Prev Next
Baby Sleep Questions Answered

Baby Sleep Training & the Older Sibling

By Amalah

Hi Amy!

I know you’ve answered a billion questions about sleep here, but I’m hoping you can make it a billion and one. I just don’t know what to do here….

My daughter is 21 months old and has never been a good sleeper. She used to cry inconsolably every night as an infant and since then bedtime has been a struggle for us. When she was about 6 months old we started a bedtime routine and we used the progressive waiting method from Ferber to get her to fall asleep on her own. For over a year she would cry herself to sleep every night—never more than a couple of minutes, but still. Every. Stinking. Night. Only in the past month or so has she started to sometimes lie down in her bed and go to sleep quietly like a reasonable human being. She still wakes up at least once or twice a week and cries for a while before falling asleep again. If she doesn’t get enough sleep at night, she is a whiny, tantrum-y mess all day. Needless to say, sleep is a very precious and delicate thing in our house.

Anyway, all this background info sets up my question: How do I sleep train my 6 month old son?

His room is right next to his sister’s and we have hardwood floors so the sound carries very well. Ever since he was born, I’ve been so afraid of him waking up my daughter that I jump up immediately at every little snort or snuffle he makes. And I do whatever it takes to get him to go back to sleep quickly and quietly (this mostly consists of rocking and/or nursing). It’s worked well; my daughter is very rarely woken by him in the night. But that has basically taught him nothing as far as self-soothing goes and he still, at almost 7 months, wakes up multiple times during the night, and nurses virtually time.

I usually put him to bed between 6:30pm and 7:00pm and he’ll wake at about 10:30, 1:00, 4:00, 5:30 and 6:30. It’s ridiculous that I’ve let it get to this point; I know he’s completely capable of sleeping through the night, but in reality, he’s never slept more than about 4 hours straight in his whole life. I’m exhausted and I need it to end, but I’m not sure how to go about it.

I got out our copy of “Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems” (which I got on your recommendation, for my daughter, over a year ago) and have halfheartedly tried to start training him. But it seems when I let him cry, it wakes up my daughter and the situation quickly spirals out of control—my daughter’s cries keep the baby awake, the baby’s cries keep my daughter awake, my husband get frustrated because he has to wake up and help calm the kids (usually night wakings are my realm since he works outside the home and I don’t). It seems like no one in the whole house gets any sleep, so I wind up nursing/rocking the baby to get some peace and sleep for everyone.

You had to have dealt with this kind of thing when you had Ezra and Ike, right? Please tell me you (or your fabulous readers!) have some tips on helping an older sibling sleep through the baby’s sleep training.

Thanks in Advance!
So. Very. Tired.

I have to be honest here, at the risk of you hating me and refusing to read past this sentence, but my older children generally slept through the younger sibling’s nighttime caterwauling/sleep training most of the time. They are very heavy, deep sleepers, and when they do wake, they don’t tend to go zero-to-crying-distress like your daughter, so I never had to deal with a three-ring sobbing/sleep circus in the middle of the night.

That said, oh, man, do I ever sympathize with your situation. So I’m choosing to “answer” your question in hopes that we can all collectively come up with some ideas for you.

Off the top of my head:

1) Is there anywhere else you can sleep train your son? Like maybe start with a Pack-N-Play in your room until you see some actual forward progress with it? I know your husband probably won’t be thrilled by that idea, but since he’s waking up anyway once things go off the rails with your daughter, maybe keeping the disturbances contained to just you two for a couple weeks would be preferable? Or set it up somewhere completely different and away from everybody? Living room? Someplace where you can sleep on the couch just out of his view, but close enough to do the Ferber back-patting entrance/exit thing without having to walk too far? This wouldn’t be a perma-solution, but it could get you through the initial hump until he learns some self-soothing skills and his wakings aren’t quite so frequent and loud.

