Many of my clients have hurdles to overcome in getting better sleep as a family, bed-sharing being a very common one. Any time they attempt to have their child sleep anywhere but their bed, it is almost always an ordeal that ends with their child back in their bed and back to square one.
Although the AAP discourages bed-sharing for safety reasons, we fully realize that many families resort to this in the early months of their child’s life out of valid sleep needs or for cultural or philosophical reasons, and try to do so as safely as possible.
If you’ve decided to move from bed-sharing to your little one sleeping in their own sleep space, we want to share some tips on successfully making the transition from bed-sharing to the crib so that everyone is getting the restful, safe sleep they need!
Here are a few tips for making this transition for all of you!
- Start some play-time in the crib: A good way to get your little one used to the crib and associate with it positively is by starting with some playtime there! Beginning with this for as long as your child is interested will get them more comfortable with the space.
- While you are still bed-sharing, try to remove dependence on nursing to sleep: we know this is a tough one for many nursing mamas, but eliminating the need to be nursed to sleep every time will make moving to the crib much easier. Rather than nursing till your baby is completely asleep, try nursing till they are drowsy, then unlatching them and putting your hand on their chest to soothe them to sleep. Doing so will help your transition to the crib because you can also help them fall asleep with a hand on their chest when putting them to sleep in the crib.
- Start trying for naps in the crib: This can be hit or miss, but sometimes babies will be willing to nap in the crib before spending the whole night there. Try to have the baby take regular naps in the crib to continue getting them comfortable with sleeping there.
- Sleep with your baby’s crib sheet (or small blanket/lovely if over one year of age): This one may sound a little strange, but by sleeping with fabric in your child’s crib, your smell will be on it. Having their sleep space smell like you can provide comfort and familiarity for your child, which greatly helps make this change. According to the AAP, remember to wait until at least a year for a small blanket or lovey, as they can be potential suffocation hazards.
- Please start with the crib in your room OR move a mattress into their room for the first few nights: Having you sleeping in the same room despite not sharing a bed can help ease your child into sleeping in their crib. Whether the crib is in your room or you move into their room for a few days while they adjust, this will increase your chance of success for many children!
Baby Nursery FAQs
Consistency is the key.
Pick an approach that feels most comfortable for you and your family, and stick with it. The transition from family bed to crib often takes up to 3 weeks, advises Dr Wittenberg. Your baby is likely to put up a big protest at first; this is normal, so stay firm and reassuring.
Research shows that a baby's health can improve when they sleep close to their parents. Babies that sleep with their parents have more regular heartbeats and breathing. They even sleep more soundly. And being close to parents is even shown to reduce the risk of SIDS.
For the first main approach, put her down awake in her crib after the bedtime routine, leave the room, then return as often as you would like and give her a consistent verbal response like, “goodnight, I love you.” Do this consistently until she falls asleep.
Effectiveness. Advocates of crying it out swear that it works. Although it may be difficult for the first night or two, babies learn to sleep better independently after the first initial hurdle. A 2016 study found the cry-it-out method works.
The AAP recommends infants share a parents' room, but not a bed, "ideally for a year, but at least for six months" to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
When To Stop Co-Sleeping
Is co-sleeping a bad habit that needs to stop when your child reaches a certain age?
When most parents hear co-sleeping, they’re likely to think of bed-sharing — where your baby or toddler sleeps in the same bed as you.
And even though some families do it, it is not a safe or recommended practice for babies. Bed-sharing with infants under one is known to raise the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), along with the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), both strongly advise against it.
(Room-sharing — having your baby sleep in your room in her crib or bassinet — is also sometimes called co-sleeping. Experts recommend room-sharing for the first six months and possibly a year since it can reduce the risk of SIDS. But parents shouldn't feel guilty if they don't make it the full 12 months, as moving the baby earlier is fine and sharing a room for an entire year may not work for all families.)
There aren’t as many safety concerns about co-sleeping in the same bed once your child hits toddlerhood since your sweetie is no longer at risk of SIDS after age 1. But research does show that the practise can lead to less, poorer quality sleep for parents and is tied to worse mental health outcomes for kids. In other words, it’s still usually not the right choice.
