First let me say, congratulations!
You’ve either just welcomed a new baby into the house, or you’re about to shortly. What great news! I wish you lived down the street from me so I could bring you a meal and some coffee. Whether you are pregnant or have a newborn – those days are exhausting!
I’m guessing you have an older child who is a good sleeper already (if not, let’s talk so we can get at least one of your kids sleeping through the night!).
Welcome to the world of multiple children. It’s a beautiful chaos.
You may be concerned that your new little arrival may undo all of the work you’ve put into developing good sleep habits, a predictable schedule and the smooth bedtime routine you have with your first child.
Well, you are 100% right. You are in for a challenge. It’s very likely that bringing a new baby home will impact your older child’s sleep habits one way or another.
Here are the top two reasons:
Your newborn is going to wake up numerous times a night and make some noise, which is likely to wake up your toddler.
Your toddler’s world is going to turn upside down at the addition of a new baby brother or sister.
Let’s look at the number one first. Newborn babies make noise. They will cry when their diaper is being changed, they will cry when they are hungry, tired, etc. There will be noise throughout the night. But, there is not much you can do about this.
Your best bet here is to keep your newborn in your room and get your toddler into their own room. Hopefully that’s down the hall a bit, but noise can travel really well in some houses and your toddler may wake up at night.
Depending on their age, tell your child that their new baby brother or sister will sometimes cry in the night and that’s what babies do. They are ok and you are taking care of anything baby needs. Some older siblings are very concerned with their new baby brother or sister crying!
You can also use a white noise machine to drown out some of the sound. Just make sure it’s not too close to your child’s head and that it’s no louder than 85 decibels.
One more thing you can do is make sure your toddler is in a crib. It can be VERY tempting to move a toddler to a big kid bed in order to pass the crib down to the baby. Please don’t let this be the reason your toddler is switching beds! Your new baby will be just fine in a bassinet or pack n play (or you can borrow a crib from someone!). The confines of the crib gives your child a sense of security (and – hopefully – keeps them in their bed at night!), both things that will be very valuable as their “norm” is about to change.
That’s the easy one. Now let’s tackle number two.
Your toddler has been living a certain way his or her whole life. Lots of attention from mom and dad, everything is the same. Routine and consistency. Your toddler doesn’t want anything to change.
When a new baby is brought home, it can bring up all sorts of feelings in our toddlers! Jealousy, fear, excitement, hesitation. Regardless of how your toddler feels about their new little sibling, things are certainly about to change.
It’s very common for a toddler to experience a regression in their sleep as well as their ability to adapt to change. You might encounter…
More requests for cuddles
If they’re in a big kid bed, they may ask to go back into the crib
Your toddler asking to sleep in your room
Neediness and clinginess during the bedtime routine
How does this affect sleep you may ask?
When parents start to feel guilty about the attention that has been taken away from their toddler, they start to make concessions at bedtime. Extra stories, longer cuddles, getting into bed with them, and so on.
I totally get it. I had enormous guilt when my babies were born and I didn’t have the same amount of energy for my toddler(s). Pair that with all the hormones and a lack of sleep and you just feel defeated.
Any parent would do anything to make sure their child feels loved, cherished and secure. Why shouldn’t we give them everything they ask for at bedtime?
Let me answer with a wonderful quote about toddlers...
“Toddlers are like little night watchmen. They go around checking all the doors, but don’t really want to find any of them open.”
Kids this age test boundaries ALL THE TIME. Here’s a secret though… they aren’t testing in hopes that you cave at every turn. They want to make sure the boundaries exist! It gives toddlers an enormous sense of security when they know the rules and expectations are unchanging.
It doesn’t always seem to be true, but I can assure you that the more often you give in, the more they will ask for. Then there becomes a shift in control where your toddler now calls the shots. This can cause even more acting out! They feel much more secure and relaxed when they know their parents have things under control.
So when you bring your new baby home and your toddler starts acting out, be consistent. Keep bedtime routines the same, the same sleep conditions, try to keep as much of their little world as possible from shifting because everything else around them just turned upside down.
During the day, carve out 15 minutes of time daily to give to your toddler. That’s 15 minutes of undivided attention from one parent daily. We call it "Special Time" in our house. Let them decide what to do. There are no limits, no expectations. Just playing together. This dedicated time each day will do wonders for your toddler’s ability to handle the changes all around him/her.
When you start to feel guilty, please remember that you are an incredible parent. When you refuse to bend to your toddler’s will you are doing the best thing for them. You are giving them a loving, secure home that they will reap the benefits from for life.