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Toddler Tips

Bedtime Routines

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 19 No. 5, September-October 2002, pp. 184

"Toddler Tips" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents of toddlers. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's lifestyle. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.


I am expecting a baby in a few months and still breastfeeding my two-year-old daughter. She nurses to sleep after a fairly extensive bedtime routine of bathing, tooth brushing, stories, and back rubs. I am concerned that once our new baby arrives I won't be able to get her to sleep while nursing and caring for a newborn. My husband can help, but he won't be able to nurse either of our babies to sleep and I don't think I can comfortably nurse two at one time. I'm particularly concerned about nights when my husband is away on business trips. How do mothers of nursing toddlers adapt their bedtime routines when a newborn arrives?


Adding a new member to the family always has its challenges. It sounds as though you have even more challenges when you include a toddler and a husband who travels! I found myself in a similar situation with my children. Here are some of the things I tried.

1. Begin modifying the bedtime routine before the baby is born. Since I found myself tiring earlier and sometimes with less energy as my pregnancy progressed, I began introducing things into the bedtime routine that my daughter could do by herself. One of her favorites was a tape recorder. She used it to play soothing music. When my son was about the same age, he enjoyed books on tape. I found plenty of these at the public library.

2. Talk about how life will change when the new baby arrives. I wanted my girls to know that life would indeed be different when there was a new baby in the house. Whether it's at bedtime or mealtime or somewhere in between, new babies take time and attention. In positive ways, we talked about what life was like when she was a baby, how I cared for her, nursed her, and changed her. I kept it as positive as I could since I didn't want her thinking she would never get my attention again once the baby was born.

3. Enlist Daddy's help when he's home. My middle daughter never fell asleep nursing. This eventually led to Daddy time at night. Dad also can help with toddler bedtime routines. He can read stories and sing songs while you nurse the baby. He can hold a full, sleepy baby while you read some stories or give a bath.

4. When Daddy's away, things are just going to be different. In my family's case, we just don't go to bed as early when Daddy is gone or sometimes we all collapse earlier than I'd ever expect! Everyone tends to get in the same bed when Daddy's gone. If you're comfortable with it, crawl into bed with both the baby and your toddler. You can do much of your bedtime routine right there in bed.

Above all, remember that this is temporary. Before you know it, your baby will be right there next to your toddler, asking for another story!

Mary Wagner-Davis
Roseville CA USA


It has been a real struggle for me to balance the needs of both my babies since my second son was born when my first was only 21 months old. Even though my toddler can be very independent during the day, at night he shows how young he still is. Bedtime can be particularly hectic since that's when the boys seem to both need me 100 percent, and there isn't enough of me to go around. I have been tandem nursing them, but separately; I haven't been able to figure out how to nurse them at the same time. Now that six months have passed since I became the mother of two, I believe I can share some tips with other mothers.

My husband, like yours, is at work some evenings. I found myself dreading those nights each week. Bedtime in particular was really tough, since I couldn't manage my toddler's bedtime routine and still meet my newborn's needs. Finally, I reached out to my mother and asked for her help. Now, when my husband is away we spend some nights at my parents' house. For my parents and me, it is a throwback to my visits home from college (except I don't bring laundry anymore). For my sons, they have a great time seeing their grandparents for such a long visit. Plus, I get away from all the household chores that wait for me at my house. I make sure to lend a hand at my parents', but there is still less to do than when I'm at my own house. It is a nice break for us all, and of course, at bedtime there are more than enough hugs and cuddles to go around.

Eva Lyford
Des Plaines IL USA


My son was 25 months old when his little sister arrived. We have been happily tandem nursing for 15 months now. Before my daughter arrived, I was also concerned about nighttime parenting and trying to balance the needs of two young children. I had very uncomfortable contractions at night during my third trimester. As a result of this, we ended up deciding that night weaning was the best solution for our family.

We established a bedtime routine that involved changing diapers, putting on pajamas, brushing teeth, and listening to a story with Daddy. I would then nurse my son, but I gradually shortened the time that I would let him nurse before bed so that he wasn't actually nursing to sleep. Daddy would then take a sippy cup of water and lay down with him in bed until he fell asleep. I can't say that this transition was without a few tears, but there was lots of love and cuddling involved on Daddy's part. Eventually, it got to the point that he would go to Daddy and tell him that he was ready for bed. Sometimes he fell asleep in Daddy's lap as they were reading. On occasion he still nurses to sleep. Those nights have grown few and far between, though, which makes it easier for me to handle things because I know that if he asks there must be an intense need that particular night.

