DISCLAIMER: I drafted this post in April 2015. A year ago. It’s one of seven drafts that never made it to publication. I’m not sure why it never made it to the publishable phase. Actually, I’m quite sure life got in the way. In any event, I found the draft here (while perusing for material for
my most a somewhat recent post), and I decided to finish it as we near the trio’s second birthday.
The other day, during nap time, Will and I asked each other, “What do parents do when one of their babies is napping, one is loudly (although pretty happily) protesting and stomping around in his crib, and the third is quietly rolling around in her crib but also refusing to sleep?” The obvious observation here is that most people probably don’t have THREE babies who should be napping all at the same time.
Fast forward an hour, and Baby #1 is still napping (love him), Baby #2 has just decided to START napping (at the time they usually FINISH napping), and Baby #3 is still happily playing but has located the monitor cord through the slats of her crib, ripped the tape of the wall, and is making an awful lot of noise while she does this (not to mention she is playing with a wire which is a definite safety hazard). So, we go in and stop Baby #3. Of course this wakes up a very cranky Baby #1, because, “Seriously! I was napping, Mom!” (Never mind that he previously slept through two diaper changes–his siblings’, not his own). Baby #2 is (finally) out for the count.
In summary, nap time looked like this:
- Baby #1 slept for a little over an hour at a mostly appropriate hour (2pm – 3pm).
- Baby #2 started sleeping moments before Baby #1 woke up. He then slept for over an hour, at a less appropriate hour, and had to be woken up at 4:15pm.
- Baby #3 did not sleep.
Two out of three (albeit at different times)…not bad, eh?
But, like every other parent of every other baby knows, the quality of the nap usually has repercussions on bed time. Only, in our case, there were three DIFFERENT sets of repercussions. Sophie (Baby #3–had you not figured that out by now?) was exhausted come 6pm. She fell asleep with little fuss and in fifteen minutes flat. A new record for her. Check plus.
Henry (Baby #2), wasn’t tired yet. We’d woken him up at 4:15, for heaven’s sakes! Why would he want to go back to bed at 6? So he laughed and yelled and stomped around his crib seeking company (again) for a good hour. Check/Check minus.
And Jack. Baby #1. Jack has his moments. And he doesn’t ALWAYS do what he’s told. But he is mostly a rule-follower. So when bedtime rolled around, he chatted with Henry for a little bit, then laid down, rolled over, and went to sleep. This further frustrated Henry (see above), but as for Jack? Check plus.
By 7:20pm, all three were asleep in their cribs, and there they stayed until the next morning. Score one for Team Strumolo!
Reflecting on naps, bed time, and life with triplets in general, I decided to summarize some of the things we’ve leaned so far. If you’re expecting triplets (or twins), maybe you’ll find this helpful. If you’ve raised triplets, maybe you’ll find this relatable. And if you’re just friends and family of Henry, Jack, and Sophie, you’ll either find this hilarious or horrifying, or perhaps some combination of the two. There are very few pictures that follow, so if you’re in it for the updates, you can skip this post. If you ever find yourself uttering, “How do they do it?” then read on!
Lessons on Raising Triplets
If there’s anything I’ve learned over the past
year two years (ok, I’ve learned A LOT), it’s that some widely touted “parenting rules” don’t apply to triplets. That whole, “Never wake a sleeping baby!” thing? Yeah, that didn’t work for us. The ONE night we let every sleep to the beat of his or her own drum, we were up ALL night feeding. Literally. If you want a schedule with multiple babies, you sometimes have to wake a sleeping baby.
I’ve also learned that there is an argument (and a book, and a blog, and a forum, and a website) for just about every parenting method out there. Cry it out. Don’t cry it out. Kind of cry it out. Feed on demand. Stick to a strict schedule. Set the schedule for your baby. Let your baby make the schedule (ok, but which baby?). Breastfeed until 6 months. Breastfeed for a year. Breastfeed as long as you can. Start with rice cereal. Start with oatmeal. Don’t bother with cereal. Try baby-led weaning. Co-sleep. Don’t co-sleep. Pacifiers help prevent SIDS. Pacifiers lead to dental problems, attachment issues, and speech impediments.
