One of the hardest parts of going from 1 child to 2 was figuring out how to handle our bedtime routine for toddler and baby by myself. We finally have a routine down that seems to work well for us, at least for the moment.
I must tip my hat to the single moms who do solo bedtimes every day. I’m usually flying solo for bedtime at least half of the week since my husband works odd hours with frequent travel.
I had a lot of anxiety about doing bedtime alone. My oldest had recently turned three and we had a decent routine down. I was terrified messing with his schedule would ruin his sleep. Then there was my totally unpredictable newborn who might cry all evening.
Look it wasn’t always pretty, if I’m being completely honest some nights were close to the disaster scenarios I had feared.
BUT we survived.
A year and a half and several different variations of our routine later, we’ve got a bedtime that works for us right now.
I asked every mom I knew for advice and tried it all. The things is what works for one family won’t necessarily work for yours. So many factors like your kid’s ages, age gap, temperaments, and independence will all impact how you want to tackle bedtime.
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So here are some of the best tips to help you figure out how to put an infant and toddler to bed alone:
If your older child is used to an elaborate multi-step bedtime routine, start simplifying.
Unless you want to spend all evening putting kids to bed, a sweet and simple routine is your best friend. You obviously want to keep the essential elements like brushing teeth and pjs and don’t want to skip time to unwind like reading or singing.
In our house, a bunch of books at bedtime was fine when it was just one, but did not work well with two.
I wouldn’t make drastic changes to an established toddler bedtime routine, but we did slowly make subtle modifications to streamline it.
Should Bedtime Be Together or Separate?
This is the BIG question when putting to bed two kids alone. Do you keep them together or separate them?
When my husband is home, we divide and conquer. Easy peasy.
When I’m alone, each option has itsn’t own unique challenges.
Will the baby stay asleep during the toddlers routine if I try to keep them separate? Will my toddler stay quiet and occupied long enough to get the baby to sleep? Will the baby cry the entire time if I try to do it all together? Will the baby be too distracted to nurse or fall asleep if his brother is in the room?
Some moms swear by putting everyone to bed at once even all cuddled in one bed then transferring after. Other moms try to keep them completely apart giving each their own routine.
But fully together or fully separate may not work for you. Neither works for us.
The best advice I got about bedtime routines was – do as much as possible together.
Whatever you can accomplish together either in tandem or assembly line style will save you precious evening time.
So while bath, jammies, and teething brushing may go smoothly together, baby might be too distracted to take their bottle, or your toddler might need solo snuggles.
Allow for some trial and error. Try out different elements of bedtime together to see what will work for your little ones.
Following this advice means we have an awkward balancing act that has shifted back and forth as my kid’s needs have changed.
Give yourself extra time when handling the bedtime routine for toddler and baby on your own. Perhaps it goes smoothly with two parents, but expect some hiccups might occur when you’re alone.
First of all, doing 2 bedtimes just might take a lot longer when you’re on your own, especially when you’re still trying to establish a good double routine.
Second, expect the unexpected. While it may not usually happen, inevitably when I’m alone the baby poops in the tub or my oldest has a meltdown because the dinosaur pajamas and in the laundry. Crazy things that never normally happen, will happen. Make sure you have some extra time built in to deal with anything that comes your way.
Third, as most moms are fully aware, overtired children are going to be less cooperative, more likely to meltdown, and even harder to get to sleep. So we want to make sure bedtime doesn’t get pushed back too much.
Bedtime can already be a high stress point in a parent’s day. If you’re feeling anxious about tackling bedtime solo, don’t make it harder on yourself by feeling like you have to rush.
Adjust as Needed
Expect that what works right now, might not work next month.
Babies are constantly changing. In one year they can go from a sleepy newborn to a wild toddler and your bedtime routines will have to change along with them.
Bedtime routines may get easier or harder, or more likely they will get both easier and harder at different points.
It’s frustrating once you’ve gotten in a good groove that suddenly doesn’t work so well anymore, but it happens. Hopefully some minor adjustments will get you back on track.
Change can be hard, and bad nights happen to the best of us. Give an adjustment a couple days before deciding if it works or not.
Dealing with Newborns
Newborns can be the easiest or the hardest. Mine could go either way depending on the day.
If you have a super sleepy newborn, you might have success doing bedtime routine for toddler and baby with your older child while they sleep. This is probably the most ideal situation and definitely the easiest when it works.
Unfortunately, many newborns are unpredictable.
They sometimes wake up in the middle of your bedtime story.
They may demand to be fed while you’re brushing your toddler’s teeth.
They might have a fussy witching hour right at your other child’s bedtime.
Newborn are tough. They don’t care about your routine and they can be extremely disruptive.
If baby won’t sleep through the bedtime routine, the next best option is wearing them.
You can still have your hands free to get your toddler ready for bed while keeping baby close, snug, and hopefully happy.
My amazing Baby K’tan carrier got a lot of use at bedtime in those early days since it’s easy to put on alone quickly and very comfortable.
Worst case scenario, baby cries the whole time. I’d be lying if I said this has never happened to us, but we got through it and you will too.
Our Bedtime Routine for Toddler and Baby
As baby gets older, they’re less likely to snooze all evening, but hopefully also less likely to cry all evening. Your growing baby will probably either have their own bedtime routine or integrate into your toddler’s.
Personally, I like to start the bedtime prep together: bath, pjs, brush teeth. Then we’ve gone back and forth on how we proceed based on who was easier to put to bed.
The easiest kid goes to sleep first.
Method 1: Baby goes to sleep first (My preferred method)
This bedtime routine for toddler and baby works well if your youngest goes to sleep quickly or your older child is fine occupying themselves for a long time.
It has worked for us on and off at different points and is our current go to method (admittedly, they are older now). I prefer it because I get some real one on one time with undivided attention for each child. I can read a longer more age appropriate book with my oldest without disruption.
My baby would not go to sleep if his brother was around. He’s just too distracted so they have to be separate. To make this work, you have to be able to keep your toddler busy in a safe space and that’s no easy feat.
My oldest plays or reads quietly in his room while I get the baby to sleep. We try to limit screen time so I avoid it, but I know it does work well for some moms. Another tip is to pick some special toys or activities that only come out during this time to keep them new and exciting.
If you’re looking for some activities to keep your toddler busy, check out Jo’s super list of Busy Toys for young children.
The thing is, my oldest will only stay quiet for so long. So this works fine when the baby goes to sleep pretty smoothly, but that has not always been the case.
Sometimes the baby has gone through phases where he is very tough to get to sleep. At those times, this method does not work for us at all.
Method 2: Toddler goes to sleep first
Since the baby can’t just play quietly in the other room, he has to be part of my toddler’s bedtime for this method. This can be a challenge.
For instance, baby probably doesn’t have the attention span for your toddler’s favorite book. Plus he can be disruptive when you’re trying to wind down.
To keep the routine moving smoothly, I try to keep baby occupied and contained.
This method gets much harder when baby is mobile. Make sure your toddler’s room is baby proofed and any tiny toy pieces (aka choking hazards) are picked up.
We try to keep baby included in the bedtime routine as much as possible like picking a baby friendly book. But, he won’t always cooperate so I still like to have a few toys specifically for the purpose of distracting the baby.
While I don’t find this method to be ideal, it has worked out well enough when necessary.
So how do other moms tackle bedtime with multiple kids alone? Any other tips to share?