When we brought home our second son, we naively thought we were prepared for any and every possible change. After bringing home our fourth kid, we know a ton more about how new siblings affect each others’ sleep.
Bringing home a new sibling can either trigger or coincide with sleep regression, depending on your older child’s age. This change in the family dynamic may only affect sleep for a few days or it may take several weeks to resolve, depending on how it’s approached.
Here are 15 things to know about sleep regressions and new siblings.
A New Sibling is a Huge Change that Impacts Sleep
Bringing home a new baby isn’t just a big change for you and your partner; it’s also a huge change for your older child (or children)! Think about it:
- If you brought home your second child, your older kid will never be an only child – ever again.
- No matter how many children you’ve got, you’ve got a new “baby” in the family – and your other child is now a big sibling.
This is a huge shift in family dynamics. And that change is going to impact sleep – to one degree or another. The exact impact will depend largely on how old your older child is at the time that you bring home the new baby as well as how they react to change in general.
For example, our kids are all spaced about 2 years apart. So bringing home a new baby happened after the 18-month sleep regression – and triggered another anxiety-triggered (especially separation anxiety) regression when we brought the new sibling home from the hospital.
For more information on when sleep regressions happen in general, be sure to read my article on when they happen.
New Siblings Can Trigger Separation Anxiety (and Sleep Regressions)
Being replaced by the new baby is a huge concern for your older child. In their minds, they aren’t getting the same amount of attention, cuddles, and they are trying to figure out why the baby’s getting all of the attention now.
It can be hard for them to see why that is – they’re just seeing that they’re not getting the same attention that they’re accustomed to. This can trigger general anxiety or separation anxiety.
Either way, that anxiety will impact their sleep.
For some children, that impact may be as minor as the fact that they now fight bedtimes – and try to draw it out so they get your undivided attention for a few more minutes.
Others may have anxiety-laced nightmares that wake them up in the middle of the night. Some children may experience enough anxiety that triggers a full sleep regression – complete with multiple night wakings, exhausting days, and a difficult road to recovery.
Which will it be? Well, that’s the fun part. You won’t know until it happens. You may be able to guess, based on knowing your child. But even then, they’ll surprise you.
Each of our children has reacted differently to a new sibling: our first child had a few rough bedtimes, but that was it. Our second boy had a few rough nights when we brought home our third. And our youngest boy had several weeks of rough nights before we brought home his sister – but he was fine once she was home.
Your Independent Toddler Wants to Assert Control
Now, there’s another reason your toddler could be fighting sleep. It’s this: they’re growing up. After all, they aren’t a baby anymore, so they should get to stay up more, right?
In other words, your toddler is trying to assert some level of control. And perhaps bringing home the baby was what reminded them that they ought to assert their toddler will on the family.
But because toddlers are still so small, they often find that the best way to assert their control is over their sleep.
In other words, your independent toddler will be in control of when and how well they sleep. There’s not a whole lot you can do about that aspect of it.
However, you can work on setting them up to succeed with a good nap and an even better night’s sleep. You can also give them more control over other aspects of their life (like what they wear) so that they’re more willing to take that nap and go to bed already.
Jealous Toddlers Won’t Sleep Well
When you bring home a new baby, there may be all sorts of regressions going on:
- Generalized regressions
- Sleep regressions
- Nap regressions
Children are going to see that the diaper-wearing, nursing (or bottle-fed), and crying baby gets all of the attention. So they may start mimicking the baby to get attention, too.
And because babies sleep in a disorganized pattern for those first few weeks, your toddler may notice that the baby doesn’t have to nap (at least not like they do!). They may, therefore, start fighting naps and bedtimes – more than they previously did.
They may only fight it at the start of naps and bedtime, or they may try to stay up later and call for you. But if they’re already tired, doing this may disrupt their regular sleep pattern enough to trigger a full-blown sleep regression.
In other words, jealous toddlers won’t sleep well because they’re trying to get your attention. So let’s talk about how to fix that.
Help Your Toddler Adjust – with Preparation
Bringing home a new baby isn’t usually a surprise. It’s something that you can prepare for. So, help your baby adjust to this life-changing moment in advance.
Here are some ways to help your toddler get ready for the new sibling and hopefully minimize sleep disruption:
- Give your toddler a baby doll so that they can practice holding and loving the baby. Teach them that babies eat, cry, and sleep – and that they need a lot of love and help until they’re big enough to play.
- Visit friends with babies so that your child can see a real baby.
- Talk to your toddler about their new role and responsibilities as an older sibling.
- Give them an age-appropriate job to help once the baby comes home. Be sure to practice it in advance with the doll.
We spent several months preparing our kids for new siblings – just in a moment here and there. It made the transition to big sibling easier – and that preparation also helped our kids deal with new sibling anxiety and related sleep issues.