I would never claim to be an expert on any of the above. I know what worked for us and what didn’t. And I know there are a whole lot of things we still haven’t figured out
363 726 days later. I also know that so much of what works for you and your family has to do with just that: you and your family. Often times I think Will and I get a pass: “Oh, well you have triplets, so you should just do whatever works!” I am ALWAYS grateful for this get out of jail free card. But shouldn’t we all just be doing whatever works? I mean, isn’t that what parenting is? Doing what works for your kids and your family? If it doesn’t work, why (and how) would you keep on doing it?
So, while I’m no expert, I will comment on a few aspects of parenting that have consumed a big part of our lives this past year (okay, two). I’ll tell you what worked, what didn’t, and what we are still struggling with. Some of this might apply to you. Some of it probably won’t, unless you also have triplets. #TripletProblems.
There were some things we did not negotiate on. For example, our babies all sleep in the same room, and it is NOT (and never was) our room. This is almost entirely logistical. We do not have the space to keep three babies in our room. When we moved, we made absolutely sure we could fit three cribs (that convert into toddler beds) in the second bedroom. On the one hand, this made it easier to sleep train (see “CIO” section below). On the other hand, there are three babies trying to sleep in one room, and as you’ve already read, they don’t always want to sleep at the same time.
Another non-negotiation? One up, all up. This premise really only applies to multiples, but it was the key to our sanity in the first few months. It didn’t always work. There were nights when someone (ahem, Sophie) was up every two hours, and it seemed unnecessary (and unkind) to wake the others every two hours. It was particularly hard to stick with when we were aiming for longer stretches overnight, and not everyone was willing to hold out for quite as long. So there were some really exhausting weeks around 4-6 months. And there were plenty of nights when the debate about, “Do we feed? Do we wake? Do we rock? Do we ignore?” went on for just as long (if not longer) as the actual feeding, waking, rocking, or ignoring lasted. It helped to have a plan going into the night. Like, “If they wake up before 3am, we won’t feed.” Or, “If anyone wakes up after 4:30 am, we will wake them all up to feed.” But it also helped to remember that no matter how strictly we tried to schedule things, these babies are human beings with biological needs and emotional wants, and sometimes, they had their own schedule. But usually, we were in charge of it.
We were always strict about bedtime and nap time (2016 edit: we still are, at 23+ months), and that routine definitely helped out in the long run, though establishing it, especially during nap time, took a long time. A REALLY long time. And then, when we finally got into the groove, it was time to drop down to one nap. More about that later.
There were other things we were more flexible about. Eventually, we moved everyone to the cribs for all periods of sleeping (and that was always a goal), but for many months, Henry, Jack, and Sophie took their morning nap in their Rock ‘N Plays. And Sophie often took her afternoon nap in the swing. And sometimes, at around 10pm, Sophie was hanging out in the living room in her Rock ‘N Play. Or Henry was there on my belly. We kept our goal (everyone will sleep in his or her own bed in his or her own room), and eventually we got there. But there were days when we realized a nap in the swing was better than no nap at all, and we did what we had to do.
Below, a few thoughts on some of the methods we tried.
- Sleep Training
I definitely don’t think we have the sleep thing sorted out yet. (2016 edit: I think we’ve got the sleep thing pretty much nailed with the occasional exception). But I will tell you that for us, there was no other option other than to “sleep train.” The prospect of feeding three babies throughout the night for months (or years) on end, was logistically impossible. Feeding three babies already required both adults waking up multiple times throughout the night. And it takes a long time to feed three babies. Especially three babies who couldn’t breastfeed and who generally struggled to eat (and to keep it down) in the early months. It is, more often than not, impossible to feed three newborns at the same time. So, when we got the green light from our pediatrician, we committed to sleep training.
- Cry It Out
So, like I said, I’m no expert on this. But, I did read quite a few books on the topic, and though it’s been a while since we implemented this method, my understanding is that CIO is pretty much what it sounds like. You put the baby down to sleep (for bed or for nap), and if (when?) he or she cries, you let him. Or her. Obviously you want to make sure nothing is seriously wrong (video monitors help in this regard), and you make sure the baby is fed and dry before laying him down. Eventually, the baby falls asleep (often because he or she is so exhausted from all the crying). The crying shouldn’t last more than an hour, and if it does, there are experts who would tell you to call it at the 60 minute mark.
