It's only natural for young children to regress a bit with any big life change. This regression could be with potty training, behavior, and...yes, sleep...or all of the above. When you bring a new baby home, things change. It's a great change in the long run, of course, but it takes some adjustment time for everyone.
Young children who were previously great sleepers may start fighting going to sleep and/or wake more often at night. They may require a lot more comfort than usual. Again, this is normal. It's nothing to worry about if you experience a sleep regression after new baby comes home. It doesn't usually last more than a few weeks, if you play it right! Here are a few tips to help you get through a toddler regressing with new baby.
Try to Keep His Bedtime Routine the Same
Everything is changing around your little one. He has less of your attention, he probably has to wait for snacks and other things a bit longer than usual, and his whole day now includes an extra, very needy little human directing it. Finding as many things as possible to keep consistent for your toddler will greatly help. Making sure his nap and bedtime routines don't change may be a huge help in preventing or helping a sleep regression.
For example, if Mom is the one who usually snuggles and reads him his books and then puts him in bed, it's going to be a lot different if all of a sudden Mom no longer has the time to do that because she's feeding the baby. One way to avoid this is proactively make sure that Dad is a big part of his bedtime routine long before the baby comes. Another thing you can do is schedule the baby's needs around your toddler's nap and bed times. Feed the baby before it's time to start your toddler's bedtime routine. Then pass the baby off to someone else or secure him in a swing and give your toddler those 20 minutes of undivided attention before bed.
I promise your newborn will be okay while you take the time to put your toddler to bed, even if you are the only adult in the home at the time. If your child's bedtime routine doesn't have to change because of the baby, he will feel more comforted and ready for sleep when the day ends. Stalling and fighting going to bed could be a result of too much change surrounding his routines.
Try to Keep His Schedule the Same
Similarly to the above section, try to keep his schedule as close to normal as possible. Sure, you will need a little wiggle room, but if there are major differences, it'll impact his sleep. For example, if your child normally goes to bed at 7:30pm, but you aren't able to get him in bed until 8:30pm because the baby was hungry and fussy, your toddler will be overtired.
Just like with his routines, schedule your newborn around your baby as much as possible. If you know your baby will be getting hungry around your toddler's nap time, feed the baby a bit early. It takes some time to get in the groove, but you will figure out a good rhythm for everyone!
Continue to Hold Boundaries
Having grace and offering extra comfort due to the changes is different from getting soft on the boundaries you've set. If you previously expected your toddler to stay in bed once you tucked him in, this should still be the expectation. If you previously gave him one bedtime pass, he shouldn't now get 5 passes just because there's a new baby at home.
Your child will likely feel challenged now that he's not the neediest member of the family anymore. This may cause him to challenge you for more control. If you give him more control, the regression will just continue and may even get worse. If he needs a few extra minutes of cuddling during your bedtime routine, go for it. If he wants one extra book read, sure. But five extra books? No. Needing a tissue, then a Band-aid, then a drink...all after being tucked in and lights are out? No. Have grace knowing that your child is feeling the changes, but still hold the normal boundaries.
If you struggle to do this and/or weren't holding boundaries at bedtime in the first place, my Sleep Training E-Courses can help you get there. Win back control of your toddler's bedtime so it can be a peaceful time!
The Whole Day Affects Bedtime
Keep in mind that the whole day can affect your child's bedtime. If you had a particularly rough day with your newborn and weren't able to give your toddler much attention at all, things could erupt at bedtime. It'll happen here and there no matter what you do; that's life. But if you can avoid it by giving your toddler targeted bits of time and attention, then great!
For example, if you have help come over during the day, make sure to spend some QT with your toddler here and there rather than letting your help take care of him while you take care of the baby all day. You can also wear your newborn so that you're still able to play with your toddler while comforting the baby. He won't care that the baby is tagging along as long as he's getting your attention too. Or if you have a moment when the baby is sleeping in a swing or something, give your toddler a few minutes before doing whatever else it is you need to do. Trust me, I know these "free" times are limited and you won't always be able to give your full attention to your toddler. Every little bit helps, especially if he's regressing!
Be Aware of Possible Transitions
If your toddler's regression lasts much longer than 2 weeks even though you're doing the above tips, then evaluate to see if he's ready for a change himself. Yes, it'd be quite a coincidence, but sometimes regressions are brought on by the need for change. And sometimes change ushers in the need for other transitions.
If your toddler is 2 years or older, could he need a shortened nap? Could he be ready to drop it completely? (Find out the answer to both of those questions here.) Does he need a slightly later bedtime to give him more awake time before bed? A new baby can certainly affect sleep for a period of time. But it shouldn't persist longer than an adjustment phase (unless you've made lasting changes, like adding sleep props back in when your child previously didn't have any).
If your child was previously sleeping amazingly and all of a sudden had issues the day you brought the baby home, it will likely pass once he adjusts. However, if there were already some sleep issues beginning ahead of time, or it's lasting longer than a few weeks, there may be something else that needs changed. Here is more information on regressions in general.
Give your child time to adjust, keep to his normal sleep routines and schedule as much as possible, and make sure to give him small pieces of your time throughout the day. If all of that fails after a few weeks, look for signs of readiness for other changes that may need made. Contact me if you need help figuring things all out and getting through this regression!
While I'm talking about bringing a new baby home, I'll let you know about my newborn E-Course! In this self-paced E-Course, you will learn all of the "what's normal" about newborn sleep and the common sleep issues you'll face. You'll learn how to set up an effective sleep environment, safe sleep guidelines, and how to lay the foundation for good sleep beyond the newborn stage (and more)!
~Ashley Bell, pediatric sleep consultant