Around the time I was 7 months pregnant with Dylan, I started to panic. Mae was just shy of 2 years old, and although she was lower maintenance than she used to be, “low maintenance” certainly wouldn’t be a term anyone would ever use to describe her. We had just recently started to feel like we were getting the hang of life with her, and now we were about to throw a newborn into the mix. What were we thinking??
Ready or not, Dylan was arriving. I started to think about how the needs of a newborn and the needs of a toddler are completely different. Newborns take short, frequent naps, breastfeed around the clock, likely don’t sleep through the night, and just want cuddled all the time. Toddlers are wound like a top from the time they wake up, take one long afternoon nap, and crash at 8 pm (hopefully sleeping through the night). How would I ever manage the needs of both?
As I approached my due date, I started to worry specifically about naptime and how I would be able to get both girls down for their naps when I was alone. At that point, we were still laying in the room with Mae until she fell asleep for naps and at night – and sometimes, it would take an hour for her to fall asleep. I certainly couldn’t leave the baby unattended for an hour! On the other hand, how would I get the baby down for her nap while leaving Mae unattended?
I was talking to my cousin, whose son is the same age as Mae, and I asked her how long it took him to fall asleep. She said, “I’m not sure…we just say, “Goodnight!” and close the door, and he falls asleep eventually.” I was floored. What a concept! A child who doesn’t need accompanied while he falls asleep. So, we decided it was time to teach Mae how to fall asleep on her own before Dylan arrived.
We knew this wouldn’t be an easy task. It’s not like we could just walk out of Mae’s room, cold turkey, and expect her to fall asleep without a fight. Anytime we had tried this in the past, she would cry and complain if we left her room before she fell asleep. We needed a plan.
Here’s how we tackled it:
After doing a bit of research, I pieced together an approach that I thought could work for us. The basic premise is that you sloooooowly move further and further away during the “falling asleep” process until you’re eventually out of the room. This took us about 2-3 weeks total, and we did it at both naptime and bedtime.
–Days 1-2: Instead of laying in Mae’s bed with her, I moved to the floor. I explained to her that I was still staying with her, but I was just going to lay on the floor instead. She was ok with it. I stayed until she fell asleep.
–Days 3-4: Instead of laying on the floor, I sat cross-legged on the floor. Same deal – I stayed until she fell asleep.
–Day 5-8: I moved a foot closer to the door and sat on the floor until she fell asleep. Every day, I would move a little closer to the door.
–Day 9: I opened the door to her room and sat on the floor just inside the room, staying until she fell asleep.
–Days 10-11: With the door open, I gradually moved until I was sitting on the floor outside of her room, still staying until she fell asleep (I told you this was sloooow…).
–Days 12-14: I closed the door a few inches each day so that it was still pretty much open, but the “openness” was getting smaller each day. If she would sit up in bed and look for me, I would just reassure her that I was right there and to go to sleep.
–Days 15-18: With the door opened just a crack, and then closed (but not latched), I would stand outside her door for a few minutes. If she yelled out to me, I would quickly open the door and reassure her that I was right there, and she would lay down. This usually only happened a few times before she felt comfortable. I did this so that she would feel confident that just because her door was closed, and she was in her room alone, that we were right there for her always.
And…it worked! This was a great process for us because Mae doesn’t like change, and this happened so gradually and over such a long period of time that she adjusted well to it.
Once Dylan arrived, it was time to test it out. When it was time for Mae to nap, if Dylan wasn’t also napping, I would bring her up to Mae’s room and set her in a bouncy chair on the floor while I read Mae a few books and did our naptime routine. Then I would give Mae a kiss, and Dylan and I would leave. Success! I was so relieved.
Now I just needed to figure out how to get Dylan down for her naps…
Dylan was a much easier newborn than Mae had been, so she was fairly easy to get down for naps in the beginning. I would usually sit on the couch and breastfeed her to sleep while Mae was playing on the floor, and then I would just put her in a bassinet or sleeper chair to nap.
Once she got to be a few months old and needed a more consistent sleep schedule and a quieter naptime experience, I had to get creative. I ended up putting her bassinet in the bathroom connected to our bedroom, which is downstairs (her bedroom is upstairs). It’s a cool and dark room, which was perfect for her.
Since it’s right next to the living room where Mae plays, though, I had to figure out how to make it sound-proof. That’s where the sleep machine came in! I use the term “sleep machine” lightly – it’s just our iPad with an awesome app on it called “Sound Sleeper.” It plays continuous white noise in a variety of sounds, like “Womb,” “Vacuum Cleaner,” and our favorite, “Mountain River.” We used it for years with both Mae and Dylan, and we would crank the volume UP. My family members were always shocked when they would walk into the room and hear how loudly we had the noise machine playing, but the girls loved it and slept so soundly.
Anyway, I would nurse or rock Dylan to sleep and then put her in the bassinet to nap. I felt more comfortable doing this while Mae was right in the next room, as opposed to me being upstairs and Mae being downstairs. I would put a show on TV to keep her occupied for a few minutes, which typically worked well.
Sometimes, just SOMETIMES, I would get lucky, and they would both nap at the same time. Those were miracle days, and I would quickly lay down myself and try to get a short nap in. It was amazing! I decided I would try to get them on a coordinated sleep schedule once Dylan was a little bit older.
So, when Dylan transitioned from 3 naps to 2 naps, I aligned Mae’s naptime with Dylan’s second naptime. It looked like this:
–Wake up: 7:00 am
–Dylan’s 1st nap: 9:00 – 10:30 am
–Lunch: 12:00 pm
–Mae’s nap and Dylan’s 2nd nap: 1:30 – 3:00ish
It didn’t always work out, but for the most part, their afternoon naps usually overlapped at least a little bit, leaving me with much-needed down time.
Naps are so important – not only for our sanity as mothers, but also because good naps usually lead to good nighttime sleep. Just because you’re throwing a newborn into the mix doesn’t mean all hell has to break loose! With a little planning and creativity, you might be able to find a schedule that leads to good naps for everyone…even you. 😊
About Katie Stansberry
Katie Stansberry is a work-from-home mom of two sweet girls and the creator of Breastfeeding Bliss. After struggling at the beginning of her breastfeeding journey, she wanted to create a happy place where breastfeeding moms could find practical tips, positive inspiration, and the newest and best breastfeeding products. On her "Back to Bliss" breastfeeding blog, she shares her personal stories and tips for making breastfeeding an easier and more enjoyable experience.