2) Is there a way to reduce/cancel out some of the noise for your daughter? Get some FLOR tiles or cheap throw rugs for the floors. Buy her a white noise machine or an MP3 player dock with soft music or nature sounds. Hang some pretty DIY fabric-wrapped panels on the shared wall. (You can also buy specialty sound-proofing panels and materials at hardware stores and online, if you want to go hardcore.) Get her a pair of noise-canceling earmuffs and teach her to put them on when she wakes up — not only will they reduce the baby crying sounds, but she might find the soft pressure on her ears to be soothing in and of itself, since she sounds super-sensitive to noises. (Noah wears these kid-sized earmuffs a lot when he gets overwhelmed/overstimulated and I often find him wearing them in bed — probably to block out Ezra’s singing/chattering in the bottom bunk.)

More than anything, though, is DON’T GIVE UP. Stick with it, stay consistent. Sorry, Husband, but he will have to suck it up and help, because you guys BOTH need to prioritize the training over his sleep — just so you aren’t constantly undoing everything by caving and nursing all night for everybody else’s sake.  Not to mention that the consistency is the thing that will GET YOU THROUGH THIS MUCH FASTER. And I clearly don’t need to tell you that the ability to self-soothe and get enough sleep at night are wonderful, essential things for babies and toddlers. (And moms and dads, because surprise! We are human beings with human bodies who also require adequate sleep to function.)

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

icon icon
chat bubble icon

Comments

newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Jean
Guest
Jean

I agree with Amy on the sound machine. We bought one when our son (now 10) was a baby and he still has it! It works wonders in blocking out sounds that disturb his sleep and was really helpful when getting him to learn to sleep on his own.

Rebecca
Guest
Rebecca

A humidifier might also work if you are in a dry climate. It makes a soothing white noise sound and I have found that my daughter sleeps much more soundly because the dry air isn’t making her cough/clear her throat while she is sleeping.  My daughter was / is also a very light sleeper and  now, at 7, I find she sleeps much better with her humidifier on. We don’t use it all the time because it is a royal pain to keep it clean, but when I notice she has a run of poor sleep I pull it out… Read more »

Jen
Guest
Jen

This post could have been written by me several years ago! The first thing I want to tell the OP is that my oldest daughter did not sleep through the night until 22 months and then I had a baby just 6 weeks later, but things do get better! My girls are now 7 and almost 5 and they rarely wake me up anymore. My sleep disturbances are all caused by cats now. 🙂 I had the same “how do I sleep train without waking my oldest child” question when my youngest daughter was 9 months old, so what my… Read more »

Rebecca
Guest
Rebecca

Oh, and,… When we sleep trained, my husband (who works out of home) had to be the one to soothe the babies (first our daughter, later our twins) because they had all come to expect to nurse when I came in to get them. Once they realized dad was the one responding at night, they began to settle much faster and eventually either quit waking or learned to go back to sleep on their own. 

Kacie
Guest

For me, it’s easier to guarantee noise than it is to guarantee quiet, so we are big on sound machines and just general background noise. When my 3rd baby was born, we never were “quiet because the baby is sleeping!!” because zomg with a 3yo and 5yo, no way. Also, my baby is 7mo now. She sleeps with me, and still wakes like once per night to nurse. Maybe more, idk. She is cutting her first teeth right now so she has had a fussier time the past few days. My firstborn SUCKED AT SLEEP and now you can’t wake… Read more »

Katie
Guest
Katie

“(usually night wakings are my realm since he works outside the home and I don’t)”

I am sorry, but PUHLEAZE! Tell me, OP, are you taking long leisurely naps during the day or are you dealing with two small, needy people who you also dealt with for much of the night? I have never understood this rationale. It is a cop out and your husband needs to stop getting “frustrated” and start being a member of the team working to solve you family’s sleep issues!

Amber_S
Guest
Amber_S

Yup. Agreed. Sorry hubby, parenting’s a full time job for you, too – even if you also have a job outside the house.

I did a lot of the night waking in the first few months because it was easier on ME than waiting for my husband to get up and prep a bottle. But that changed once I started night weaning (at 8 months), because the baby associated me with food.

I’d have Dad get up with the baby and Mom get up with the toddler.

