Bedtime for Two? – Why You Shouldn't Plan Ahead!

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“When and how should I get my toddler into their own bed?”

“Should I night wean before the baby comes?”

“How do you manage putting both to bed when solo parenting?”

“What are some ways to get my partner more involved in bedtime?”

“How do you make sure baby gets a good nap when they will only nap in a carrier, and you have another kid to take care of?”

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There are a million and one questions that swim through a parent’s mind when they are getting ready to welcome their second child.  A recent article published in a popular parenting magazine dispensed advice for dealing with bedtimes when you have two kids.  The main point was to do a staggered bedtime, for example, 7:30 PM for the baby and 8:00 PM for the older child. The article explains why this is the best idea, reason by reason. Here is my issue around this advice (which might work great for some, some of the time, or maybe all of the time).  Rather than tell you some specifics on how-to-prepare, I want to be honest:

  • You have no way of knowing how things are going to be.
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  • No amount of training or planning will alleviate the inevitable hiccups that come with adding a person you have never met before into your family (sorry!)  


Every family is different.  

As an example, you could be a mother who: grapples with anxiety; has a partner who works out of town for weeks on end; has an older child with special needs; and a newborn with a very easy going temperament.  The issues and the rhythm that a family will find themselves in would be very different than another family of unique humans, depending on how each personality works in relationship with the other(s).  I do not believe you can paint every child/parent/family with the same brush, so the solutions for each family would potentially be very different, this is the cornerstone of our approach.

Another major factor a family may face includes the older child regressing.  This is why I do not agree with the logic of “preparing” or training the older child to sleep without nighttime assistance. The months leading up to the birth of the second child is a sacred time for the older child to fill their tank with attention and cuddles.  Soon they will have to share their parents and their world will be unequivocally rocked with all the changes and patience required of them.
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The third set of factors includes a family’s personal needs, values and goals:

  • What if mom tandem breastfeeds both her children to sleep, and it is a time they all cherish? Should she stop doing that, and stagger bedtime instead? No.
  • What if the older child loves to snuggle in beside parent and sibling during second nap, and this means he naps too? The books say he should have dropped naps though, he is 5… This also means that he stays up much later than the suggested 8:00 PM bedtime. Should the parent ensure he does not nap, and do the 8:00 bedtime instead? No, not necessarily.
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  • What if the baby’s circadian rhythm makes their natural bedtime 9:00, and the older child’s is 7:00? Should we create a plan to inch baby’s sleep earlier and earlier, and slowly bump the preschooler’s bedtime a bit later? Man, that sounds like a lot of work!
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  • If a parent turns to an expert and he/she is given a recipe, when they find that they can’t or don’t follow it, it can create pressure and disempowerment.  Here is a personal example of just how silly it is to assume you can control and plan your life with more than one child.


Imagine this…

I am nursing my baby to sleep.  He is drifting off sweetly, and for a moment I am completely relaxed.  I could totally fall asleep too.

“Mama!  Mama, I am ready for a bum wipe!”

Baby’s eyes pop open.  Relaxation is replaced with annoyance.  I take a deep breath and remind myself that my older son did not do anything wrong whatsoever.  I gather together my sweetness so I can respond lovingly.  Me and baby go into the bathroom and take care of big brother.

The result: Another nap kyboshed.

I was looking forward to some one-on-one time with big brother, and a chance to eat a meal with two hands.  That will need to wait.  It’s OK.  I can go with the flow.  Baby will sleep when he wants to and if he is tired enough, even big brother won’t be able to keep him up (the number one sleep interrupter is that cute, fun voice of big brother!).

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Do you worry that you are doing a disservice to your baby because you are unable to put them on a strict sleep schedule?

I can assure you, they will be just fine. Your baby will not miss out on the chance to go to university simply because they had shorter naps than their older sibling once had.  It feels silly to have to say that, however, sleep books are often sold from a place of fear being instilled in the parents.  Fear that they are doing it wrong, they can’t trust themselves, and they are not enough.  For this reason, I love the quote, “Fear sells! Until you stop buying it.”

When clients come to us with their sleep questions there are usually more questions to ask the parent that help guide them to their own solutions by empowering their intuition. From our years of working with families we continue to observe that a parent is best served by coaching them to come up with the best solutions *for their unique circumstances* or helping them discover that the root issue is something else, and from there we can shift the focus to that during our time together.