Make a Dedicated Big Kid Time During the Day (so it’s not at night)
When you bring home a new baby, one of your child’s biggest concerns is going to be the loss of attention or their place in the family. After all, you’re going to need to spend a lot more time helping the new baby.
Create a dedicated big-kid time where you spend quality time focusing on your older child. This can be any time during the day – but make it during the day.
Otherwise, your child will make their own dedicated big-kid time – and it’ll be during the middle of the night.
This special parent-and-big-kid time can be at any time that works for your family. For many working parents, this special time is built into the bedtime routine.
For us, our special big-kid time was during the baby’s naps. My children were generally done napping by the time we brought home a new baby, so that worked well for us. Whichever nap the baby took in the crib became big kid time – full of cuddles, books, puzzles, toys, and whatever else my big kid wanted to do.
Some days we’d have several big-kid times – and some days it was shorter. My favorite days were the ones where my big kid and the baby both decided that nap time would happen at the same time – usually with me as the pillow.
The Usual Advice is Important (because it works!)
Look, all of the usual advice will work. It won’t work right away, but it will work if you give it time and are consistent. So here it is again, just because it does work:
- Bedtime routines are vital.
- Use behavioral sleep training to make positive changes.
- Use that white noise machine.
- Install blackout curtains.
- Create a positive sleep environment for your children.
- Keep bedrooms for sleeping.
- Eliminate (or at least minimize) screen time for 30+ minutes before bedtime.
- Get out and have adventurous days so that kids are ready to sleep at bedtime.
- If it isn’t working, change it.
- If it is working, don’t change it.
To see what resources and products (like white noise machines and blackout curtains) I recommend, click here.
New Siblings Often Means a New Toddler Bed (and Sleep Regression)
When you bring home a new baby, odds are you aren’t going to go out and buy a second crib. Instead, you’re far more likely to buy a toddler bed (or a twin-sized bed) for your toddler – and use that crib for the baby.
It makes sense, right? Yup.
But here’s the thing: changing beds right away means three very important things:
- Big changes (like changing beds) may trigger sleep regression;
- Changing beds means there’s no crib to contain your toddler;
- Newfound freedom will lead to nighttime exploring, escapades, and falling asleep all over the bedroom.
So if you buy that toddler bed, go ahead and set it up. But don’t transition your toddler to it right away.
Here’s what we did – and it worked really well for us.
We set up the toddler bed and bedding in the same room as the crib – and just left it there. Then we set up our pack-and-play mini-crib in our room for the baby.
We used the pack-and-play crib for the baby for the first few months after they were born. That way, nighttime feedings were much easier, and it worked for us.
This transition period also gave our toddler time to adjust to seeing the toddler bed – and we talked about how they would graduate to it soon. And that the baby would get the crib. This also bought us several more months of letting our toddler sleep in the crib.
Even with this more gradual approach, moving beds still triggered a slight sleep regression. After all, now our toddler isn’t in a crib. They can get up and explore their bedroom. That freedom is just too tempting. And sometimes, exhausted explorers will fall asleep on the floor (or the closet) instead of in their beds.
But we knew it would happen – and set the expectation that getting out of bed was fine as long as they were quiet so the baby could sleep.
Make Changes and Transitions SLOWLY
Because big changes can trigger sleep regressions, there are two options when dealing with change:
- Don’t make big changes.
- Make the change as gradual as possible.
Some big changes are inevitable (like a new sibling), so in those cases, let’s make the change as gradual (and easy) as possible.
Here are some other big changes that need to be made more gradual, so as to lessen the impact they’ll have on everyone’s sleep:
|Example of a Big Change||Example of Making it More Gradual|
|Graduating bedsharing toddlers to their own bed||Start the bedtime routine in your child’s new room. Put them to bed in that bed – and then allow them back into your bed when they wake up for the first few weeks. Then, create a rule that bedsharing is only allowed after a certain time – while pushing that time forward until bedsharing is no longer allowed.|
|Moving a toddler to a new bedroom||Spend time in that room to familiarize your toddler with it. Hold bedtime routines in the new room, then go to bed in a familiar location. Practice play-sleeping during naps in the new room. Over time, “forget” to move to the old, familiar sleeping spot.|
|Moving a toddler into a new bed||Set the bed up in the familiar spot and let it be. Give your child several weeks to look, touch, and play with it. Then, start moving special lovies and pillows to that new bed. Start having naps in that bed. Then, graduate completely to the new bed.|
|Having kids share a room||Set up both beds (or cribs) in the shared room. Start by having them nap separately in that shared room. Then, have a bedtime routine together in that room together. Finally, graduate everyone to being roommates.|
Consistency Will Save Your Sanity
Here’s the thing with sleep regressions: the best way to get through them is by being consistent in how you approach them. This is true for whatever approach (or sleep training method) you pick.