Bottom line: Sharing your bed with your baby isn’t safe, and experts recommend against it in the first place. So if your sweetie is under one and she’s been sleeping in your bed, it’s worth moving her into her own sleeping space as soon as possible.
How To Wean A Toddler Off Co-Sleeping
You’re likely well aware that your toddler is a creature of habit. So if she’s spent her whole life sleeping within arm’s reach of you, moving into her bed and room will be a big adjustment. But it can be done as long as you make a plan and stick with it — and exercise plenty of patience.
Here are some smart strategies for making the transition from co-sleeping easy (or at least easier) for everyone.
Set The Stage For Your Sweetie.
Talk about the change ahead of time to help your child mentally prepare. For toddlers over 2, especially 2 1/2 and up, play up the fact that your cutie is a big kid now who is ready to spend the night in her bed and room.
It’s also okay to point out that parents need time by themselves. Help her feel confident by telling her that you know she’ll do great, and reassure her that she’ll get used to her bed and room, even if the change feels hard at first.
You won’t be able to have the same kind of conversation with a younger toddler, especially one under 18 months. But you can still explain what’s happening matter-of-factly by telling your tot, "This is your bedroom. This is where you sleep."
Find The Right Time.
Choose a period when life is relatively calm and no other big changes — like a new baby, new school or caregiver, weaning or potty training — are happening. Moving your tot into a new room while she’s dealing with other major events can leave her feeling overwhelmed or even scared.
Pick A Plan — And Be Consistent.
While sleep training methods can be effective for babies, your toddler will likely have an easier time gradually making the switch instead of going from co-sleeping to sleeping in her bed and room cold turkey.
Going from spending all night next to you to spending all night alone in one fell swoop would, understandably, be pretty hard!
Whatever plan you ultimately decide on, the key is sticking with it. If you relent or change course by letting your little one back into your bed, even for a night or two, it’ll only prolong the transition and make it harder for everyone.
What kind of gradual approach is best? There’s no right or wrong way to transition from co-sleeping, and your pediatrician can certainly weigh in on what might work well for your child. But here are some ideas worth considering:
- Bring the crib or bed into your room if your child has been in your bed. Instead of putting your toddler in her room from the get-go, put her crib in your bedroom with you to start with. Once she's adjusted to sleeping entirely in her own space, move the crib back to her room, which allows her to make one transition over time.
- Have a sleepover. Once your sweetie has successfully mastered sleeping in her crib or bed (or she was doing that in your room from the start), move her bed into her room and sleep in the room with her. Set up a cot or a sleeping bag on the floor and spend a few nights in there to help her feel reassured. You can gradually move closer to the door, leave a little earlier each night, or try both. Another variation is the chair method: Position yourself in a chair beside the crib or bed to offer quiet comfort while your little one settles in. Gradually move the chair a little farther away the next night — and the next — until you're out the door and she's on her own.
- Start with naps. Not crazy about staying in the room until your little one falls asleep at night? Another option is to have her nap in her room first, then once she’s gotten used to that, graduate to having her sleep in her bed at night.
Stop Co-Sleeping: An Age-By-Age Guide
Many parents fall into co-sleeping as they struggle to get enough sleep in the first few months with a newborn, founder of Sweet Dreams Sleep Solutions in Vancouver. Others set out to co-sleep with their kids as a way to promote attachment.
Regardless of why parents start, there often comes the point when they’re ready to stop. Whether you’ve got a new baby on the way, you and your kid are not sleeping well, or you’re just ready to have your bed back, here’s how to make your child’s transition out of your sleeping space and into their own as smooth as possible, no matter their age.
Co-Sleeping With Your Newborn To 18-Month-Old
The good news is your baby’s sleep habits are still highly adaptable at this age, but to train your infant to be comfortable in their bassinet or crib, you’ll need to be consistent about making sure that all sleep happens in that space.
Asleep consultant in Burlington, Ont. And while it might be tempting to bring her into your bed for those last few hours of sleep after she wakes for feeds, she won’t get why it’s OK at 4 a.m., but not midnight. It would help if you kept your bed off-limits even for cuddling for the first three months after you’ve stopped co-sleeping, says Briggs.
