Video: Help! My Toddler Wakes Up When the Newborn is Nursing

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  • January 21, 2018
toddler wakes with newborn


Hi. I’m Kim West, the Sleep Lady. In today’s video I’m going to answer Jade’s question about her toddler who wakes up when the newborn is nursing.

“How do we get our 2 ½ year old to stay asleep in her room at night? I have a 9-day old baby. I’m struggling with night feedings and my toddler always joins us. My husband tries to get her in her room and keep her in there. We’ve tried putting a mattress for her on the floor, too. Some nights this works and sometimes she stays in her room. Other nights she refuses to do anything but join us, which is obviously not ideal if I’m feeding a newborn and she wants to sit awake and watch.

 She also doesn’t nap. And we do have issues with getting her to bed 50% of the time. We’ve tried a consistent routine of bath, story, and bed, but we have to stay until she’s asleep.

 We started reading Roger the Rabbit and this was brilliant at first but now it doesn’t always work. Some nights she requests to just have lights off and for us to lie down with her. But the night wakings are our biggest issue.”

First of all, congratulations on your newborn, Jade! I can only imagine how tired you are.

A New Sibling Is A Big Adjustment

It sounds like your 2-1/2-year-old may be in a bed. I didn’t notice you mentioning a crib and I did notice that you are saying “bath, story, bed” and not “cot” or “crib”. If she is newly in a bed at a young age then this may be making the transition to a bed with a newborn sibling even tougher. Having a new sibling takes a lot of mommy’s attention away.

Back to the Crib or Stay In Bed

Its possible that you may have to put her back into her crib if she is not ready for the bed while adjusting to a new sibling. If you’ve newly gotten her out of the crib and she talks about her crib, then you could consider putting her back into the crib.

Understanding and Impulse Control

The average age to understand “stay in your bed all night long” and have the impulse control to stay there is not developed until 2 ½ years. That’s just the average. Given this, I have found it is ideal to transition them at 3 years old. Spend some time listening and watching her to determine if you think she truly understands what you are asking her to do. .

Check out this article about helping your toddler sleep when there’s a newborn in the house as well as this one on the typical sleep schedule for a 2 ½ year old.

Sleep Coach Your Toddler

I would start sleep coaching at bedtime after a great nap day anyway you can get one!

You say that she doesn’t nap, so I would make sure that, at the very least, you are trying for a nap every day. If not, be sure she has some quiet time. What I mean by quiet time is that you can’t make her go to sleep, but you can provide the time and a sleep-friendly environment to do that.

Provide A Sleep-Friendly Environment For Napping

She’s got to be overtired at this point since she is not napping and she is up at night. You might need a few days of napping to fill the daytime sleep tank as I like to say.  With all of the changes of having a new sibling and her fragmented sleep at night, she may need the extra sleep. Even if you have to drive her around or put her in a stroller, do this for a few days so that you can get her to bedtime well-rested.

The Sleep Lady Shuffle

Then I would do The Sleep Lady Shuffle. Either you or your husband will sit next to her when she lies down to sleep. If you think she would understand a very simple Sleep Manner Chart, go ahead and use that as motivation for her. This article, How to Help Your Toddler Sleep and Stay in Bed, discusses what to include in the Sleep Chart as well as lots of tips for helping your toddler sleep.

Use a Toddler Wake-Up Clock or Timed Light

You can also get a toddler wake-up clock, like the Ooly, to help reinforce your words to her: “You have to stay in your bed quietly until your wake up light comes on.”

Stay With Her

So, you will make a very simple Sleep Manner Chart and then sit next to her at night, offering her physical and verbal reassurance at bedtime until she’s completely asleep. Each time she gets up return her to her bed, remind her that the wake up light is not on, tuck her back into bed, and say, “Remember we have to stay quietly in our bed.”  Then you resume your chair position.

Try a Gate

If you really feel like she is not getting this after a week of sleep coaching and she continues to get out of bed every single time she wakes up, then you might need to consider gating the door. When she comes to the gate and calls out for you, go to the gate and say, “Get back in your bed and  I will  tuck you in. But you’ve got to get back in your bed.” 

You really have to be quite repetitive at this age until she finally learns that this is where I need to sleep and this is how mommy and daddy respond.

You also want to continue to be really sensitive to the fact that she has a new sibling. Try to include her in other activities as much as possible. Also, having some time with just her will really help, too.

Kim West
Kim is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been a practicing child and family therapist for more than 24 years, and the creator of the original gentle, proven method to get a good night’s sleep for you and your child. She is the author of The Sleep Lady's Good Night Sleep Tight, its companion Workbook and 52 Sleep Secrets for Babies. Click here to read more about her.

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