Sibling Series Part 2: Juggling Different Baby and Toddler Sleep Schedules

How To Balance Sibling Schedules

Lately, a lot of people are writing in about having a new baby (very exciting!) and wondering how to juggle more than one sleep schedule. This article will give you tips to maintain multiple children’s schedules, when their ages vary (multiples have a different set of challenges, so that will be a subsequent part to come).

Once you help your baby sleep through the night, and then your baby becomes a toddler, many families decide to add another baby into the mix. If you haven’t, you might want to read the first part in this series, Do you have another child after a horrible sleeper? At each stage, the challenges are different, because a newborn’s sleep needs are very different than that of an 8 month old, for example.

Balancing Sibling Schedules: Your Newborn’s Schedule and Your Toddler’s Schedules

When you first bring home the new baby, this is, ironically, probably one of the easier times, unless the new baby has colic or is otherwise more high-needs. Of course, this is only my perspective and opinion and there are a lot of factors to keep in mind and what’s easier to me may be harder to you.

A newborn baby will sleep SO much in the beginning and, for the most part, will be content to be in a Boba Wrap type carrier, laying on a baby playmat, or playing in a swing. Carriers are great for having the ability to allow you to do things for/with your toddler while also keeping the baby happy, and there are many other benefits of baby wearing. I used to put my younger son in a wrap while I cooked dinner or let my toddler chase me around, putting my baby to sleep in 2.2 seconds. It was great! When the baby is a newborn, schedules are virtually non-existent and you should put your baby to sleep after just 1-2 hours of being awake. At this age, sleeping on the go is typical and welcomed.

Balancing Sibling Schedules: Your 4-12 Month Old’s Schedule and Your Toddler’s Schedule

This is, by far, the most common time when I begin to get e-mails from parents. The problem? Your baby is growing up, becomes more social, may not be as portable (if he was to begin with), needs more and more time to “help” to sleep, then the 4-month sleep regression hits, and, eventually, the 8 month old sleep regression. You may be up with the baby numerous times each night and then you no longer have the luxury of napping when the baby naps (if you ever did), unless your toddler is in pre-school or some type of “Mother’s Day Out” program. And, you simply can’t take an hour to get your baby to nap while your toddler is unattended. And, if you’ve ever tried to tell your toddler “Sshhh… be quiet while the baby falls asleep.” you know that is a difficult feat.

Some tips:

  • Begin a nap and bedtime routine early on to cue the baby to sleep. Involve your toddler in the routine by making him a helper in the routine.
  • Limit how long you work on a nap with your baby. If she’s not asleep in 20-30 minutes, get her up and try again 30 minutes later. Your toddler needs your attention, too.
  • Once your baby is around 6 months old, consider implementing a predictable nap schedule, try to be home for those naps, and avoid car rides before them for optimum sleep. A predictable routine/schedule will help give you one-on-one time with your toddler. Before then, plan to run errands, go to the park, or go on playdates in the afternoon, where your baby’s third or fourth nap will be in the car.
  • Teach your baby how to fall asleep, independently (easier said than done, I know!). I can’t tell you how nice it was to be able to say “nap time,” walk into my son’s room, put him in the crib, and then walk out and get back to my toddler. He was an “easier” sleeper, so if the boys had been born opposite order, I’m sure it would not have been that easy, so I’m thankful.
  • Work on overlapping at least one nap between your baby and toddler’s schedule. For example, your 6 month old baby may sleep at 9 a.m., 1 p.m., and 4 p.m., so target your 18-month old’s nap to be 1 p.m. Or, target your 10 month old’s naps to be 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. so your toddler’s 1-3 p.m. nap has 1 1/2 hours overlapped. This will enable you to do chores or enjoy some downtime (you deserve it!). Or, if your baby is waking too early for that and you haven’t been able to fix that, consider waking your toddler earlier such that he can nap closer to 12 or 12:30 p.m., for example.
  • Although it’s common to try to combine bedtime routines, sometimes at these ages, it’s easier to put the baby to sleep, first, then your toddler later. Most babies this age need an early bedtime anyway and their interests are usually very different at this age, not to mention your toddler probably desires more uninterrupted time with you by this time of the day.

Balancing Sibling Schedules: Your Baby’s Schedule and Your Pre-schooler’s Schedule

The trickiest thing about having a pre-schooler and a baby is the fact that you need to keep your baby awake for the drive to/from drop-off. My recommendation is to work hard on getting your baby on a schedule that works for drop-off/pick-up. For example, if your baby is waking at 6 a.m. and can’t make it to 9 a.m. drop-off, work on shifting his schedule forward to wake closer to 7:30 a.m. This is a common problem, I know, but if your baby takes a 5 or 10-minute nap in the car and then awakens when you get home, it may be hard for him to go right back to sleep in his crib. Do recognize, though, that one of the baby’s “jobs” is to adapt to your family life and it may or may not be perfect for him or her. You can only do the best you can and you can’t keep a toddler cooped up in the house all day, either!

Your Toddler’s Schedule and Your Pre-schooler’s Schedule

Ideally, your toddler’s nap would not be later than 1 p.m. or so, but this can wreak havoc on a schedule in which you have to drop off or pick up your pre-schooler from school. In general, you’ll have to keep your toddler awake until after drop-off/pick-up and try not to let her snooze in the car (not even for 5 minutes) unless she is easily transferred to her bed for a full-length nap.

