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Sleep Regression After a New Sibling Arrives? Getting Back on Schedule

Once children learn to sleep well, they can take change in stride. They can become, as one mom called her toddler, an “Olympic sleeper.” Some kids do get thrown off by common childhood illnesses, travel and the like.  You can get them back on track pretty easily by doing a quicker-paced, mini-version of the “Sleep Lady Shuffle”. But what about the sleep regression after a new sibling arrives? This is an exciting, yet disruptive time for your little sleeper.

The older child might have temper tantrums, or regress and ask for things they had outgrown, such as a diaper, bottle or pacifier.  They may come up with some urgent, pressing, absolutely-need-this-very-minute demands every time you start to nurse the new baby. This is also when you might see a regression.

Here’s how you can address the sleep regression after a new sibling arrives:

  • frequent wakeups
  • attention-seeking at bedtime
  • cosleeping and cribs
  • emotional needs

Sleep Regression After a New SiblingSleep Regression After a New Sibling Arrives

Not surprisingly, sleep is often affected after a new baby comes home. If the older child starts waking up more frequently at night, just walk him quietly back to bed. Don’t scold him, but don’t let him engage you either. Get him gently back to bed. If he’s waking up because he hears the baby, explain that everything is okay, that new little babies need to wake up and eat but soon the baby will sleep all night just like his big brother or sister. Remind him during the daytime, too, if he’s old enough to understand.

Attention-Seeking at Bedtime

If he starts demanding more and more of your attention at bedtime, drawing it out, you might try starting his bedtime earlier so he has longer to unwind and have more of that special cozy time with you. Depending on everyone’s nursing and sleeping schedules, this might only work if both parents are at home.

You could involve him in the baby’s bedtime, making him feel part of it. For instance, you can have him “help” you read the baby a simple story before reading an “older” story to him. Maybe you can read to him while nursing the baby.

No matter how busy you get with the new baby, it’s essential that you spend special one-on-one time with the older child every day.

If the baby is sleeping in your room for the first few months, and your child knows that he used to be there, explain that the arrangement is temporary, that the baby will go to her own room — or their shared room — as soon as she doesn’t have to eat during the night as much.

Do you have a bedtime routine?
Read: Creating a Soothing Bedtime Routine – 7 Tips to Meet the Challenge

Sleep Regression After a New Sibling
It’s common to see a sleep regression after a new sibling arrives.

Cosleeping — Don’t Kick Your Older Child Out

If your older child is co-sleeping with you, please don’t kick him out of bed to make room for the new baby! Keep the baby in a bassinet near the bed, or in a co-sleeper sidecar adjacent to the bed. Don’t add to the older child’s feeling of dislocation. This will help your toddler sleep. Some parents temporarily have the father sleep with the older child in the child’s room, while Mom sleeps with the baby in the parents’ room. Be careful with this, though — it could become a hard habit to break.

Wondering about cosleeping?
Read: Co-Sleeping and Room Sharing – Tips for Sleeping Safely

Don’t Evict Your Older Child From Their Crib

In general, I believe in keeping children in cribs as long as you can. If you are going to transition a child to a bed before the birth of a sibling, do it at least two and as long as six months before the birth. If you wait until after the new baby is born, give it at least four months. Please don’t rush this transition  just because you need a crib, particularly if the older child is under the age of two. If your older child is still happy in his crib, leave him there, and buy or borrow another crib for the new baby, or keep the newborn in a bassinet for a few months.

Is it time to move your child from their crib to a bed?

Get the complete guide to transition from a crib to a bed!

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Occasionally an older child who is already in a bed will want his crib back, rather than see the little usurper in it. He may say that, if he has the words, or he may show you by climbing into the baby’s crib at every opportunity.  I would highlight all the advantages of having a “big boy” bed. Point out all the other things that he gets to do with you that a baby doesn’t — like going to swing at the playground or eating cookies.  Crib envy is usually his way of voicing a fear that he is being replaced, so just keep giving him all the reassurance he needs. If he’s still pretty young and hadn’t been in a bed too long, don’t rule out giving him the crib back if you haven’t already given it away.

Sleep regressions happen! Having one now?
Read: Sleep Regression: When, Why, and How to Solve It!

Reassure Your Older Child

As you know the most important thing you can do for the older child is to reassure him of your love. Keep telling him how much you enjoy having a big boy or girl. Stress his “big kid” privileges. Tell him how lucky the baby is to have such a great big brother or sister, and how much the baby will adore him.

Make sure your visitors make just as big a fuss about your big guy as your little one.

If you’re seeing a sleep regression after a new sibling, give the older child some jobs to do; let him fetch a diaper, or help wash the baby’s toes. Perhaps they will feel like they’re part of the solution.

Remind him of the safety rules too – no touching the baby’s face, no throwing things or picking up the baby without Mommy or Daddy’s help, and definitely no waking up the baby when he’s sleeping. When he sleeps well, or goes to bed without interfering with the baby’s needs, make sure you give him lots and lots of praise.

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