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Preparing for a second baby when your first didn't like to sleep

Two young girls sleeping next to each other, to the top of the picture is the older girl with blonde curly hair covered with a white duvet, to the bottom of the picture is a baby girl with short hair wearing a pink and white sleep sack

Before my first daughter was born I was aware that babies didn’t really sleep, and that I could expect to feel tired for the next couple of years. What I was not prepared for was just how little she did sleep. For a number of months she would wake every 40 minutes throughout the night, and when she did finally extend that, it was only to every 2 hours. It was exhausting.

Fast forward two and half years and I was pregnant with my second child. Bedtimes were still a battle of wills, while she woke less frequently, we had a lot of split nights where she would be up for up to 5 hours at a time. We were still exhausted.

Then one day a well-meaning friend asked “What are you going to do if this baby doesn’t sleep either?”. My response, “I’ve survived it before, I can survive it again”. Truthly, I was making secret pacts with the universe, I’d done my time and I deserved a sleeper this time around.

Joking aside, while I don’t think I’ll ever know what caused my eldest to wake so frequently, what I do know what made the situation worse was stressing about it. I read books, downloaded e-courses, I studied wake windows, looked for tired cues, created routines, battled to get her to sleep in a cot, nothing worked. All the time my fuse was getting shorter and shorter, we were going into bedtime preparing for battle which definitely made things worse. The only thing that was different this time, I’d met Emily from Fox and the Moon and learnt much more about reasons for waking (something none of the previous books covered) and red flags to look for.

The next time around, I decided to relax, naps didn’t need to be in cots; it was completely normal if they only lasted 30 minutes; bedsharing was to be expected and most of all, if the Baby consistently woke frequently through the night, there was probably an external (or internal) factor we could do something about.

A white woman wth brown hair, wearing a straw hat, pink sunglasses and a grey baby sling, carrying an infant who is wearing a white hat with blue drawing on it

Things were instantly easier, once again I had a cat napper, but that was fine - I just made sure she had more naps. She woke regularly through the night but generally no more than 2-hourly and as it turned out she had reflux and allergies so that’s pretty good by my books. I quickly learnt she would only nap 20 minutes in a cot, but on me, in the car or in the buggy she would do up to 2 hours, so this is what we did. My neighbours must have thought I was crazy doing laps around my lounge with the buggy.

She’s two now and, like her older sister, she just has low sleep needs. We’ve already dropped all naps and she rarely even falls asleep in the car. She wakes once most nights, but just comes into our bed and goes back to sleep. Accepting the sleep norms and embracing bed-sharing has been a huge weight lifted, no longer striving for that ‘through the night’ sleep has made everything easier this time around.

If you’re reading this with baby number 2 (or 3 or 4 or 5+) on the way, or already here and are wondering how you’ll do it, my top tips are:

  1. Invest in a good sling - particularly for the early days, we couldn’t have survived without my Close Parent Caboo allowing me to be hands free for my toddler, but keep the baby sleeping. It also allowed me to pee and make tea and other things which are more difficult while holding a baby.

  2. Bedsharing is your friend - prepare for it, bedsharing may not stop the baby from waking, but for us it did stop her waking from the moment I lay her down. If your older child also likes to bedshare, I recommend kicking your partner out, buy a side car crib set-up at the same height as the mattress (we used a SnuzPod because it zipped right down to the crib mattress) and place baby on the mattress between you and the crib (the crib acting as safe extra space), you sleep in the middle of the bed and the older child the other side.

  3. Plan around the naps - if the oldest wants to go to the park, go when the Littlest’s nap is due, they can sleep in the buggy while you’re enjoying some 1:1 time with your biggest. If you need to drive somewhere, try and time that around the naps. If you know a nap is going to be short, plan for a shorter gap (and don’t do what I did, which is attempt to go to the supermarket with them in the trolley at that time).

Regardless of how well your second child sleeps, having two children is exhausting. Be kind to yourself, ask for help, have Grandparents or friends shower some love on the older child and take them out to allow you to sleep when the baby sleeps if needed. As far as I’m aware you can’t actually die from sleep deprivation (I did Google it). You’ve got this.

A white mother wearing a yellow bobble hat and a purple scarf with spots, crouching down in the snow with her two daughters, the eldest (4) to the left with blonde curly hair, wearing a pink snow jacket, red leggings and pink trainers; the youngest (1) is wearing a knitted hat, red puffer coat, yellow trousers and tan boots

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