For both adults and kids, alike, big life changes can throw off seemingly basic routines like sleeping and eating. And toddlers and school-aged kids seem to be even more sensitive to these changes, which can often lead to what feels like another regression. One common life change that can cause sleep regressions with older kids (as well as other behavioral regressions!) is bringing home a new baby.
Maybe bedtime was going really smoothly, or your child has been sleeping through the night for years, or quiet time has been a nice constant in your home, but now that there’s a newborn in the house, it seems like all things sleep are a fight, or night wakings are happening again, and you feel stuck.
This is not uncommon! And while I will never promise to help you avoid a sleep regression altogether, there are steps we can take to try to prevent a big sleep regression, as well as tips to get sleep back on track when a regression happens.
And not all of these tips are specifically sleep-related! But it’s aaaalllll connected. So in this blog post, I will share some tips for preparing older siblings before a new baby arrives, as well as tips to helping older siblings adjust after a newborn has come home, including:
- Talk about what changes will come with the new baby
- Involve your older child as your prepare the house for a newborn
- Buy some presents for the baby’s “birthday” and then have a “birthday party” when they come home
- Set aside intentional one-on-one time with your older child once the baby is home
- Try NOT to include your newborn in your older child’s bedtime routine
- Invite the new siblings to be helpers for their baby brother or sister
- Remain consistent with boundaries and routines you already have in place
- What to expect in terms of sleep regressions when bringing a new baby home
- Give everyone a little extra grace as you adjust to this growing family
Steps to Take Before the New Baby is Born
Talk About the Changes that Are Coming with the New Baby
For toddlers and older kids, talking about schedule and routine changes is helpful in day to day life, so it’s all the more important when a more long-lasting (or permanent!) change is coming. So when you’re expecting a new baby, talking about the new baby often is helpful for their little minds to prepare for what’s to come, even if they can’t really understand it yet.
For example, if you plan on delivering your baby at the hospital, make sure your older child knows to expect mommy and daddy to be gone for a few days with the baby. Make sure they know who will be staying with them, or doing meals with them, or who might be doing bedtime with them. Assure them that they will be safe while you’re away and that you will be back home with the baby before they know it. They might even get to come visit at the hospital!
Or if you plan to deliver the baby at a birth center or at home, talk about what that will look like. Will your child be there? If so, who else will be there to help? If not, who will be with your child while you’re with the new baby? Let them ask any and all questions they may have so they feel more secure when the day comes.
Additionally, let your older kids know what life will look like after you bring baby home. Like, “This is the chair mommy is going to sit in to feed the new baby.” Or, “Grandma and Grandpa are going to come stay with us for a few days to help. Grandpa is going to cook us delicious dinners and Grandma will be putting you to bed!” And, “Mommy won’t be able to hold you for a few weeks while my body heals, but I’m excited to cuddle you in my lap and read lots of books together in my bed.”
Explain that sometimes they’ll hear the new baby cry and tell them what you’ll do (and what they can do) to help the baby! Talk about how babies can’t talk and that’s how they’ll communicate what they need, so any extra crying doesn’t seem so scary or bad, and that you will be right there to help.
Also explain that their new baby sibling will likely sleep and eat most of the day, at first. They won’t be ready to play just yet, but will enjoy hearing their sibling read to them, cuddle them, and they might even watch their sibling play.
Involve Your Child in Preparing for the Baby
As you are getting your house ready to bring home baby, involve your older kids! Show them where your little one is going to sleep. Let them help you decorate the nursery, or find a good spot in your room for the bassinet.
Include them as you’re washing, folding, and putting away the baby clothes. They can hand you diapers as you put them in the diaper caddy. Let them “help you” wash pacifiers, bottles, and pump parts.
This makes them feel like they are part of the preparation rather than watching it from a distance, or waking up one morning to so much new stuff.
Buy Some “Birthday Presents” for When the New Baby Arrives
What toddler or older child doesn’t love birthdays and gifts?! This was a tip a friend gave me when we were expecting our second daughter and I never would have thought of it otherwise.
We took our older daughter to the store and let her pick out a “birthday” present for the baby (with our help, of course). We also picked out a present for our daughter that was “from the baby.” And we had her draw pictures for the new baby and make cards, preparing for her “birthday!”
Young toddlers won’t totally understand what it means that mommy is having a baby, but the likely have some idea of what a birthday is, so this helps connect the dots just a bit more.
Steps to Take After the Newborn Comes Home
Have a “Birthday Party” for Baby
To go along with the gifts you purchased a few weeks ago, buy a birthday cake or some birthday cupcakes for your newborn’s birthday! We had our second daughter at a birth center, so we were home just a few hours after she was born and were able to have cupcakes after dinner – but you could also do this at the hospital or the day you bring baby home! This is a fun way to celebrate adding another sweet life to the family, but it also helps your older child make sense of what’s happening.
Set Aside One-on-One Time with Your Older Kids
Try to set aside intentional one-on-one time with your big kids, without the baby, once a day, when possible. This is HUGE! Even just 15-20 minutes a day with mom and dad is so helpful in this transition. Mom will likely be in bed a lot more often then the kids are used to, and she will usually have baby with her. And dad will likely be tending to mom, receiving meals, responding to texts and phone calls, and trying to keep everything else together at home.
