My biggest fear after finding out we were pregnant with my second child, was, hands down, the thought of having to tackle bedtime with two little children under two years old - on my own. Our job schedules allow us to spend most of our time caring for our children without assistance, however, that also means my husband is with the boys solo in the mornings, and, you guessed it...I'm solo in the evenings!
Also, keep in mind, my toddler has been a super-sleeper since we sleep trained him around 5 months old. He goes down without a fight 99% of the time whenever we finish up his nap time or bed time routine. Anyone can put him to bed. He can sleep almost anywhere. It's been pretty great thus far with his sleep journey. So, when trying to prepare my husband that our eldest child might be an anomaly when it comes to sleep (he insists that I should just take the credit for it...!) and that we would likely have to work harder with this next baby, he didn't want to hear it!
Now we are four months into having two little boys. For your reference, they are 17 months apart. Here's what I've learned:
My first piece of advice for anyone about to make this transition, or for those currently working or struggling through it...make sure your older child's sleep is solid before bringing home their sibling. Do what you need to do to get this smoothed over, because the last thing you're going to want to deal with when having a newborn is a bedtime battle with your toddler during the witching hour. Not only will your baby be crying, and your toddler having a meltdown, but YOU will be on the verge of tears also. Let's get that taken care of, ASAP! Newborns need to sleep a lot, so finding time to squeeze in bedtime for an older child may be tricky between all the baby cares. If you have a solid sleeper to start, that in and of itself is going to be a lifesaver.
My next item to mention is to be a little flexible with your newborn, and more structured with your older child. Huh - what does that even mean?! Well, your older child just had their whole little world flipped upside down - they are no longer the center of your attention 24/7. Keep their schedule as close to normal as possible. Your new baby doesn't know any different. Their sleep is also so sporadic at this stage, so it's much easier to manipulate than your older child's. For example, my older son typically goes to bed at 7:00 each night. I can manipulate this time to be maybe 15 minutes earlier or later and it won't affect his sleep too much. Because of their small tummies and the need to eat more frequently, a newborn's bedtime will likely be much later - say 9:00, 10:00, or even 11:00 p.m. This gradually moves forward as their sleep consolidates over the first few months of life.
As we would inch closer to bedtime for my older son, I would pay attention to my newborn's awake windows (the time between sleeps) and figure out when I needed to have my older son in bed so that I could respond to my baby when he needed me again, either to nurse him, get him up from a nap, or to put him down for another nap or to bed for the night. Based on how long the above would take, I would figure out the best time to do the bedtime routine with my older child, again, so it was around 7:00 p.m. give or take 15 minutes.
Now that my baby is four months old, he has more consolidated, independent sleep and longer awake windows. It's not nearly as hard as it was when he was a newborn. At least not for me - my husband may disagree! I still pay attention to his awake windows since he isn't on a set schedule yet (this doesn't happen until your baby is on two naps a day, usually sometime between 6 and 9 months). This means that his bedtime is fluid. My goal is always to lay him down between 7:00 and 8:00 p.m. - any time within that hour - actually any time between 6:00 and 8:00 p.m. - would be an appropriate bedtime at this stage of his development.
Another thing I should mention now, is that since we were able to focus on sleep from the very beginning with my youngest son, he is also a very solid sleeper, and at this age, I can mostly lay him down without a fuss after his bed time routine, about 80% of the time. He will then coo himself to sleep. However, if he does fuss, it's only a minute or two before he calms and starts to soothe himself to sleep.
So, let's get into details. No two nights are exactly the same. Scratch that. Routines for the boys are always the same, but the timing isn't always the same.
Since my baby is typically doing three naps (maybe four if they were short naps) they're usually both ready for bed around 7:00 p.m. On these nights they both get diapers changed and jammies on downstairs. My toddler drinks some warmed milk while we all snuggle and read books on the couch. Sometimes, if he is content, my baby plays on the floor during this time. If he wants/needs to be held, he gets to sit on my lap too. After reading books, we brush my toddler's teeth. Now, since there are two last, quick steps for my toddler, I usually put him in bed first. We go upstairs, I zip him in his sleep sack while I sing his lullaby, say his prayers and lay him down. Poof - he's out! It's like magic! Then I take my baby across the hall to his nursery with a bottle. I zip him in his sleep sack, give him his bottle, sing his lullaby, say his prayers, and lay him down.
It's rare that my baby goes to bed before my toddler these days, and as long as he is still having a bottle at that point in the bed time routine, I don't foresee that changing. There also may come a time when I need to implement an early bedtime for him as he starts to transition to two naps per day. Like I said, his bedtime will be fluid until that transition is complete, and we will take it day by day.
Suffice to say, it's a lot easier on the nights when my husband is home because I don't need to be in two places at the same time! I'm so incredibly thankful both of our boys are good sleepers. I don't dread bedtime like some clients share with me, because it is always a battle for them. It is actually one of my favorite times of the day.
I think I'm also that cliche mom who looks forward to bedtime, and then misses her babies when they are finally asleep for the night!
I feel that I should offer some tips on day time sleep too, as my boys are obviously on very different schedules due to their ages and stages of development. So, my toddler who only takes one nap, is my "helper" when it's time to put the baby down for a nap. He is not to be trusted or left alone yet - who knows what state my house would be in when I came back downstairs?! Mostly, I prompt him that his brother "needs to go night night, will you come help me, please?" So, he helps carry up a blankie that we use for snuggle time (my baby is too young to have it in the crib with him) and brings it to me in the rocking chair. Then he goes to play with his shape sorter, a puzzle, a truck, or some books I have in the nursery for him while I do the nap time routine with the baby (have a corner with some quiet toys set up if you need to). After I lay his brother down in the crib, I pick up my toddler and he helps turn off the light and we go back downstairs to play. That's it! As he gets older and more capable of helping, I will incorporate him more into that routine. This works for now, and mamas, if it ain't broke, don't fix it!
And if it is broken, I would love to help you fix it, so you too can enjoy your evenings. Please don't hesitate to reach out to me for help sorting out your child(ren)'s bedtime routine - this is my jam! Let's get those babies sleeping.