Twins and Parent’s Sleep
Studies have found that the night-time experiences of mothers – in terms of sleep disruption – were similar, regardless of whether they were caring for one infant or more. Fathers of single infants, however, obtained more sleep than mothers – whereas twins’ fathers obtained less sleep than mothers, who were more able to catch up on lost night-time sleep via day-time naps. When it comes to night-time caregiving fathers are minimally affected by one infant, but have greater involvement when there are two. For both fathers and mothers, the effects of prolonged sleep restriction include increased sleepiness, depression and decreased mental performance, together with a higher risk of illness and decreased ability to cope with demands. These contribute to an increased risk of postnatal depression with the mothers of twins known to be at increased risk, especially when coupled with difficulty falling asleep. Parents of twins should therefore be vigilant for signs of postnatal depression in both mothers and fathers, and seek support should PND be suspected. One way to help avoid PND is for parents to make a special effort to maintain their own normal circadian rhythms.
When coping with new babies (singletons or multiples) development of routines is generally a good thing as they help parents cope, provide structure and an order to do things in, encourage the division of tasks, etc. Routines are not prescriptive and all families develop different routines. Routines have flexibility and can be varied as necessary. Schedules, on the other hand, can create stress for parents rather than reduce it, as they are often rather rigid, and babies don’t stick to the clock. Schedules can become a source of additional stress and conflict when things don’t go according to plan, especially when they constrain family life around the supposed needs of the babies. Parents of multiples are often tempted to implement sleep training in order to avoid night- time disruption. Remember that sleep training is a controversial practice that is often undertaken for the purpose of the parents rather than the infant(s). It works under certain conditions, but it breaks the synchrony between parents and baby and causes babies stress. Researchers recommend that sleep training is not appropriate for babies under 6 months old.
Caring for twins
Two other potential differences in the care of multiples that sets them apart from singletons are that multiples are more likely to be cared for according to a schedule and are more likely to have several different carers. Both strategies help parents cope with looking after multiple babies, especially if they have other children to care for as well, but both might also be difficult for babies to adapt to if they have to ‘wait their turn’ to be fed or comforted, or if they receive inconsistent care from a variety of carers. There is little research upon which to base recommendations, but one suggestion that is consistent with our knowledge of infant attachment and security is to designate helpers to taking care of the household, the laundry, and feeding the parents, rather than handing over the primary care-giving responsibilities for the babies to others.