Newborn sleep tips when you have older kids
If you have older children, bringing home a baby can make sleep routines that work for everyone seem impossible. Don't worry, writes Mel Hearse, there are solutions.
Newborn sleep tips

Did you hear the one about the newborn that came home and settled straight into the kids’ room with his toddler brother and primary school-aged sister, all sleeping peacefully through the night and living happily ever after? If you haven’t, don’t panic (if you have, write a book and get yourself on the talk show circuit, stat.) While the above scenario may be a goal too far, there are tricks to making it easier.

Understanding sleep

Step one in getting optimal sleep for all is understanding the sleep requirements of all the ages under your roof. Dr Julie Green, Executive Director of the Raising Children Network says newborn babies will require roughly 16 hours of sleep a day, and will have no concept of sleeping at night versus sleeping during the day. “It is common for newborns to wake several times during the night, especially for feeding.”

Somewhere around the three to six-month mark babies will develop more of a sleeping ‘pattern’. Dr Green says two or three day sleeps are common, and night waking will still occur.

“Toddlers will require around 10-12 hours sleep, some of which is likely to take place during the day. Pre-primary and primary age children require around 10 hours and will have given up the day sleep,” she says – noting all children are different and this day sleep may have vanished as early as 18 months or two years, and for some may still happen in Kindy.

Last but not least, Dr Green says parents can vary between requiring six and eight hours sleep a night. “Parental sleep will obviously take a knock with young children in the house, but understanding your needs and tending to them as best as possible is actually part of getting sleeping under control in your whole house – for example, who hasn’t been sleep deprived enough to let a toddler take a five-hour nap during the day despite knowing everyone will pay for it later?”

Laying it out properly

When you first bring your baby home, it’s ideal to have them in your room – though, a cot or bassinet is a safer option than in your bed.

“As well as allowing toddlers or older children an uninterrupted night’s sleep, this also protects the parents’ sleep as much as possible as night feeds are a smoother process and everyone settles back into sleep quickly,” says Dr Green.

If your house doesn’t allow for moving bubs into their own room, having an understanding of other children’s sleep cycles can be a handy way to gauge the best time to move them in together. “While a night-waking baby rarely wakes older children, the time to watch for is the morning – if bubs is waking up at 5am, this is a more vulnerable time for older siblings to be woken and not be able to get back to sleep – and those extra hours in the morning could make a huge difference to how tired they get during the day and make for a cranky older sibling that has trouble concentrating.”

Routines are golden

Setting up good sleep routines is important, especially when you are juggling different ages and sleep requirements.

“By six months, children appreciate a good bedtime routine,” says Dr Green. “Whatever works for your family is fine – your variation on dinner, stories, baths and bed isn’t as important as sticking to a consistent routine.”

Knowing what is expected helps kids learn to self-settle and not turn bedtime into a wrestling match. Dr Green says babies (though not newborns), with routines are often better at self-settling in the night, which means less disruptions for all.

The house rules

Dr Green says it is OK to set up house rules around sleep to protect everyone’s requirements. Obviously rules for the newborn are pointless, but making sure their older sibling understands not to wake the baby can be a simple exercise. “If they are the early risers, set up a spot in the house away from where the baby sleeps that they are allowed to play in until everyone else is up. This may also be a good ‘special spot’ for them to play at baby’s bedtime or when you are settling them down for sleeps during the day.”

These rules can also preserve parental sleep. “Once children are a bit older, you can let them know what the earliest they are allowed to wake you is – make sure they have other things to do like reading or a game that is safe for them to play with.”

She says it is also OK to spell out expectations to toddlers around the baby’s bedtime – obviously they won’t follow them all the time, but if you need 20 minutes of quiet time in bub’s room to get them fed, relaxed and into bed, and it is safe to do so, it is best to be upfront and put a plan in place to make it happen.

This article was written by Melanie Hearse for Kidspot.com.au and has been adapted for Kidspot.co.nz

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