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Toddler - How to get to sleep before third baby arrives?

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Dr. Markham-
I have a three year old little boy, a 14 month old little girl, and a baby on the way in a few months. My daughter, until 8 days ago, has always slept in my bed. Until about a month ago, she was nursing every two hours at night. When in my bed, if she wakes and I am not there, she starts crying, even, at times, standing up on the bed to cry for me.

My son, who slept with me the first year and from 19 to 27 months until my daughter was born now, reluctantly, sleeps in his own bed. However, he regularly has temper tantrums at night, requiring my assistance. (They are not night terrors.)

My husband regularly travels. During nights when I am alone with the kids and my son wakes up, it is very stressful because I fear my daughter will wake up and fall off the bed. (It could still be a serious fall if the bed were on the floor.) Imagining this scenario unfolding while I am dealing with a newborn's nightly needs, I am terrified.

In addition, because both my kids have slept with me, neither are good nappers. My son stopped napping at 2. My daughter will not nap alone for any good length of time because she is used to me being with her while she sleeps. Consequently, I have put my daughter in her crib at night for the last week, and she is still crying 30 minutes to an hour every night. I do not believe in crying it out but feel I have to get her out of my bed to survive life with the third. I am very upset that she is being harmed by this and hate ignoring her cries.

Pantley's methods did not work with my son because my kids are strong-willed and tenacious. I ended up having to let him cry it out too but it only took three nights. (He was nursing non-stop all night for a year, and I was not surviving with not sleeping. I can't sleep through nursing.)

So, to sum up, my questions are this.
1. Do you have any other ideas for how I can make our sleep situation work with 3 kids and an absent husband?
2. How do you get a co-sleeper to nap by themselves in a crib?
-- Diana


Dear Diana,
Your 14 month old is still a baby, and you have another baby arriving soon? Two babies is a lot for anyone to juggle, and a three year old too? And Dad travels a lot? You're a brave woman to have spaced your kids so close together. I can well understand your fears about caring for a newborn alone at night, and having your daughter wake, crying, standing on the bed to look for you. I will share my thoughts on this, but the bottom line is that you'll be a better mom if you get your sleep, and whatever works for your family is the best sleep setup.

As I see it, you have three choices for night sleeping:

1. Family Bed- Put a king size mattress on the floor. Let your 14 month old sleep with you. Transition her gradually to sleep on the other side of the bed (use a safety rail if the mattress still seems too high for her) so that your husband, when he's around, is between you, because she is likely to sleep for longer stretches if she isn't next to you. When the baby arrives, keep him in an adjoining bassinet. (Or in the bed with you, if there's room.) Eventually, your daughter will probably get excited about the idea of a new toddler bed. If that's not soon enough for you, once she's more verbal, you can always transition her to a pallet next to your bed until she's ready for her own big girl bed.

2. Sibling Bed- Let your 14 month old sleep with your three year old. They will probably need a double bed mattress on the floor, and you may want to add a railing to it. In most parts of the world, small children sleep together (if not with parents) and find great comfort in the cuddling. I have heard from many people that sibling beds solved their sleep problems, for both the older and younger child. Eventually, this stage of needing to sleep with someone else will pass for both of them and they'll move on to their own big beds, but it could be a great transitional solution for a year or two.

3. Sleep Training- Teach your daughter to fall sleep in her own bed. I think ignoring her cries night after night for 30 minutes to an hour is harmful (since this has been going on for a week, she is not the type to give in easily on this.) So I would advise instead a more gentle process of teaching her to fall asleep. It may still involve crying initially, but because you offer her reassurance by staying with her and holding her, it does not create the trauma of leaving her alone to cry it out. This will be labor intensive for you but is possible to do within a couple of months, and you will have a child who falls asleep in her own bed at night and during naps.

This method works best with a mattress on the floor because you start out by lying with her until she falls asleep, but you can also do this with the kind of crib that has a side that you can swing down completely so you can sit in a chair next to the crib. (If you opt for a mattress on the floor, be sure to put it in the corner, and put furniture against the foot of the bed so it is really cozy. Kids like the security of a little cave-like space. Be sure, of course, that all furniture is securely anchored to the floor and can't tip onto your child.)

She may resist sleeping in her own bed, and cry, but if you hold her and reassure her, she will get used to the idea. Once she is used to falling asleep in her own bed with you snuggling her there, begin holding her a bit less securely, but still touch her while she falls asleep. It helps if she has a big stuffed animal to cuddle also, and a smelly teeshirt or scarf that reminds her of you. Many parents say that kids love a hotwater bottle to snuggle (you can buy them inside a stuffed animal.)

Gradually move so you are touching her less and less as she falls asleep. It may seem impossible now, but if you stay calm and persistent, she will learn to fall asleep just feeling your hand on her back.

It helps if you give her other ways to feel your presence besides your touch, such as singing to her. Move toward a routine where you snuggle her, put her in bed, rub her back singing a particular song, then sit next to her with your hand on her back singing another song, then stop touching her while you sing another song. The routine will reassure her, and she will know what's coming as you move through your usual "playlist.". Eventually a tape of you singing to her will be sufficient for her to fall asleep. Gradually move closer to the door, until you are outside it while the door is open, and then you'll actually be able to get on with your evening!

The drawback to this method is that while you are teaching her to fall asleep with less and less support from you, she will still wake up looking for you. If you can sleep in the same room so you can repeat the process during the night, that will reinforce what she is learning. Once she can fall asleep without you touching her, she will not wake looking for you in the night.

I should add that an early bedtime works best. Most 14 month olds have to use a lot of adrenaline to keep themselves up past 7pm, so a bedtime later than that makes them too wound-up to fall asleep easily. For more info on this method, see Teaching Your Toddler to put Himself to Sleep in the Toddler section of this website.

Re Naps- Cosleepers often have a hard time napping. (Of course, every kid is different, so some are fine. And most kids will nap at preschool when the other kids nap, so routine has a lot to do with it.) If your child's bed is a mattress on the floor, you could lie down with her until she falls asleep (use the time to catch up with your reading, or take a nap yourself. In fact, you could have your 3 year lie with you also, and he might fall asleep too!) You could schedule errands for naptime every day and let her fall asleep in the car or stroller.

And if you do the hard work of Option #3 above, she will fall asleep in her bed easily whether it's naptime or nighttime.

I wish you sweet dreams. Enjoy your children.
-- Dr. Laura

Dr. Laura, Thank you for your response! It really helps when someone spells it out for you, especially when one if sleep-deprived. I have a lot of choices, and it just makes it easier to choose one if they are presented by a professional. I think it is great that you answer all of these questions for people. Thank you very much!!!


You are most welcome. You do indeed have a lot of options, and there is no "should" here, only what works for your family. I'm so glad my answer helped. Good luck!

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