This is a common age to begin combining bedtime routines if you haven’t already. If my husband is home, we usually each take a child or task (for example, I might oversee putting on the pajamas and he brushes their teeth). Then, each of us reads to one and cuddles, and then switch. If one of us isn’t home (or isn’t available), together, we eat a snack, put on pajamas, brush teeth, and then we each choose one book to read, and then one waits while I cuddle with the other and then I cuddle with the other (I choose who depending on who needs to go to sleep first). I have found trying to cuddle with both at the same time leads to too much silliness. 🙂

One common issue in this age group, including school-age children, is that your pre-schooler or school-age child may not nap anymore, in which case, his bedtime most likely needs to be earlier and sometimes that means going to bed before his younger sibling. This can be difficult to accept for the older sibling. We are working through this right now, in fact.

One important thing I have learned since I’ve had two sons is that everything can’t be 100% “fair” all of the time. They are different people with different needs. You must make decisions based on what’s best for each of them. It will be impossible for everything to appear fair and, although I do try when it applies, I have stopped trying when it doesn’t make sense. Adjusting expectations and explaining why something is a certain way often helps. Also, listening to their frustration and empathizing helps them feel heard, which is important. It may not change the outcome, but at least they can feel good that you understand how they feel.

Need Help Balancing Sibling Schedules? Take A Look At Our Resources!

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Next in our Sibling Series: Part 3: How to Maintain Twins and Multiples Sleep and Feeding Schedules.

Other parts in the series:
Sibling Series Part 1: Do You Have Another Baby After a Horrible Sleeper?
Sibling Series Part 3: How To Maintain Twins and Multiples Sleep and Feeding Schedules

What is your biggest challenge in juggling different sleep schedules?

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12 thoughts on “Sibling Series Part 2: Juggling Different Baby and Toddler Sleep Schedules”

  1. I have a 13 month old who still takes two naps and a 27 month old (going thru sleep regression) who only takes one nap. How can o get my younger one to take at least one nap overlapping with his brother?? Currently they go to bed within 30 min of each other and wake around the same time every day. But their naps are not overlapping at all. Makes for a long day with no down time sometimes! My oldest didnt transition to one nap until closer to around 21 or 22 months, so I forsee several more months of this schedule.

    • Hi @Alexis, thanks for writing to us. That is a tricky spot you are in but I can 100% understand needing the break during the day for their naps. I don’t know what your current schedule looks like, but here is a link to a sample schedule for toddlers, and you can see the one nap and two nap schedules on there for each of your kids: I know even in the sample schedule they don’t overlap so it may require some adjusting to make sure your kids don’t get overtired and resist the nap all together. I’m sorry for not being able to give you a clear cut answer! I do know that our sleep consultants are very well versed on this so if this is something you need more help with, you may consider speaking to them! You might want to check out our Members Area which is a very affordable way to be able to chat live with a consultant (there is a weekly chat, 1 hour a week that you can go and live chat with a consultant and ask your questions) and there is also an ebook exclusively available to our members about shifting schedules which could help! You’d have access to all of our ebooks as well so you could even check out our Mastering Naps & Schedules ebook for help there. If you’re interested in getting deeper into the information, be sure to check it out:
      I hope this helps!

  2. I have a 21 mo and a 6 mo old and 24 hrs after reading this article we are doing better. Thank you for the help and reassurance.

    • @Vanessa, that is wonderful to hear! Thank you for being a part of the Baby Sleep Site family!

  3. @ Lori – glad you find this helpful!

    @ Rhianna – yay! Glad you’ll be printing it and using it for reference! Best of luck to you as your due date approaches, Rhianna – and always remember that we’re here for you if you need ANY help at all after baby #3 is born! 😉

  4. Thank you for this article! I think I will print it out and hang it somewhere handy! I am due with Baby # 3 in August so this is very helpful for me! When I had my second, I about drove myself crazy over two sleep schedules! This is great practical advice! Thank you!

  5. This is a great article! I am saving it for future reference. My 14-month-old has never been a great sleeper but is doing much better. We are planning to add a new baby when my son is around 3, so pre-school pick-up/drop-off is one of my concerns. Hopefully, my second will be more adaptable than my first! Thanks again!

  6. Extremely insightful thank you, I think your audience could possibly want far more blog posts such as this keep up the great effort.

  7. @ Rebecca- Congrats on your new addition! I hope you have another good sleeper too! You do know where to come for help though… 😉
    With some work, perhaps you can get them both sharing a nap time is a few months or so!
    Good luck!!!

    @ Ellen- Thanks for writing! Enjoy your hour to yourself while you still can! 🙂 I hope the schedule shift goes/is going smoothly!
    Best wishes!

  8. LOVE THIS ARTICLE. Extremely helpful – thank you!

    I’m lucky right now that my practically 3y/o and 7 month old share an afternoon nap time, so I even get an hour to myself now and again… But, my oldest’s nap is on the way out, and I can see the writing on the wall for the youngest to give up her 3rd nap. Plus I need to work on shifting her schedule for pre-school drop off time… oh, only got a couple weeks for that – eek!

    Such a juggling act, and I love how you always seem to put your finger on the crux of the matter(s) you’re addressing. 🙂

  9. Thank you so much for the tips! I am due with my second a few weeks before my son’s 2nd birthday. My son is so far a pretty good sleeper, so hopefully we will get lucky again. Nap time is more of a struggle, because he stays with family and they could never get him on a good nap schedule. He naps everyday for the most part, but never at the same time. It should be interesting adding a baby to the mix!

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