We used the same method of slowly shortening any middle of the night nursings until I would tell him "nee-nees need to go night-night" and that he could have more in the morning when the sun came up. Eventually, he stopped waking to nurse at night. Through this whole process I made sure that I was willing and able to nurse as often as he needed to during the day. We made sure to give him lots of hugs, kisses, and cuddles. I think that because we slowly phased out the night nursing and nursing to sleep and replaced it with other forms of love and attention, it was a gentle transition for our son.

Carissa Dollar
Indianapolis IN USA


Master the art of baby-wearing! I found it so awkward at first, but it saved me, especially at bedtime. Try different carriers and different positions. It actually took me about six weeks to master. In that sense, it's like learning to breastfeed all over again, but it's well worth the time and patience.

My husband also goes on business trips. He arranged to take a three-month hiatus from travel after each of our babies, and that helped a lot. When the newborn arrived, this is how we handled bedtime: first, I'd nurse my newborn, Bonnie, and get her settled. Maybe she'd even fall asleep. If not, I'd put her in the carrier and start the toddler routine. I'd bathe my toddler, Brigid, read stories, sing songs, and say prayers. Inevitably, Bonnie would doze off. If Daddy was home, I'd hand her over to him, carrier and all. If he was away, I'd lay her down next to me and pat her back while I nursed Brigid to sleep. I've adjusted this routine many times as my newborn turned into an older baby and now a toddler herself. But the carrier was my key to sanity!

Jamie Baugh
Merrionette Park IL USA


We are in a similar situation with a three-year-old and a two-month-old baby. Our old routine included a bath, tooth brushing, pajamas, stories, and a long nursing period where either my toddler would fall asleep at my breast or I would lay with her until she fell asleep. After our baby was born we kept the same basic structure, but became more flexible. Sometimes our baby goes to sleep for the night before we begin our routine, but often she is awake and with me. We have been surprised by how adaptable our toddler has been in adjusting to the changing patterns.

Here are some ideas that have worked for us:

Change baths to daytime and reduce their frequency.

Put on pajamas and brush teeth earlier in the evening so you do not have a power struggle when everyone is tired.

Be flexible about what time you start your routine depending on whether your toddler has napped. On days our daughter doesn't nap, bedtime is at 8 pm. On days she naps, it is at 10 pm. This shortens the time we have to lie with her and reduces our frustration with trying to get a squirmy, wakeful toddler to fall asleep.

Offer to nurse your toddler earlier in the routine, before the baby needs to nurse or gets tired and fussy. Then your toddler might fall asleep without an additional nursing or with a shorter nursing and cuddles while you nurse the baby.

Give your toddler a bedtime snack so that she is not asking to nurse because she is hungry or thirsty. This also helps our toddler wait for her turn if I am nursing the baby.

Have your husband take over part of the routine or take the baby for half an hour or 45 minutes. I tell my toddler this is her chance to snuggle and fall asleep without a crying baby in the room and she has learned to take advantage of this time!

Nurse both children together when necessary. My toddler loves to nurse with her sister although I often find it uncomfortable and, ultimately, distracting for my older daughter. Still, some nights it works.

Finally, when we are having a rough night we tell our daughter that we will try to arrange things better the next night. It amazes me how calming these words can be-she knows that we are trying and that we care about her feelings. Good luck!

Andrea Mehrotra
Lansdale PA USA


When we were expecting our second child last August, the concerns I had about tandem nursing our two-year-old and a newborn sounded a lot like yours. The thought of nursing two children to sleep seemed like an impossible task-even with my husband's help. I am happy to report that almost one year later I continue to enjoy nursing relationships with my two boys.

Nighttime routines with two children can be tricky, but if you establish the routine early on with the new baby, your toddler will grow to accept the change. When bedtime approaches at our house and my husband is not home to help out, I usually get into the tub with the baby and our two-year-old. Our oldest loves to wash his own hair and dry himself off with his towel. These are "big boy" rituals he loves doing himself. We make it a game. It becomes fun for him and frees me up from having to do everything for him, giving me a chance to diaper and dress the baby. After bath time we usually read a book or watch a video. Most nights during this time the baby falls asleep while I read. When he doesn't fall asleep we put on our bedtime music and our two-year-old gets to play quietly with his toys for awhile.