If you want to do this, BOTH parents and ALL caregivers have to be on board, and you have to be willing to listen to your kid cry. It’s pretty tough. They say it shouldn’t take more than two weeks (and most people claim it took much less time for their kids to learn to “self-soothe”).
Our Reality: The boys were already good sleepers, so we only had to handle one crying baby. We weren’t quite ready to let our littlest wail (and she can wail!) it out for an hour on day one, so we opted for a slightly less torturous option. See below.
- Graduated Extinction
This is like a modified CIO method. Instead of going cold turkey, you gradually wean your child off of your interventions, letting her cry for five minutes before soothing the first night, then ten minutes the second night, fifteen the third (or twenty) and so on, until they learn to go to sleep without all that racket. When you do go in to soothe them, you don’t pick them up, you just rub their back, speak gently to them, etc. The torture is still the same–you have to listen to your baby cry without intervening–but it’s in smaller doses at the beginning, so you can all ease into it. With any luck, your baby will learn how to put herself to sleep after a few days, so you won’t have to brace yourself for an hour of crying.
Again, they say this shouldn’t take more than two weeks (usually less), and that you should cap it at the hour mark.
Our Reality: This took MUCH longer than two weeks. Our sleep records are a bit incomplete, but there was a LOT of crying recorded. We started with 5 minutes of crying on October 1, and it progressed as follows: 10 min, 15 min, 20 min, 25 min, 30 min, 11 min (hooray!), 25 min (false alarm)…October 13: 38 min…October 20: 53 min, and so on. We usually capped it at 1 hour, but we had more 50+ minute nights than I think any parent would care to ignore. And this was all at bedtime. It lasted closer to six weeks than two, and it was ROUGH.
There were plenty of bouts in the middle of the night, and surprisingly, those were sometimes easier to handle. They rarely lasted as long, and by some miracle, Henry and Jack learned early on how to sleep through these midnight scream sessions. THIS WAS (and still is) OUR SAVING GRACE.
Even before we started sleep training, we worked to establish a bedtime routine. It’s evolved a little bit over the last two years, but the main components are still the same. It’s short and sweet (minimizing the chance that one of the three will get upset mid-routine and based in part on the logistics of snuggling three babies at once), and by about eighteen months old, our kiddos knew exactly what to expect, and they began asking for it by name (“Tendah Shepah?”).
- pajamas and stories in the nursery
- brush teeth in the bathroom
- gather animals (Milos, Dog and New Dog, Baby and Monkey)
- curtains closed/lights off
- fan on/sound machine on “ocean”
- boys with Dad in the rocker, Sophie with Mom
- “Tender Shepherd” sung in a round*
*It’s still a two-part Mom/Dad round, but Sophie, Jack, and Henry are beginning to catch on, so they chime in every so often now.
Obviously the routine changes a bit when one of us misses bedtime, and it’s usually lacking “Tender Shepherd” when we’re both out, but bedtime is pretty sacred in our household, so those nights are few and far between, and as long as we stick with the basics, Henry, Jack, and Sophie almost always go down without a fight.
We are also committed to an early bedtime, and we always have been. Even for Miss Sophie, who established early on that she didn’t need as much sleep. At 12 months, they were hitting the hay at 6pm, by 18 months we’d pushed it back to 6:30pm, and by 24 months we’ve settled in at 7pm.
This wouldn’t work for everyone. For working parents with a long commute, it would mean you might not see your kids at all in the evening, and that’s not something a lot of parents want to give up. We are lucky to live near work, and even when I leave work at 5:15pm, I am still home in time for our early bedtime routine. It often doesn’t feel like I get enough time with the kids during the week, but they are happier people when they get to bed early, and we are a happier family when we stick to the routine that works for us. We have early jobs which means everyone in the house has to be up early…another reason for the early bedtime ritual. I won’t say we didn’t appreciate when the Trips transitioned from their 5:30am wake-up call to their 6:30am wake-up call, but it means I miss out on the hour and a half I used to have to play with them in the morning. Now our morning is all diapers and getting everyone dressed and fed before I’m out the door. But at least it’s (mostly) predictable.
