With your first baby, you have a lot more capacity, (both logistically and mentally) to do what you need to do to try and get naps to be as good as they can be. But once you are on your second (or more!) baby, you now have a new challenge-: enter, the toddler!
Trying to optimize your newborn’s naps when you have a toddler (or multiple little ones) can be an exercise in patience (and frustration!)
Of course, you can always do carrier naps, or naps on the go. Plan your day around your newborn’s naps and head to the grocery store, or the park with your toddler in tow, when you know your newborn is ready for a nap.
However, not every baby easily takes carrier naps and naps on the go, especially as they get older. Also, you may want to start practicing sleep in their own sleep space in order to prepare for sleep learning, or just to be able to have independent naps as an option. OR maybe you don’t want to leave the house 4+ times a day or want to do 4+ carrier naps per day.
Whatever your reason is, this blog post is all about my 7 tips on supporting your newborn’s naps in their own sleep space while you have a toddler (or multiple kiddos) at home with you.
Optimizing your newborn’s environment so it is conducive to napping while you have a toddler running around, is the first step. Your newborn doesn’t need to nap in a dark space, so you can set up a little sleep space with a bassinet or pack-in-play in an area of your house where your toddler hangs out.
This way you can support your newborn to sleep (and connecting sleep cycles) for their nap, and also be available to your toddler. The nap space can simply be a corner of a playroom that is tucked away from the main line of traffic, and make sure you use a sound machine to help with disrupting noises.
2. Involve Your Toddler
Toddlers love to help out and feel like they are doing something important. Consider establishing some “important tasks” your toddler is responsible for when it’s time for your newborn to nap. Maybe that means gathering the naptime supplies (swaddle, pacifier, bottle, etc.) and/or turning on the sound machine.
The key is to have a clear and consistent set of expectations or “jobs” that they are doing. The first time you introduce this, it’s likely to be clunky and not go very well. However, over time this new routine will likely fall into place, and make it so practicing putting your newborn to sleep in their own sleep space has an element of success to it!
3. Give Your Toddler a Special Job
A similar strategy to involving your toddler in your newborn’s nap routine is giving them a special job to do that isn’t necessarily related to putting your newborn down for a nap.
One example is assigning them the important job of putting their own baby (dolls) to bed. Maybe this process involves changing the doll’s diaper, swaddling them up, and tucking them into bed. Some tips for success include YOU being excited about your toddler having this “job”, practicing it together when you’re not trying to put your newborn down for a nap, and having a designated safe place for your toddler to carry out this job so you know they are safe even if you don’t have eyes on them 100% of the time.
This could look like the play area where you’ve set up a safe place for your newborn to nap, or in the baby-proofed hallway outside of your newborn’s room, with a baby gate blocking your toddler from leaving that area.
It’s very helpful to practice this with your toddler when you do have an extra set of adult hands, that way when you are solo parenting, your toddler knows the routine and can do their special job independently.
4. Special Nap Time Activities
If your toddler doesn’t love pretend play or involving them/”special jobs” sounds like too much work, another option is having special activities or toys for them to play with during your newborn’s nap time.
This would involve setting up a safe place for this to happen, if you are not able to have eyes on the whole time, and have pre-prepared activities/toys that only come out at this time.
For example, creating a bin of quiet toys like a few books (or interactive workbooks depending on your toddler’s age), stacking toys, busy board, stickers, magnetic letters and a cookie sheet, etc. Or creating no-mess sensory bins of items such as foam letters, pom poms, tissue paper, etc.
Obviously, it is essential that all the toys or items are safe and not a choking hazard. You also will want the toys and activities to be things your toddler can do 100% independently and don’t make a lot of noise.
5. Toddler Play Dates
So far all of these tips have involved your toddler being at home with you during your newborn’s nap time, however, what if they didn’t need to be? Have you considered setting up a play date for your toddler that aligns with when you will be doing your newborn’s nap?
You could also set up a childcare swap with a friend where you take their little one at a designated time, and they take your toddler at a different designated time. After all, it takes a village and this is a win-win for both of you!
6. Outsource Help
If setting up a play date isn’t an option, consider seeing if there is a responsible neighborhood kiddo who would love to come over and play with your toddler for 30-120 minutes while you support your newborn for their nap.
This wouldn’t have to meet the same requirements as “babysitting” as you would be home and nearby, and it would be more like what it would look like if you had an older sibling that could entertain your toddler during that nap time. This is often a win-win if you find a kiddo who loves little ones and is excited about a “babysitter in training” type opportunity.
7. Screen time
When all else fails, there is always the option of resorting to good ol’ screen time. There is no shame or judgment here! We have to do what we have to do, and a little short-term extra screen time may be worth it for the benefit of fostering independent naps and laying the foundation for independent sleep skills at 4+ months.
Recap on supporting newborn naps with a toddler
Whether you are working towards supporting your newborn with taking naps in their own sleep space, or 100% contact naps don’t make sense for you or your newborn, I hope these 7 tips help!
You may find that using more than one tip at a time is effective, such as layering on creating an optimal environment with having special naptime activities.
The key to success is practice. Putting in place a clear and consistent newborn naptime routine for your toddler and practicing with them, will mean that over time it will get easier and you will find more success.
If you are struggling to optimize your newborn’s naps and/or want to learn more about how to lay the foundation for healthy independent sleep skills, we would love to help you! We can hop on the phone, answer your questions, give you all the tips you need, and collaboratively create an individualized sleep plan through the newborn phase and beyond.
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