Kim too
Guest
Kim too

Right there with you.  My husband always took at least one night feeding.  It was his time alone with his baby girls.  Plus, it kept me sane.  My first did not nap – if I’d had to coax her to sleep all night as well as all day, neither one of us would’ve made it.  Yes, he had to stick to a schedule, but otoh, he got to go to the bathroom whenever he chose, by himself, with the door closed.

sassy
Guest
sassy

My son is a horrible sleeper. At 19 months he’s been sleeping through the night for a little over one month. We tried several training methods and weaned completely at 15 months but he just had to be ready. And now I sleep. Sleep is my bestest friend ever now instead of my battle to fight every night. I also stay home with the baby and am the night caretaker, but I will say when we night weaned around 12 months the only thing that worked (and why it took us so freaking long) was finally convincing my husband that… Read more »

leslie
Guest
leslie

Want to second (third, fourth?) two things already mentioned. A noise machine for your daughter. And, most importantly, it needs to be Dad that goes in to deal with the baby at night. The minute your baby smells your milk, it’s game over, so you have to eliminate that option. Maybe not for every waking right away, but for some of them to start and then all of them once they get fewer. I agree with Katie (though she was a bit harsh) that there is no reason your husband shouldn’t be helping you at night. You are working all… Read more »

Tara
Guest
Tara

I agree with all of the above, but I would flip one thing. Instead of sleep training with your son in a different space, can you sleep train him in his room/crib but move your daughter for a few nights? Camping downstairs with daddy? Weekend at grandma’s? My fear is that you’d sleep train your son in a pack and play in your room or the living room and then when you moved him back to his space, you’d lose ground a bit. The first 2-3 nights were always the worst for us, so if you could move her temporarily… Read more »

Jeannie
Guest
Jeannie

I agree with most of the comments, but I did want to point out — while I also agree that Dad has to get on board, I want to just note that this might not work for their family. Maybe he has a job where he REALLY has to be alert. Surgeon? Air traffic controller? Pilot? Not everyone has a job that can cope with sleep deprivation.

I agree though — if he doesn’t have a life-or-death situation, then dude … get up! 🙂

Jessica
Guest
Jessica

If the husband’s job is soooo super speshul that he can’t face a few interrupted nights of sleep then he needs to take some vacation time. A job is not an excuse to not parent your own children.

Kat
Guest
Kat

I agree with Jeannie. I also wanted to note: just because Momma is getting up to quiet the baby doesn’t mean that Dad is just peacefully sleeping through it. When we dealt with sleep training/night waking issues it was actually just easier for me to handle it, even when I went back to work full time. My husband doesn’t wake up quickly, and tends to be really groggy and out of it in the middle of the night (always has been), so by the time he was up and able to deal , baby had escalated to the point where… Read more »

Marina
Guest
Marina

Or, you know, driving to work. I work outside the home and my husband is a full-time stay at home dad. I tried to do an equal share of night wakings, but on bad nights when there were like 6 wakings that lasted upwards of 30 minutes each, it started being genuinely dangerous for me to drive to work the next day. And thank you very much for the insulting implications, but my husband taking more night wakings did not make me ANY less of a parent. My job supports my family, and if I got fired for absenteeism because… Read more »

Britt
Guest
Britt

I too have a 21 month old and a baby!  And I am so obsessed with sleep that I protect my toddler’s sleep with my life.  But…with the addition of the littlest one, I am learning that one of the benefits of having a sibling is that you get to learn that sometimes, the world isn’t perfect, and you have to cope anyway.  Which is a pretty darn important lesson to learn.  It’s quite possible that you could sleep train your youngest, and have some seriously “fun” nights and days with your toddler for a few days, and then everyone… Read more »

IrishCream
Guest
IrishCream

I was going to add that too! My two are 22 months apart, and my oldest was very frightened initially by hearing the baby cry at night. We had to remind her before bedtime every night for a couple of weeks that the baby would cry, and might (did!) cry for a while, but that mommy and daddy were there and were taking care of the baby.

