How To Spot Them So You Can Be Sure To Steer Clear
Adding another baby to the family has its ups and downs. On one hand, we feel like we might know what we are doing a bit more than when we brought our first baby home. We have a general sense of how to feed the newborn (of course feeding can be very different with each baby!), we don’t always feel like we have to hold the baby like we are carrying a bomb that might go off at any moment, and we have a certain level of expectation as far as sleep deprivation goes.
I chuckle when I think back to my experience with my first baby. Even though I worked with infants and children in the past, I still knew NOTHING about how to soothe, feed, or care for a newborn. But as my baby got older I started feeling much more confident in my decision-making abilities and felt like I truly understood what my baby needed. My middle son came along just 15 short months after my oldest son was born. I was lucky in that he was a pretty chill baby, which made me feel a bit like Super Mom! My first two babies were sleeping 8 hours by 6-8 weeks old, sleeping 12 hours by 3-4 months old, and we got into a good rhythm of when and how to eat and how to structure our day. Then along came #3 when my middle son was 2.5 years old. It seemed like this baby was the exact opposite of my first two newborns. He struggled to take bottles, he seemed to need to stay awake much longer before sleep in order to sleep well and needed less overall sleep than the other two, and the strategies that I used to extend night sleep, such as a dream feed and the pacifier, seemed to not only not work, but backfire. I FOUGHT the changes that I needed to make with my third baby so that I could try to hold onto what was comfortable, just hoping that maybe eventually things would come together. It wasn’t until becoming a sleep consultant 2.5 years ago that I really started to understand that every baby TRULY is unique and it’s not worth the fight to keep trying to do things the way you had done them with your previous baby. As a Postpartum Doula and Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant one thing I’m passionate about now is working with families to find their baby’s unique needs and how to meet those needs, instead of comparing to their older children and trying to do the same thing that just keeps you going around in circles. There are four mistakes that I have identified parents of multiple children make when they bring home a new bundle of joy.
Comparing your new baby to the experiences you previously had with your babies.
“It worked for my first baby!”
Sleep props… “My baby had pacifier and it didn’t cause a problem.”
“I rocked my baby until she was 12 months old and it never caused a problem.
Dream feed... "Well it worked with my other child."
Sleep needs…"My first baby only stayed up for 1.5 hours at this age.”
"My first baby didn’t drop down to 2 naps until she was 9 months old!”
“My oldest child still naps for 2 hours and sleeps 12 hours at night, this toddler can’t possibly need to drop the nap at 2.5 years old!”
This is pretty much self- explanatory. :) Just don’t do it. It’s not helpful! This also goes when others, even books, are trying to give you advice. Your baby has unique needs and plowing through without realizing if what you are doing is actually working for this baby is going to cause more frustration.
What to do instead:
Start somewhere. It may be what you did with your last baby, or with your favorite baby sleep book's advice. Then tweak according to what your baby is telling you. If your other kids could take epic naps and still sleep all night but this baby seems unsettled all night after a great nap day, then make a change! Try something new. Parenting is one big experiment. Trial and error with your baby's sleep (making educated hypotheses of course, and maybe even with the help of an expert such as BraveHeart Consulting) is what is going to help you figure out how to address the sleep issues you are having with your new baby.
Trying to rescue the older child’s sleep by not allowing your baby to cry. (putting off sleep training), and vis versa.
If you have this mindset, you will just pile on the sleep props and ultimately there will be more crying, and more sleep disruptions. I know it’s scary, but if your first child has independent sleep skills then he will know how to get himself back to sleep on his own if he is woken by a crying baby.
What to do instead:
Using a sound machine for the baby’s room and the older child’s room can help mask the crying inevitably comes with sleep training. You may even want to add a box fan to the hallway between rooms. The sound machines are best placed where you are trying to block the sound. So if the siblings share a wall then place the sound machine in both rooms close to that wall, not close to the child/baby.
If your children are room sharing and you must sleep train your infant (or vis versa!) try moving your older child to the floor of your room for a few nights (IF your child has solid sleep skills and isn't going to be thrown off by the change!), OR if you are sleep training young enough (this works out very well under 6 months old) move your baby into your bedroom in a pack n play and camp out on the couch in the living room for a few days while sleep training your infant. Your infant isn’t near as picky about the specific bed and specific room they are sleeping in. They just need a flat surface in a dark room!
Moving to a toddler bed too soon.
There’s no reason to rush your older child’s transition to a toddler/big kid bed. A great age to make this transition is around 3 years old when they can be highly motivated by rewards, and they understand the expectations and boundaries of the bed. If you are worried about purchasing another crib, there’s better alternatives instead of moving your child prematurely into a toddler bed, especially close to when the baby arrives. There’s nothing worse than dealing with a toddler who is popping out in the middle of the night while also waking up with a newborn throughout the night!!
What to do instead:
Use a pack n play or bassinet in your bedroom for the first several months. Don’t worry about the fact that you would be using a pack n play for every sleep. Babies truly don’t think “oh man this mattress is SO uncomfortable!” A pack n play can buy you the much needed time for your toddler to reach an age where he will make the transition to a big kid bed much easier. A bassinet is an option as well, however you will have to find a bigger space by 2-3 months old! (See why moving to a bigger space at that time is helpful here!) You can even find an affordable or free crib on Facebook Marketplace!
Being too lenient or too strict with the schedule/routine.
What to do instead:
An older child craves consistency, especially when there’s a big change like bringing home a new sibling. It’s so easy to think “My toddler is having a hard time. I’m going to just let him do xyz…”, but that never turns out well. You will end up having to do some course correction once you're out of survival mode. And that’s fine of course, but it will actually be easier on your toddler if you stay on the same routine, and have the same expectations as before this new bundle of joy came into your family. The same problem can happen with your baby’s routine and schedule. Since we are SO easily kicked into fight or flight mode, our brains will lie to us: “I can’t keep up with a schedule because my toddler has activities throughout the day.” A newborn/infant carrier is an absolute lifesaver! That way your hands are free to keep toddler safe in public, and your baby will hopefully either be content being worn or take a bit of a snooze. In this blog post I link a few of my favorite baby carriers.
A parent can also go the opposite way and become “nap trapped”... the state of being trapped in the home where your 2 children alternate between who needs to take a nap. (I’m sorry I do not have scientific definition of this word! Haha! But let me tell you it’s A THING!) It’s okay to tweak your newborn or infant’s schedule to match your older child’s schedule. It’s okay to give your toddler a bit of a push on wake windows, or cut down on the total daytime sleep, just so that you can get out of the house in the morning with your kids, or enjoy a peaceful 2 hours where both children are napping. The key to forcing these schedule changes is to ask yourself, “Is it working? Are my children napping an appropriate amount? Are my children still sleeping an appropriate amount during the night? If so, then by all means tweak that schedule to where everything lines up beautifully and it works better for you! Because your sanity matters! If you find that your toddler is not very flexible then you may want to instead match your individual children’s needs even if that means your naps won’t temporarily overlap. There’s always a middle ground when it comes to the schedule. If you need help coming up with that middle ground please reach out! I love a good puzzle! :)
Growing your family can be overwhelming, as with it brings so many questions about how you're going to share yourself and meet the needs of more children. You're going to probably make one of the above mistakes and if so that's okay! Just move forward and change what needs to be changed. As a Victorian philosopher once said, "Go as far as you can see; when you get there, you'll be able to see farther." You got this!!!