest for the weary, ever.
We Went To Bed After The Last Bottle
In order to get a few consecutive hours of sleep for ourselves, we timed the last bottle of the day with our own bedtime (e.g. 10 – 11 pm). As soon as the babies finished their bottles and were tucked into cribs, we went straight to bed. This gave us a couple of good hours each night, and as the babies got older they slept longer so we did too.
We Woke Sleeping Babies
Whoever came up with the adage, “Never wake a sleeping baby” obviously did not have multiples. 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. This was critical for everyone to get solid hours of sleep.
The Nurseries Were Conducive to Sleep
Regardless of whether it was naptime or bedtime, we always ensured the nurseries encouraged sleep. We consistently used the same routines for going to bed, which helped signal that it was time to sleep. We started by putting each baby in a sleep sack, turned on their mobile or crib soother, and gave them a Wubbanub pacifier. Sound machines set to low (about the same volume as a running shower) helped muffle sounds and the grumblings of siblings. Finally, we invested in overnight diapers to reduce the chances a wet diaper would wake a baby.
Put Babies to Bed Awake
Instead of putting our babies to bed asleep, we watched for signs of drowsiness and put them in bed while awake. We often watched the clock to anticipate when the babies might begin slowing down and their eyes appeared 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 became over tired and irritable.
Followed the Feed-Wake-Sleep Cycle
In the daytime, we followed the Babywise method of following a feed-wake-sleep cycle. After bottles, the babies stayed awake for “playtime,” which consisted of activities such as tummy time, bouncy seats, or looking at board books. Wake time was initially brief, sometimes only 20-30 minutes, but eventually extended to about 90-120 minutes. The order of the three components proved critical. When we deviated from it, things went awry with naps and bedtime.
We Had A Plan For Babies Waking
Even babies who have well developed sleep patterns sometimes wake up during naps or at night. When we first began sleep training, we moved the baby monitor from the nightstand to the room adjacent to us. When the monitor was too close, we heard every tiny fuss in the night and intervened too quickly. If the babies made enough noise to wake us in the night, we gave them a few minutes to resettle. When they didn’t resettle, we listened to infer meaning (e.g. diaper, gas, hunger?) and tried to troubleshoot.
We Ran On Caffeine
Even with the best schedules and babies that began sleeping in longer stretches, we slept in short intervals. It was H-A-R-D maintaining energy levels throughout the day, and caffeine became a necessity. I never drank coffee prior to having the quads, and now I’m a cup a day girl. Coffee still powers my day!
The process of sleep training wasn’t an easy one. The first several months our babies were home, we lived in a fog running on caffeine fumes, but we survived that time and I’m certain that without sleep training I would have cracked. If you find yourself outnumbered by babies and feeling utterly exhausted, try our tips, and also know you too can survive this season. The process of sleep training wasn’t an easy one.
Amber Shawver and her husband, George, are the proud parents of girl-boy-girl-boy quadruplets who debuted in 2012. In an effort to maintain professional skills and a stitch of sanity, Amber continues to practice school psychology part-time. She finds that her professional training and experience are often handy managing the quads at home. In her spare time, Amber chronicles life raising quadruplets on her blog, Four to Adore. You’ll also find Four to Adore on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. For more articles by Amber on Twiniversity, click here.