Hope
Guest

I’ve never fully understood the rationale for one parent slowly going crazy as the sleep deprivation piles up… just because they don’t work outside the home. Yes, if one parent has the option to take a mid-day nap, then it’s pretty reasonable for them to get up a time or two during the night. But almost every hour? And Daddy’s sleep is sacrosanct?  No way, man.  When you’re getting up five times a night, naps just aren’t going to cut it. Which means that Dad needs to start making some sacrifices too. I wish that I had been more insistent… Read more »

Alison
Guest
Alison

This is our situation right now. Sleep training our 6 month old, while our light sleeping 2 year old is next door. Hardwood floors and the rooms are basically separated by a couple feet of hallway. While the training is much longer than expected (sigh) our older child is sleeping soundly with a sound machine in both bedrooms and (what really helped) a large floor fan, turned on high and placed in the hallway between the two rooms. I’ve been in my older child’s room while the baby was crying and it’s almost impossible to hear him, but because the… Read more »

C
Guest
C

My kids are spaced 15 months apart as well, so I feel like I know what you are going through.  I have a sound machine in my youngest’s room and a really loud fan between their rooms in the hall (all three of our rooms are really close together).  The fan does a great job drowning out noise.   At 6 months I feel like most moms hit a wall with sleep deprivation, so I would worry now about taking care of yourself and your son’s sleep issue and handle your daughter’s secondly. She may wake up and need some… Read more »

Amy Renee
Guest
Amy Renee

One other thing to add – step up your nursing during the day if at all possible. If baby has reached the easily distracted stage, he might be taking in less during the day and then waking to nurse often at night. Cutting off night nursings all at once is asking for a tanked supply, mastitis or both

Emily Huston
Guest
Emily Huston

OOOh, I was not aware of this kind of machine being available in the market that aids in baby sleep. I have passed through various sleepless night till my LO becomes 7 month old. Afterward, he sleeps on his own by playing with different toys.

MR
Guest
MR

I have a slightly different take on it. I would actually put both kids in a room together. It will be a bit rough for a few days, but you tell your older daughter, if you wake up from brother, just go back to sleep. He’s ok, and Mommy is helping him get back to sleep. This is easier to do if you are all in the same room. The benefit from this is that your daughter will learn to sleep through her brother waking up, and baby will learn to sleep through his sister waking up. This happened with… Read more »

BMom
Guest
BMom

My kids are farther apart in age, but the crying baby definitely worried my 4-yr-old daughter. She was also a terrible sleeper from the start, so we let her come sleep on the floor in our room when she woke up. That lasted about 10 months but it wasn’t much trouble… She could settle herself down most nights. Then she just stopped one night! With such a littler one, ymmv but it helped us out.

Nicole
Guest
Nicole

First of all, do what works for your family. Don’t let other people’s idea of what is fair and not fair sway you. And what works now probably won’t be permanent . Revisit as necessary. Second, your letter doesn’t clearly state whether your little one is waking to nurse, or waking and then using nursing to settle back down. My daughter woke every 1 1/2 to 2 hours until she was 22 months. She was waking to nurse, and it was pretty clear when that switched. So if that’s the case, you might be better served with reframing your perspective… Read more »

Alicia
Guest
Alicia

We have a 3.5 year old and 7 month old; they’ve shared a room since the baby was about 8 weeks old and getting too big for her co-sleeper in our room. When we sleep trained–and when we need to revisit due to the inevitable disruptions that come with a cold, teething, etc–we lay out a sleeping bag on our floor for the older child. We have a white noise machine in their room but once the baby gets going that’s not going to cut it! When the baby’s crying gets too much for the 3 year old, he calls… Read more »

Heidi
Guest
Heidi

I know this is 10 days late, but we JUST went through this. Our almost-3-year-old transitioned to his “big boy bed” (you know, his crib converted so he can get out of it easier) and then a week later it became clear that we had to train our 4 month old (I know. I know. But I’m sorry, we both work, it had to happen. I still nurse her twice a night).  We did the sound machine thing, and that helped a little. EXCEPT somehow when we were explaining why we were introducing the white noise machine our son thought… Read more »