It is obviously easier to tackle nighttime with two nurslings if there are two parents, but with your husband gone on business trips that is not always possible. I, too, often have to put my children to bed solo. For nights like those I learned how to comfortably tandem nurse. Once you are seated properly on a sofa or in your bed, place pillows all around you. Next, put the baby in the football hold. Once the baby is latched on, have the toddler put her head on the pillows in your lap and wrap her body around you. Now she can latch on. When I nurse both of my boys I put the baby in the cross-cradle hold and then have my toddler in the position I just described. It seems to work well for us and is the most comfortable position I have found. Tandem nursing can seem a little strange at first, but once you get the hang of it, it can be a very rewarding experience.

The first few weeks with your new baby and your toddler will be the hardest, but don't give up. You are giving both of your children a wonderful gift. Choosing to continue to nurse your toddler through pregnancy and after the baby arrives is an admirable decision that I hope will work out for your family.

Ashley Marshall
Outer Banks NC USA


Like you, before my second son was born seven weeks ago, I was concerned about how my two-year-old would handle the adjustment of bedtime (and naptime) routines. My two-year-old son was still nursing and I had always nursed him to sleep. I wondered how I would handle it if I had two hungry, tired babies at one time. My husband was always willing to help, but as you said, he can't nurse either baby to sleep! Also for naptime during the day, he wasn't home anyway.

The biggest thing that has worked for me is this: I nurse the baby for as long as he wants prior to the time when I know my two-year-old will be ready to go to sleep. You may be able to nurse the baby while watching your daughter in the bathtub or reading her bedtime story, for example. Once the baby is finished nursing, I get him comfortable in my sling and he usually falls asleep. I shift him over to one side of me, still in the sling, and then my two-year-old is able to climb up beside me on the bed and nurse on the other side. I usually rock them both back and forth and sing. The baby will generally stay asleep during this process because he is close to me and enjoys the rocking motion. Once the two-year-old is asleep I can easily lay him down in the bed without disturbing the baby. This has been the best way to avoid letting one cry while the other nurses. Also, I find it helpful to be sure that my two-year-old has a full tummy prior to nursing. A healthy bedtime snack works well. This way he is only nursing for comfort reasons and not really for hunger reasons, so he will generally fall asleep faster.

I do not enjoy nursing them both at one time, so I only do this if nothing else will work. Having the baby in the sling also helps with this, because if he needs to nurse then I can get him latched on without disturbing the two-year-old too much. Be sure to talk to your daughter now about the new baby, and prepare her for what to expect. If she knows that she will have to wait her turn sometimes, and that the baby can't eat food like she can, she may be able to handle it better than you think she will. I was amazed at how well my son handled the adjustment. I think it was due in large part to the time I had spent talking to him about what it would be like when the baby came.

Nursing two is a challenge, but remember, don't let yourself get too discouraged at the beginning. The early days may be tough, but as time goes on it will get easier as you find what works for you. It will be worth it!

Jennifer Hall
Stuarts Draft VA USA


Your concerns are valid and I know you will be well served for having thought out strategies in advance! I know you'll use them all and then some before you are through, but believe me, it is worth it.

My daughter was almost three when her brother was born and she was still an avid nurser. "Mommy, nursing's my favorite thing!" she said. I just couldn't wean her knowing how challenging her adjustment was going to be-just when she would need the closeness and comfort nursing so perfectly provides. The best nighttime aide I found was giving up my daughter's nap. Quite simply, she was so tired at bedtime she would nod off as soon as I put her to my breast. That may not be possible for your two-year-old, but if at all possible, avoid having both nursers ready for sleep at the same time. From very early on, my son would do everything in his power to get his sister out of my lap when he was tired and intent on sleep. Nursing both at once was not only logistically difficult; it wasn't conducive to either one sleeping. Sometimes, my daughter would nurse to sleep after her brother was sleeping in my arms. Oh sure, it's cute and cozy for a while. But then your arms and legs start to fall asleep too, and it's tough to get either child moving to a bed without waking! Incidentally, continuing to nurse my older child has made her much more accepting, tolerant, and loving toward her young brother. Tandem nursing has been challenging, no doubt about it. But the absence of malice between my two children has been more than worth it. I know you too will find ways to meet the needs of both children.

Elissa McCarthy
Aberdeen MD USA

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