Sweet Dreams (For the Whole Family)

dad and baby asleep on bed

By Conner Herman

When my son, Wyatt, was born, he was on the far end of what I call now a “sensitive sleeper.”

Before I knew anything about sleep, I thought something was really wrong. I started to panic and that, combined with escalating sleep deprivation over the following months, had me eventually convinced that I was unfit to work now that I was a mother. So, I left a job that I loved and moved further over the brink of insanity.

Then, I met Kira Ryan, a new “mom friend” who was going through similar challenges. We needed someone to show us how to raise happy, sleeping children and gain confidence in our roles as new mothers. Who could do that for us, and where would we find them?

We couldn’t, so instead we decided to become the very people we needed most. In 2007, Kira and I started Dream Team Baby, a sleep consultancy for babies like ours who didn’t respond to any of the sleep methods in the books. Our goal was to show parents that:

• There is no such thing as a healthy child who cannot learn to sleep.

• Moms can work if they want to and they aren’t a “lesser version” of their previous selves. 

• Parenting is sometimes hard but it is also fun and fulfilling and so are your children. 

Any parent who is sleep deprived at a certain debilitating level may not want to admit it, but I would bet they have worried about at least one of those three things. 

A different form of sleep deprivation:

Before we launched, we hired a medical board to train our consultants. Then, we began helping new families teach their own babies to sleep through the night. It worked, and we’re so proud of our company. But after having three more children, I discovered that our clients came in all different forms, and the ones I most enjoy helping are those suffering from a different form of sleep deprivation. It isn’t the pain that comes from a newborn who isn’t sleeping; rather, it’s a slow-creeping, benign state of existence that happens in families with multiple children.

This chronic sleep deprivation is most often felt in a family with multiple children who are doing okay but they don’t have healthy sleep routines. The parents may have tried sleep training with decent results when their babies were little, but as time wore on and their relationship became more engrained, the idea of sleep training and how one might upset the fragile balance of what seems to be working feels like too much of a sacrifice.

Changing mindsets: 

There are several reasons for this surprise decline in a family’s quality of life. Most of them have to do with a few obstacles:

• Parents no longer “outnumber” the children. When two children need parental attention, you either divide your attention between the two and do a “good enough” job, or the other parent who happens to be around jumps in and helps out.

• With one child, you have time to figure out who you are as a parent. Sometimes, this comes in the form of doing things outside of the box. There is a sweetness to finding a creative way to solve a problem for a new baby or a single child. But a second child might have a personality that requires a different kind of parenting.

• You think you are experienced enough. When you’ve already had a baby, you think you’ve got it down, but most second-time parents don’t account for the fact that they didn’t have to care for a newborn while taking care of an older child until they’re doing it.

If you are lucky enough to have another baby on the way, you don’t need to resign yourself to just “making it” day by day. There are certain things you can do to prepare for you new baby’s arrival that will set you up for greater sleep success. Most of it involves planning ahead and logistics.

Make time to give each of your children your undivided attention: 

If you are expecting your second child, planning private time with your firstborn when grandma is holding the baby or when your partner is there in the mornings will make a huge difference in your firstborn’s confidence.

Keep your schedule the same: 

Make plans to follow each day as it was before the baby came. Try as hard as you can to have meals, naptimes, and bedtimes at the same time every day. Changes like letting an older child stay awake too late because the day is so crazy can be a slippery slope, because it communicates that your old rules might no longer apply and this could turn into nap resistance or increased nighttime visits.

Set up your baby’s sleep space: 

Whether you plan to have the baby sleep in the room with you or in a separate room, setting up the same proper sleep environment that you made for your older child reinforces the importance of sleep. This sets up the conversation differently between you and your older child. The baby isn’t “getting extra time with mom in the middle of the night.”

Instead, you can explain that the baby just isn’t as good of a sleeper as his older brother but he will be one day.

Change is hard, but focusing on logistics and creating consistency ahead of the baby’s due date is time and effort well spent. Prepare for consistency by following the original daytime schedule. Prepare and create consistency in the sleep environment. By actively creating an environment that mirrors
the old life while embracing the new life and all the accompanying unavoidable change, you will feel more in control and your older child will feel more secure and on steady ground.

Conner Herman is an author, speaker, and accomplished sleep consultant based in New York City. She is the co-founder of Dream Team Baby and co-author of The Dream Sleeper: A Three Part Plan to Getting Your Baby to Love Sleep. Visit dreamteambaby.comto learn more.