Preparing your toddler's sleep ahead of the arrival of baby #2 – Mamas & Papas IE

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Preparing your toddler's sleep ahead of the arrival of baby #2

Preparing your toddler's sleep ahead of the arrival of baby #2

If you are here it’s likely because you are expecting or trying for a new baby, congratulations!

Preparing to welcome another child into your family is a truly exciting time. But it is often paired with worries and concerns regarding how this will reshape your world, how you will cope, and, commonly, how on earth sleep will be now that you have a newborn and a toddler with very different needs.

This certainly was the case for Lexi’s parents.

II am going to share their story and how we used gentle sleep tools to support the transition from only child to big sister, in the hope this can help you to take away some strategies to manage your own situation.

Meet Lexi:

17-month-old Lexi is a happy little girl but gets anxious when left alone day and night, she only lets mum put her to bed and doesn't let mum leave until she is asleep which is stressful and exhausting, especially now mum is progressing in her pregnancy.

She likes mum to stroke her back and wait beside the cot until shes asleep. Mum doesn’t particularly mind this but it’s taking longer and longer and Lexi wakes 3-5 times a night where Mum has to repeat this process as Lexi refuses dads support!

They used to bedshare, but now Mum is pregnant, and she's cautious about bedsharing with a newborn and a toddler.

Let’s have a look at what could be going on here!

Clearly, Lexi has some anxiety around being apart from her mum especially when it comes to sleep, she may have some feelings about her new sibling that she doesn’t know how to understand and communicate. She has also recently experienced a transition to her own room which may be playing a role in her bedtime behaviours.

This must be stressful for mum, who is keen to feel a little more confident that Lexi is settled before the new baby arrives. Dad, too, might be feeling a little helpless as he wants to be involved & build his relationship with Lexi.

There are lots of emotions and transitions wrapped up in this experience for all the family and it is undoubtedly stressful feeling the pressure to smooth out the creases of their set up as pregnancy progresses. Lexi may well be picking up on these worries too!

There is lots to unpack and much that could be implemented to support this family but first lets look at what could be influencing Lexis sleep:

Factors influencing sleep

Sleep hygiene: Sleep hygiene is the environment and behaviours surrounding sleep. We want to optimise these to make sleep better. In terms of the environment, this should be conducive to sleep (dark, a good temperature, quiet, perhaps with some white noise). Before bedtime we would also like for Lexi to have a balanced diet, some relaxing screen-free time, meet her sensory needs and connect with her to boost attachment.

Sleep drive: Sleep drive is the pressure we have to fall asleep. We need this drive to be high to allow children to fall asleep in good time and prevent long dragged out and stressful bedtimes. Hitting this sweet spot can be hard. It might be worth considering if Lexi is going to bed at here sweet spot. Perhaps her parents could shift this a little earlier or later depending on her signals to increase her sleep drive.

Daytime sleep needs: As Lexi is 17 months she needs around 2-3 hours of day sleep, usually in one nap, but its okay to be more frequent short naps if thats what Lexi prefers. We would then hope she is able to have between 10 and 11 hours of nighttime sleep. Taking her to a total of 11 to 14 hours of sleep in 24 hours. Remember this is just a guidance amount, some children fall outside of this spectrum and if they seem happy and healthy it’s absolutely fine for them to be getting less sleep.

Bedtime routine: We don’t have alot of information about Lexis's bedtime routine but it’s always good to have a 30 -40 minute period of winding down, bathing, changing, reading and brushing teeth and doing other connecting activities. Lexi and her family can adapt this and add in any of their own special rituals to help her feel connected and comfortable.

Managing these factors may help to reduce those night wakes and long bedtimes as Lexi becomes more secure and confident in her bed and her sleep is optimised.

What can we do

Address age-appropriate day sleep so pressure so her drive is right at bedtime: As mentioned above, this family could try tinkering with the timing of bedtime. A slightly later bedtime may mean Lexi’s sleep drive is higher and her resistance to a change in the way she is supported to sleep may be lower. It takes time and patience and she may need lots of reassurance through this process.