So go ahead and pick what feels right for your situation and family – and then be consistent across the board. And be consistent for all of the kids. It’ll make things much, much easier.
Consider Separate Rooms to Minimize Sleep Disruptions for Both Kids
When you’ve got a new sibling, it may be easier for them to be in separate rooms at first. This doesn’t mean they won’t be able to share rooms later. It just means they may need time to get adjusted to each other before they become roommates.
Here’s how we did it: when we brought home a new baby, they stayed in a pack-and-play in our room. Minimizing the disruptions for the older child was a big part of this decision. The other reason was to make nighttime nursing easier for me.
This way, our kids had time to adjust to each other first. We knew that sibling room-sharing was the ultimate goal. And after several months, we made that change. But that was only after our children had time to adjust to having a new sibling.
Note: we tried immediate room-sharing for our oldest and second boys at first. After two naps and an epic-fail of bedtime, we realized that the disruptions were too big an issue right off the bat. Our oldest just wanted to look at the baby – and wouldn’t stay in bed. These sleep disruptions were bound to cause problems, so we backed off and implemented separate rooms for the time being.
Room Sharing Won’t Be Successful Overnight
Whether you start siblings off in the same room from the get-go or you implement it later, know this: it won’t be an amazing success overnight. In fact, it’ll be a rough few weeks while everyone transitions to the new status quo.
The hardest part about kids and room sharing (and what makes it so difficult) is learning to adjust to the new noises that come with a roommate – weird sleep noises, nighttime cries, and the temptation to play instead of sleep.
The next hardest part is going to be adjusting the bedtime routine from putting a single, older child to bed – to putting down both the toddler and the new sibling. It’s going to take some time to adjust.
So give it some time. Be flexible and consistent – and remember that things will get better.
In our family, room changes seem to cause sleep regression for everyone in the shared room. Usually, it lasts anywhere from a few days up to a couple of weeks. But once everyone is settled in? They all sleep so much better! Our kids have loved sharing bedrooms.
Naps May Become a Toddler Issue (and Trigger Sleep Regression!)
When you’ve brought home a new sibling, your toddler may decide that naps are for babies (and that they’re not the baby, so therefore they don’t need to nap). Or, they may fight naps. Between that and increased difficulty at bedtimes and nights, this whole debacle may trigger sleep (or nap) regressions.
This can be totally normal. It happened to us – and it’s happened to several of my friends’ kids. Now, it doesn’t happen to everyone, so it’s not a guaranteed thing. But it isn’t uncommon.
So if it happens to you, know that it can be normal. And, more importantly, it can be survived. It’s just going to take some time, testing what works, and a whole lot of patience.
Know that Sleep Terrors and Bedtime Fears May Happen
Whether you’re putting the new siblings in the same room or not, all of these sleep disruptions, newly-reignited separation anxiety, and changes may trigger nightmares.
Or, in some cases, it may trigger sleep terrors and bedtime fears.
Example: when we brought home our daughter, our then 4-year-old boy had a huge fear that kept him awake. He was afraid that we’d have to trade his 2-year-old brother for the new baby. Luckily, we learned about this fear early and were able to assure him that all four kids were part of the family – and there was no toddler-trade-in program at the hospital.
Along the same lines, each of our older children has had some bad dreams within a few weeks or months of bringing home a new baby. Sometimes they were strange, one-time dreams that barely got remembered. Other times they were deep-seated fears that needed addressing.
And in the worst case? It was a nightmare triggered by fireworks – and that took almost two years to overcome.
In any case, know that sleep terrors and bedtime fears are a strong possibility for your older child. But if you can address them early enough, they shouldn’t become too big of a problem – or cause too-big of sleep regressions.
It Will Get Better – Eventually.
Look, bringing home a new baby and dealing with all of the associated stuff (sleep regressions, jealousy, toddler tantrums, room sharing, and everything else) can be stressful. It’s hard adjusting to big change. And adding a new family member is a huge change.
But know this: you will adjust. Everyone else will adjust. It will take time. So give it time. Things will get better, and everyone will settle into the new normal.
And if it’s been several weeks with no changes? Try adjusting things and see how that goes. Worst case, the test doesn’t work – and you go back to what worked slightly better. Or, you may find a better way to do things for your family.
So give it time. You’ve got this.
Is It Safe to Give Melatonin to a 2-year-old? While melatonin is a relatively safe supplement to give any child, be sure to ask your doctor for the correct weight-based dosage information for your child.
Is Sleep Training My Baby Safe? Sleep training (using a behavior-based method) is safe to start once a child is at least 4-6 months old. For more information on sleep training safety, see my article on it by clicking here.