And whether or not toddlers and older kids are able to verbalize it, they certainly feel this shift! So having set aside time each day with no phones, no baby, no laundry to fold, etc., goes a long way in helping siblings adjust to having a new baby at home.
When our second daughter was born, I was so quick to use our extra help for our toddler. I wanted to make sure she got to the playground, and could build tall Magnatile towers, eat her usual lunches, etc. – I wanted things to feel as “same” as possible.
I quickly noticed, however, that rather than feeling like her day to day was the “same,” it felt more like I was “passing her off” – and really all she wanted was some mom time. So I tried to start using our extra help to not only take our toddler on adventures, but also take care of our newborn for a short time so I could have one-on-one time with our oldest.
Try NOT to Include Your Baby in Your Older Child’s Bedtime Routine
This may sound counter-intuitive, but it’s connected to having intentional one-on-one time with your child. Whenever possible (and I know it’s not always possible!), try NOT to include the new baby in your older child’s bedtime routine.
While it can feel really sweet to have a family bedtime, and to read books altogether, or have your older child read stories to the baby (you’ll get there eventually!), it can also feel like something that use to “belong” to your older child – a time that used to be special with just mom or dad, or even both – now has to be shared.
And as newborns usually have a later bedtime for the first few months, the idea that big brother or sister has to go to bed, but baby gets to stay awake with mommy and daddy, can be really frustrating and can cause more challenges around bedtime. Let alone to SEE mommy or daddy walk out of the room WITH the baby, while they have to stay in bed by themselves…that can get tough, and understandably so.
So recognizing that this won’t always be possible, trying not to include your newborn in your older child’s bedtime routine whenever possible will be really helpful the first several weeks to keep their sleep on track.
Make Your Older Kids “Helpers” with the Baby
Toddlers and older kids often love being helpers to mom and dad – they want to feel useful! So when it’s time for a diaper change, ask them to bring you the diaper or open the wipes container. When it’s time to feed the baby, ask them to bring you a burp cloth. When it’s time to put baby to sleep, let them sing with you! Rather than feeding or sleeping time being a mom-or-dad-is-off-duty time, include your big kids whenever you can.
[If your child really doesn’t want to help, certainly don’t make them! But invite them in to help whenver possible.]
Remain Consistent, Especially When it Comes to Sleep
When you bring a newborn home, lots of things are being turned upside down, and much of that is just not avoidable. And that’s okay! When it comes to your toddler or older child, however, trying to keep as many things as “same” as possible is helpful for everyone.
So if your toddler usually takes a nap around 12:30, try as much as you can to still make nap time happen around 12:30. Or if your preschooler has quiet time every day after lunch, try to keep that quiet time routine going. They will need it, and you will, too!
Similarly, if your child usually goes to bed around 7:30, try to keep that bedtime as consistent as possible. And follow the same bedtime routine and hold the same expectations that you did before baby came. If you usually tuck them in, kiss them goodnight, and leave the room for them to fall asleep independently, continue doing so! Oppositely, if you sit in the room until they fall asleep each night, have someone ready to continue doing so – expecting them to all of a sudden be able to fall asleep on their own because they’re a big brother or sister now isn’t going to cut it.
How Long a Sleep Regression Might Last After Bringing Home a New Baby
My general rule of thumb when it comes to sleep regressions is that they don’t last longer than about two weeks – if so, there’s probably more going on than just a sleep regression where “remaining consistent” gets you through.
When it comes to older kids adjusting to having a new baby in the house, however, a sleep regression could last closer to 4-6 weeks! Every child is truly different and their adjustment looks very different, so there are no hard and fast rules. Also remember, however, that just because some kids go through a sleep regression when bringing home a new baby, not every child will!
If your toddler or older child still seems “off” during the day, it’s very understandable that their sleep may still be off. Oppositely, just because they seem totally fine during the day, sleep could be where they’re getting those feelings or tensions out.
Which leads me to…
Give Everyone Some Extra Grace
While it is important that your usual routines, boundaries, and expectations remain as consistent as possible, there is also going to be an extra need for even more grace during the adjustment to having a new baby in the house. And I’m talking extra grace for everybody!
If your little one seems to be tantruming more than usual, try to have some extra book and snuggle time. Or if you usually try to avoid screen time, this might be a great time to use it more often to help everyone out.
If they’re calling out at bedtime, check-in a few times to provide extra support and reassurance, and then leave again for them to fall asleep independently.
If you just need to take a shower in peace and quiet, ask a friend or family member to come over and hold the baby, or take your older kids to the playground. Or if your meal train has stopped and you just can’t make another meal, ask for help or order more takeout!
It won’t be like this forever, but you will have all undergone a big life change (a great life change!) and it’s important to give yourself lots of extra grace as you’re navigating this new normal.
Bringing a newborn home is so exciting and can also be overwhelming, for both parents and older siblings. And it’s not uncommon for older siblings’ behavior to temporarily change, or for their sleep habits to regress. While there’s not a magical formula to make the adjustment smooth and bump-free, there are absolutely steps you can take before the baby arrives and after to help your older children adjust a bit more.
Finally, if you’re expecting a new baby and your older child is already struggling with sleep, don’t hesitate to reach out and see what it would be like to work together! Or if you’ve already brought the new baby home and your older child is still struggling to sleep after a few weeks, let’s chat! I’d love to help your family continue adjusting and get the rest that is possible during this transition.