Connected time during the day: allowing time to connect and build a special bond is vital. This might be especially important for Lexi and Dad. They could do some fun activities like imaginary play, games, and getting outside. It doesn’t have to be big shows of love, just short periods of unconditional attention. They might find doing this as a family first helps Lexi be more open to bonding with Dad.

Practicing independence by allowing opportunity to succeed: During the day, children benefit from being able to succeed. Helping mum put socks in the washing machine and praising her for her actions is a great way for her to build her self-efficacy and confidence.

TIP: Getting children involved in as many daily activities as possible is a brilliant way to build skills and promote independence.

Engaging Dad in some elements of bedtime: Getting Dad involved at bedtime could be really helpful here, so after spending quality time during the day together for a few weeks Dad could also join Mum in bedtime routine activities. Slowly mum could nip out for short periods of time. We call these pop-outs or oops I forgot. In this case mum might be helping dad with bathtime and then say “Oops I forgot your towel, silly me!” and nip out for 30 seconds and grab the towel, returning and giving Lexi a kiss. Gradually these could get longer and dad can take over certain elements of bedtime or the routine in general!

Loving boundaries around sleep: Both Mum & Dad need to discuss their boundaries for bedtime and sleep and hold these in place with love for Lexi. This will help them choose a strategy for supporting her to sleep.

Sleep Strategies we could try

Rubber band technique:

The Rubber Band Technique is good for toddlers with separation anxiety who need reassurance. It teaches them that you'll always come back, helping them relax and sleep better.

How it works:

  • After bedtime routine, put your child down calmly.

  • Stand by the crib for a few seconds, then take 1-2 steps back towards the door.

  • Immediately return to the crib, then repeat steps 2 and 3, gradually increasing distance.

  • If your child gets upset, stay by them until calm.

  • Continue until they fall asleep.

Pros:

  • Builds trust: Teaches your child you'll return, reducing anxiety.

  • Pairs well with daytime play: "Peek-a-boo" reinforces the coming back message.

Cons:

  • Not for everyone: Parents who dislike crying may find it tough.

  • Can backfire: Older toddlers might find it frustrating.

 

Camping out:

This technique aims to help toddlers learn to fall asleep independently by offering comfort and proximity initially, then gradually moving away.

How it works:

  • Normal Bedtime Routine: Follow your usual bedtime routine.

  • Awake in Bed: Put your child in their crib or bed awake (some use a floor mattress for closeness).

  • Camp Out: Lie beside the bed on an air mattress or another mattress.

  • Comfort and Consistency: Hold their hand, offer a soothing touch, and use calming phrases or shushing.

  • Model Sleep: Lie down with your eyes closed to model falling asleep.

  • Stay Put (Initially): Don't get up if they stand. Be prepared to stay there the whole night initially.

  • Gradual Progress: Over time, they'll lie beside you and fall asleep. Slowly move away, teaching them to sleep independently.

Good for:

  • Toddlers comforted by touch or presence.

  • Parents who want to eventually move away from close contact for sleep settling.

  • Parents feeling burnt out by current routines.

  • Anxious toddlers needing initial reassurance.

  • Preparing for a new baby (where co-sleeping isn't safe).

Not ideal for:

  • Night-feeding babies (disrupts the strategy).

  • Toddlers not developmentally ready (won't understand the concept).

Key Takeaways

  • Gentle sleep strategies can ease the transition to a new sibling.

  • Focus on daytime connection and reassurance to build confidence.

  • Consistency and patience are key to success.

Bonus Tip: Involve Lexi in preparing for the baby (picking out clothes, etc.) to build excitement and a sense of responsibility.

Explore more help and advice for managing your toddlers sleep & preparing for new arrivals on Socials!

For advice and support head to The Little Sleep Company website

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