Like I mentioned earlier, these were harder to regulate. It takes longer for infants to settle into a daytime sleep routine, and we had three different infants we were dealing with. The boys’ sleep patterns were pretty similar (typically true of identical siblings), and Sophie just didn’t need (and still doesn’t) as much sleep as her brothers. There were a lot of early naps in various napping contraptions (Rock ‘N Plays, bouncers, swings), and when we eventually transitioned to the cribs for naps (around 9 months?) it was no picnic. But we picked times that worked with their general sleep patterns and feeding routines, we set a goal of two 1.5 to 2 hour naps a day in the crib, and we worked towards it. They got there eventually, and nap time became another predictable routine in our lives.
To be clear, they don’t all sleep identical hours. Even with our routines and schedule that’s asking a bit too much of their biological clocks. But, everyone goes in the crib at the same time, and almost always, everyone comes out of their crib at the same time. Sophie needs less sleep than the boys, so she sings, she chats, or she shouts until she is sure no one else is awake to play with her. Then she sleeps, wakes up, and begins the sing/chat/shout routine again until nap time is officially over.
When it came time to whittle our naps down from two to one, we struggled again, but we had success by gradually shaving off 10 minutes at the end of their nap until, POOF! Their morning nap was gone. (We tried pushing the morning nap later and later, but that didn’t work for us).
When the fall rolled around and I went back to work (oh, and they became full-fledged toddlers who could walk, talk, pout, and shout) weekend naps became a bit of a power struggle. They’re still hit-or-miss when Mom and Dad are around, but our amazing nanny, Diana, has them napping like clockwork M-F. And on the weekends? We try to mimic her routine as best we can and keep our fingers crossed. Oh, and let them cry it out if necessary.
In Summary: We have three 23-month-olds who sleep through the night (and have since they were 7 months (4 months adjusted)), and who “nap” all at the same time in the same room. We have a strict 7-7 closed door policy in the nursery, and we rarely break it. Naps are 12:30-3, though actual napping hours range from 1pm-3pm most days. Except for the weekends. Those are anybody’s guess.
- Breast Feeding vs. Bottle Feeding
Ok, here’s where I really got to play my triplet card. And my preemie card. Henry, Jack, and Sophie were born at 28 weeks, before they were physically capable of breastfeeding (or bottle-feeding, for that matter), so they had three-four weeks of tube feeding before they could even attempt nursing. To make a long story (one I’ve written about elsewhere on this blog) short, we never figured out the nursing thing. It often takes a lot of time and energy with one baby, let alone three tiny preemies who all want to be fed at the same time.
That said, breast milk was a big part of our feeding game from the get-go. We understood that it was the best nourishment our tiny children could get, and it was one of the only ways I could really mother them in those early stages in the NICU. So I pumped. A LOT. But despite my grand plans to teach them all to nurse when we got home two and a half months later, we couldn’t make it work. It was too hard to stay on schedule, it was overwhelming with three, and I knew I would be headed back to work soon enough.
Bottle feeding had some clear advantages: we could feed all three babies at one time (this took some practice and some maneuvering, but it was physically possible); we could prepare meals a day in advance; we could stay on schedule; and we had a stockpile of frozen milk in our deep freezer.
- Tools and Logistics
This was especially important because by the time they were five months (two adjusted), the adult-to-baby ratio in our household was usually 1:3.
Honestly, if I could do it all over, I would probably try harder/longer to make nursing work for our family. Their are triplet mamas all over the world who do it. And I’m still a bit sad that I missed out on that bond (among many of the other things a preemie mom misses out on at the beginning). But, in the end, we came up with a system that worked for us, and our preemies kept growing and thriving, (and eating and sleeping on a predictable schedule) and that was most important.