In case you have not had the chance to check out my blog I want to acknowledge that I am not one to give blanket solutions (pardon the pun) for most sleep problems.  As Sleep Educators we are able to help parents figure out the root issue and a handful of solutions that are specific to each family by asking deep and meaningful questions.

With that being said, here are a few pearls of wisdom that I have learned from my experience as a parent and Sleep Educator:

Do what works until it doesn’t work, then try something else.  

Months of preparation will not give you any guarantees. Don’t prepare for what you do not know will be.

Time best spent relaxing and cuddling, could be washed down the drain as bedtime battles ensue, especially now, with a newborn on the scene.

Chat with someone who is caring, open-minded and empathetic, and you might be surprised to find that this will help to improve sleep for the whole family!

All the solutions you need can come from your own heart and mind.  I promise!

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second babyBrandie Hadfield is the co-creator and facilitator of our Infant Sleep Educator Certification program. Her work as a Parent Educator and Sleep Expert provides parents with an alternative method of sleep support that fosters healthy, long term sleep habits for the entire family. She is the mother to two boys, president of Attachment Parenting Canada, Dr. Sears Health Coach and an admitted work-a-holic. She loves to play video games with her boys as much as she loves to play outside.

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10 Comments

  1. Emily on October 10, 2016 at 8:51 pm

    In our house, my oldest is just over 3.5 years old and my baby is 5 months. We’ve just been playing it by ear as far as sleep. My oldest sticks with his bedtime and the baby pretty much works around it. The the she is strict about is meals. She is like a Swiss watch!

  2. Paula @ Easy Baby Life on October 12, 2016 at 7:07 am

    Great post! And I agree – too much planning and “deciding” on schedules and how things should be done´, will not lead to better sleep but to more frustrated parents! Speaking from my own experience when I was a first-time mom. I learned my lesson. 🙂

  3. Spicemylife on October 12, 2016 at 8:10 am

    Great tips! My school going kids are usually in bed by 8. But the toddler goes to bed around 10 because he naps in the afternoon and that suits me fine. Nice post!

  4. Karen Lesh on October 14, 2016 at 9:59 pm

    Ugh – bedtime for two was soooo not what I expected, and in reality, it changed every few months! Then I had my third and that was a crazy challenge, too, and that changed over time as well . . . one thing is for sure — it rarely goes as planned, and that’s ok! Thanks for sharing! Cheers from Karen at mobtruths.com.

  5. Amanda - Raising da Vinci on October 17, 2016 at 5:32 pm

    So true!

    “I am nursing my baby to sleep. He is drifting off sweetly, and for a moment I am completely relaxed. I could totally fall asleep too.
    “Mama! Mama, I am ready for a bum wipe!””

    I laughed at that because I’ve totally been there! Great post! Thanks for sharing!

  6. Hanna on October 18, 2016 at 12:21 am

    Probably one of the best posts I’ve read about babies and sleep! Couldn’t agree with you more! Thank you!

  7. Lauren on October 18, 2016 at 5:23 pm

    I love this advice! It matches up with my own experiences too – as a tandem feeding mum with a toddler having a hard time sharing mama and bedtimes, breastfeeding both kids together and being relaxed about where we all slept eased our transition into a family of 4.

  8. Vanessa on October 19, 2016 at 10:00 pm

    Bedtimes seems to change week to week in my house. My four-year-old just started school and is often exhausted, but some nights manages to stay up til 9:30, while my toddler’s naps very in length from 30 minutes to two hours on any given day, so his bedtime could be 7:30 or 9. Forget planning! Each day will be different!

  9. Lauren on October 19, 2016 at 10:10 pm

    Great post! As a tandem feeding, bedsharing mama, I love the sentiments expressed here. When my daughter was due to be born, our 3yo son’s transition was our primary concern. So I kept him in bed next to me and breastfed him at the same time as his sister, and the result has been few jealousy issues and a wonderful bond between the two

  10. Lindsay on October 19, 2016 at 10:21 pm

    Thank you for this! I remember adjusting to bedtime after my second child was born. My hubs works nights and I was on my own most of the time, so really had to roll with whatever worked for us. Great tips here.

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