How to Prepare for Newborn Sleep with an Older Sibling

Toddler and new baby lying on the floor together. Prepare for newborn sleep with an older sibling.

If you are expecting another baby with an older sibling in the house, this is most likely a very exciting time! You may be looking forward to introducing your new addition to your older child, but you may also be thinking about how to deal with newborn sleep again. Things might be different this time around now that you have an older sibling in the house. With one child, your main concerns around sleep were with your newborn only. Now that you are expecting baby #2, you may be worried about how your older child is going to sleep, in addition to trying to plan for newborn sleep again.

Here are some tips that can help ease you into this new transition:

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Set up your Newborn’s Safe Sleep Space

First and foremost, ensure you have a safe and conducive sleeping space for your newborn. Your new baby will most likely be sleeping in your bedroom for the first few months, so make sure you have a separate sleeping space for them, like a bassinet or crib. The safest way to have your baby sleeping is by following the ABC’s of safe sleep.

A – Alone – Your baby should be placed in their own sleep space alone. Do not add any blankets, pillows, crib bumpers, mesh liners or stuffed animals to their bassinet or crib. To ensure they are sleeping at a comfortable temperature, use clothing that is safe for sleeping, such as onesies, pajamas, swaddles or sleep sacks. Nothing more.

B – Back – Always place your baby down on their back to sleep. Ensure that they are on a firm, flat surface, such as in a bassinet or on the infant side of a mattress in a crib.

C – Crib – Ensure you are using a safety certified bassinet, crib, or pack ‘n’ play intended for newborn sleep. Follow all safety guidelines as outlined in your product’s manual. The safest place for your baby to sleep is in their own safety certified sleep space. Your baby should not be sleeping in an adult bed with or without parents, in loungers, on couches or armchairs, or any other surface not intended for infant sleep. If you are contact sleeping with your baby (your baby is sleeping on a parent or guardian), ensure that you are awake and supervising. It is unsafe to fall asleep while contact sleeping with a baby. If you feel drowsy and think you may fall asleep, transfer your baby to their safe sleeping space.

Create a Conducive Sleep Environment

During the first few weeks of life for a newborn, sleep will be disorganized as their circadian rhythm is not fully developed yet. Focusing on a conducive sleep environment can help get your baby sleeping better, and can help ease them out of any day/night confusion they may have. Here is what a conducive sleep environment looks like:

Dark – Use blackout blinds, or other options to darken your bedroom. If you find that your curtains are still letting in some light, a cheap, temporary option is to use garbage bags taped to the window. Darkness will help with the production of melatonin, helping your baby get to sleep, and stay asleep for longer.

White Noise – Playing white noise during all sleep can mimic the sounds of the womb. As your baby was developing in utero they were hearing all sorts of noises and a sound machine can help them feel safe and comfortable. It can also help block out other sounds from outside the bedroom, such as pets or your older child.

Temperature – Try to keep your bedroom nice and cool, around 19° – 22° C. This will help prevent overheating, as we sleep better in slightly cooler temperatures. Dress your baby accordingly.

Exposure to sunlight during the day when your baby is awake can help start to prepare their circadian rhythm and set their internal clock. Open up the blinds during play time, and try to get outside for a walk when you can!

Prepare your Older Child

Children typically take 4-6 weeks to adjust to a new transition in their life. Bringing home a new sibling can be a huge adjustment. Give yourself grace during this time. Expect that your older child may have some big feelings when the baby arrives. What can you do to help them during the transition? Prep them ahead of time as much as you can! Depending on their age, you can explain to them what having a newborn baby in the house will look like. Alternatively, role playing with stuffed animals or a baby doll can really help show your child how a newborn will act and what you will be doing with the baby. 

Moving your Child to a Big Kid Bed

If your child is still in a crib, you may be thinking that you should move them to a big kid bed so you can use the crib for the new baby. Pause for a minute and think about a few considerations first.

A toddler is typically ready to transition to a bed when they are 3 years old or older. Switching at this age will be more successful because they are better able to follow rules. They also generally show more signs of readiness to make a change. Remember, once you switch your child to a bed, they will have access to their entire bedroom.

It is important that you child-proof the room to ensure it is safe before you make the switch. If your child is on the younger side and happy in their crib, it is best to keep them in there until they are closer to 3 and showing signs of readiness for a bed. If you are able to keep your child in their crib when the new baby is born, try to keep them in it for at least 4-6 weeks after the baby is born. This will ensure that your toddler has had some time to adjust to the new routine before you introduce another big change.

If you need the crib for the new baby, consider a few options first. You will most likely have your newborn sleeping in your bedroom for the first few months. Can you use a bassinet or borrow a crib until your toddler is ready for a new bed? Are you able to buy another crib for your baby while you keep your older child in their crib? 

If these options are not available and you must switch your child into a new bed, follow some of these tips for best results:

Don’t blame the new baby for the shift. If you are switching your toddler into a bed, don’t tell them it’s because their new sibling needs their crib. Make the chance completely separate from the new baby. 

Try to move your toddler into a bed at least 4-6 weeks before the new baby is born. This will give them enough time to transition, and be comfortable in their new sleep space. It will also give you some time to help establish some sleep rules with your toddler, without having to tend to a newborn at the same time. A bedtime routine poster can help your child adjust, and can help keep them in their bed.

The Bedtime Routine with Multiple Children

It goes without saying that your bedtime routine will look quite different once you introduce a new sibling into the mix. How do you deal with bedtime with multiple children?

Prepare – Prep what you need ahead of bedtime as much as you can. Get pajamas laid out, have books ready, and prepare anything else that you can before your bedtime routine starts.

Streamline – Streamline your routine where you can. Consolidate and complete as many tasks together as possible. Bathe both children at the same time, get them dressed together, and even read stories to both children.

Stagger Bedtimes – If your children need to go to bed at different times, especially during those first few years when your younger baby may need an earlier bedtime than your older child, try staggering their bedtime. Complete the routine together where you can, and then have your older child either help with the younger baby’s routine, or have them play quietly in their room while they wait for you to get the baby down to bed. Then focus on your older child. 

Switch Parents – If both parents are home and able to participate in the bedtime routine, it may be beneficial to have one parent complete the bedtime routine with your older child, while the other parent does bedtime with the baby. This may be especially helpful in the early days when your newborn does not have a set bedtime yet. If one parent does bedtime with the older child one night, switch and have them tend to the baby the next night. This way you are altering the attention given to each child and your toddler will be able to connect to each parent one-on-one. Remember, your first child is used to having the undivided attention of both parents and introducing a new baby will take some of that attention away. If you are able to alternate parents for bedtime, try to start this practice 4-6 weeks before your new baby is born so your older child can adjust to this change and will not blame the baby for this new routine.

This is Temporary

Remember that every stage in life is temporary and every new development brings on its own challenges. Try to prepare for as much as you can before this big transition, and understand that you may see some bumps along the way. You will get through it! And before you know it, your children will be adjusted to your new routine and so will you. Good luck!

Jenny Peach is a certified Family Sleep Institute Sleep Consultant with Good Night Sleep Site. After hiring a sleep consultant to help with her daughter’s sleep, her experience has led to a desire to help other families who are struggling with sleep. In her free time she loves getting outside and going for walks with her family and two dobermans.

Sleep Consultant Jenny Peach
Sleep Consultant Jenny Peach

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