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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.)

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


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.

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