The birth of a baby. It really is a time of paradox. Blissful yet chaotic. Exciting but scary. Euphoric yet exhausting. And having a toddler or young child at home can most definitely add to the uncertainty of it all. Lately, it seems that many pregnant mamas are contacting me regarding their toddler’s sleep. Realizing that a newborn baby will be entering the picture, they inevitably ask me that looming question, “Will my toddler’s sleep be disrupted after the baby is born?”
There are definitely moments in a young child’s life that can alter sleep. We see them often with major life changes—a recent move, a divorce, and most definitely, the introduction of a new sibling. But not all hope is lost. Your perfect little sleeper can get through this major change with a little help from you.
1. Don’t rush your toddler out of the crib--It is really best to leave your toddler in a crib until they are closer to three years old. Why? Because you want them to have the language to understand what is expected of them at bedtime and during the night. Most newborns camp out in a bassinet in their parent’s room for several months after birth. If this brings your oldest closer to three years, then keep him in his crib and make the switch later. However, if you feel your toddler has the language to understand the responsibilities of a big bed, then work on that transition a few months prior to baby’s birth so that he is fully prepared when the big day arrives!
2. Don’t become a new crutch—You’ve already done the hard work to get your little one to fall asleep and stay asleep independently, so if your toddler suddenly starts waking in the night after baby’s arrival, the last thing you want to do is go in and lay with her or allow her to sleep with you. Hold steady to the healthy habits you established and understand that this is just a phase. A blip as I call them. Keep in mind that it is more confusing to your toddler if sleep expectations were a certain way prior to baby, and now they are different. This just layers change upon change. Remember, for a young child, consistency is comfort even when it might be met with protest. Your best bet is to silently walk a toddler back to her bed if she begins to wake in the night. It might take several times but she will get the drill.
3. Give extra attention during the day—Understandably, this is a rough time for everyone. And that is especially true for a child who is used to getting all of the attention! Counteract your strict bedtime measures with extra attention during the day. Lots of cuddles and hugs. Special time with just mom. Give your toddler age appropriate jobs like getting a diaper or blanket for you. Stress how much you love having a “big boy” or “big girl” to help you out. Set up a bin of fun activities that your little one can play with while you nurse the new baby so that he or she still feels involved. These extra measures will do wonders when it comes to nighttime.
Yes, these are the times that coin the phrase, “The days are long, but the years are short”. A toddler and a newborn most certainly make life rewarding yet challenging. And while the paradox of parental emotions will always be present, this life adjustment will pass as long as you hold steady, keep those sleep rules in place, and honor the boundaries you’ve already set for your toddler. They are more important than ever now!