Speaking of the schedule, that has, and continues to be, THE MOST IMPORTANT THING. For us. Their are triplet parents who feed on demand, who let everyone sleep on their own schedule, or practice attachment parenting and co-sleeping. To each his own! But for us control freaks, we need some predictability, and with three newborns/infants/toddlers, predictability does not always come naturally. So, we established it. With a schedule. At every new stage. They are typed up, mapped out, and can be printed out for anyone who comes to help. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner happen at the same time every day. Naps start at the same time every day. Snack happens at the same times. Every. Day.
Sometimes having such a strict schedule is a total pain. Activities are limited to early mornings and late afternoons, and when they were taking two naps, forget about it! Between feeding and sleeping there was barely time to do anything. We think long and hard about doing something that will mean getting home late, being up past their bedtime, or missing an 11:30 lunch. And when the routine changes, Henry, Jack, and Sophie can have a hard time with it. But, our kids follow directions pretty well, they know what to expect and what is expected of them (within reason…they are only two, after all), and our tantrum count is (so far) pretty low considering we have three contenders.
So again, I don’t claim to be an expert on any of this, but I can tell you that the schedule SAVES us (and our sanity) in so many ways. And it makes it much easier to hand our trio over to someone else for an hour, or a day, or a weekend. Taking on triplets is not for the faint of heart, and I know our helpers appreciate the predictability!
- Keeping Track
I started by using a chart a friend created for her twins, and I adjusted it for the triplets. We had a binder, and each day we had columns for eating (as well as sleeping and diaper changes) to help us keep track.
We moved to these ItzBeen Timers which seemed like a cooler (and maybe less time-consuming) way to keep track of everything, although I have to admit that I kept forgetting to stop the timers when the feeding or sleeping was over, so it wasn’t the best system for me.
Finally, we settled on an app called “BabyConnect.” It allowed us to track all three babies, add simultaneous events with one click (this worked well with our “one up, all up” approach), and multiple users could input and receive the data, so even when we went back to work our nanny could keep us posted on the day’s events. It also has more options for tracking weight, height, and doctor’s visits (which we still use) as well as solid foods, milestones, and mood. Finally, it generates graphs of the data, which, let’s face it, the math teacher in me loves. Oh, and I’m pretty sure it is free!
- Color Coding
Ok, this first came about because we were seriously concerned about telling Jack and Henry apart at the beginning. This was actually a pre-birth decision. Everyone would have their own color, so everyone else would know that the baby dressed in blue was Henry, that the bottle with the green label was Jack’s, and that the pink stuff was…well, that one’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?
It’s continued for two years, and it did get to the point where before Henry, Jack, and Sophie could actually name their colors accurately, they could identify blue as “Hemy,” green as “Jack-o,” and pink as “Dee-dee” (their name for Sophie at the time). They know “blue,” “green,” and “pink” now, among many other colors, but they still identify those items as belonging to Henry, Jack, or Sophie, respectively. This can sometimes be problematic now that their older (What if Henry wants to drink from a green cup? Will he grow up thinking he isn’t allowed to wear green?), but it does still help in some ways. Everyone still knows whose cup is whose. So, that helps minimize germs, I guess?
The color coding really is the biggie here. I have lots of other grand plans for organization that I sometimes follow through with, but it’s safe to say that the more organized we are, the easier life with multiples feels. We have laminated packing lists, color-coded (of course) packing cubes to organize the bazillion pairs of pajamas we have to bring every time we go anywhere overnight, a shelf in the fridge devoted to triplet food, bins and baskets for everything we can think of, and a label maker. We still never feel as organized as I’d like us to be, but I suspect that’s just part of living life with toddlers. Or at least, that’s what I tell myself.
The most important lesson we’ve learned raising these three amazing people over the last two years is just how incredibly lucky we are to be their parents. When I dreamed about becoming a mom, I certainly never imagined it would turn out this way, but I can’t believe how lucky I am to have three times the smiles, three times the hugs, and three times the “I love you Mama”‘s every night at bedtime. And so even on the rare occasion when we have three times the crying, I am grateful that those crying kiddos are mine. Ok, maybe not WHILE they are all crying at the same time, but definitely shortly thereafter. Definitely. Happy almost (actual) birthday, HJS!
REAL birthday post forthcoming, I promise.
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