Not going to lie: Sleep training a baby when you have another child can be tricky. But knowing up front that the process may be disruptive for the entire household can help you manage your expectations and come up with a solution that works for everyone (at least most of the time).
Explain sleep training to your older child
"Help them begin to understand that their baby brother or sister needs time to figure out how to sleep through the night," says KT Park, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Stanford's Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, whose two sons shared a room while the baby was sleep training.
"Phrase it in a way they can understand by reiterating that the baby might get up scared or looking for mommy or daddy, but that the baby will understand after a week or so that everything is fine. Let them know there will most likely be some crying which might make the whole family wake up, but that's part of the normal learning process for a baby."
Ways to make it easier on your older child
- Enlist your older child's help. Ask him to set a good example by following the bedtime routine and staying in bed, suggests Jennifer Shu, an Atlanta-based pediatrician and coauthor of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Heading Home With Your Newborn. Ask for help singing a lullaby, tucking in the baby, or turning off the lights.
- Relocate your firstborn temporarily. "It may be helpful to put the older sibling in a different room during the sleep training process," Shu says. This may mean starting bedtime earlier in the evening for your baby while her older sister takes a bath or reads in the living room. Or having your firstborn sleep somewhere else – the living room or your bedroom – until "training season" (as Shu calls it) is over. Make it a fun adventure for your child by setting up a cozy spot, getting her a special blanket or pillowcase, or even sleeping with her the first couple of nights.
- Mask the noise. If your older child agrees to wear them, a pair of earplugs could be your saving grace. Or try a white noise machine, or white noise app, which can mask the sounds of both children. This way, they're less likely to wake each other up.
- Don't expect one child to be like the other. What worked for one child in terms of sleep training may not work for the other, says Barbara Nusbaum, a clinical psychologist who works with couples and families in New York City. Much depends on a child's temperament and your current situation. "Try to minimize the noise for the older child since younger children can usually sleep through most noise,” she says. "Most nights will probably work fine, and some nights won't work at all."
Tips from our site parents who've been there:
Head off the noise before it happens
"Tend to your baby as soon as he starts stirring so as not to let a full-blown cry happen. If he's changed and nursed before he cries, it's a win."
Tell your older child what to do if the baby wakes up
"My kids are three and a half years apart. I taught my daughter to ignore the baby if he wakes up. Otherwise she would talk and sing to him, keeping them both awake."
Try not to worry too much
"My sons are 15 months apart, and I worried about them disrupting each other's sleep. Come to find out, they must have selective hearing because even though they'd wake up if I sneezed in another room with the door closed, they will sleep soundly through each other's wailing. So just go ahead and put them in together – you might be surprised."
Get help for other challenging sleep training scenarios
- Sleep training your baby when your parents don't agree with your approach
- Sleep training your baby when you live in an apartment
- Sleep training your baby while traveling