Start the transition by making sure your baby has a safe place to sleep, without blankets, bumpers and stuffies, and that the room is dark. It can be helpful for your baby to sense you are near, so some moms sleep with their baby’s bed sheet before putting it in the crib. A noise machine can also help babies and kids of all ages sleep soundly.
Whether you try the Ferber method, let your baby cry it out or use a more gradual method like sitting in the room in a chair and slowly moving the chair out of the room over several nights, sleep training teaches your baby to fall asleep independently.
This could take anywhere from three nights to a few weeks–keep in mind the more gentle the process, the longer it will likely take, and you’ll have more success if you implement consistent routines and keep a watchful eye on when your baby is tired to make sure he naps and goes to bed when needed. It may also be helpful to reach out to a sleep consultant who can help you develop a sleep training plan that you’re comfortable with.
Co-Sleeping With Your 18-Month To Four-Year-Old
At this age, you should always start with communication, says McGinn. “It’s not fair to the child if you’ve been allowing this to go on for a few years and suddenly one night you say, ‘I’m done,’” she says. Start talking to your kid about the importance of sleep and how everyone will sleep better in their beds, and give him a few days to get used to the idea before you start.
Put a positive spin on the new change by getting your child excited about having a ‘big kid’ room, suggests Briggs. When Warren-Lee was ready for Bennett to move to his bed, she had Grandpa come over and paint the room blue, Bennett’s favourite colour. Then she and her husband and Bennett went out and bought new bedding with his favourite animals on it.
But it’s equally important to avoid the negative nuances of the child moving to their room. For instance, if your child has a new sibling on the way, he might think he’s being replaced by the new baby, so Briggs suggests transitioning him to his own bed three to six months before or after the baby arrives, so the two events don’t seem related.
Co-Sleeping With Your Child Who Is Five Or Up
If you’ve been sleeping with your kid since he was a baby, expect a struggle about moving him into his bed. We have to cut these kids some slack. Talk to them about why it’s important they sleep in their bed and explain you’ll still have plenty of time for cuddles—they’ll be during the day.
How long the transition takes depends on your kid’s temperament and how consistent you are as a parent. Sometimes kids are still sleeping with their parents because they’ve never been given a chance to do anything else, says Briggs.
Tell your kid you know they can do it, then stick to your guns by not allowing them into your bed during the night. Briggs recalls an eight-year-old client who strongly resisted sleeping independently—but was already used to it by night three.
Remember that, at this age, your kid still needs a consistent bedtime routine filled with love and cuddles. A favourite stuffy to snuggle with can help them feel secure in their room.
When your kid successfully sleeps independently, it’s OK to reward them with a trip to the park or special ice cream. But be sure to link it back to his independent sleep by saying, Since we’re all so well-rested, we’ve got some energy to go out together today.
If your kid seems particularly clingy in the evenings or nervous about sleeping on his own, take a closer look to see if anything might bother him or make him anxious. He might feel scared about being on his own–in which case you can reassure him that you are nearby and that his room is safe. But if the anxiety gets in the way of sleep or causes problems in other aspects of his life, it’s worth bringing it up with your child’s doctor.
Putting your baby or toddler into your bed to sleep isn’t safe or recommended, especially before age 1. Still, some families fall into co-sleeping — a term often used interchangeably with bed-sharing — if it seems like the only way that everyone can get some solid sleep.
And once you find yourself in that position, it can be tough to get out. Even though you might be craving some privacy (or just not getting a foot in your face in the middle of the night), chances are your tot is more than happy to continue right on with your current arrangement.
So how can you bring your little one on board with sleeping in her own space — and keep the bedtime tears to a minimum?
The truth is that stopping co-sleeping with an older baby or toddler isn’t always easy, and it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to make the change overnight. You can still make it happen, though.
We hope these tips help you if you are looking to make the switch to the crib! We like to point out that none of these tips will eliminate or prevent night-waking. These are simply for getting your baby comfortable with sleep in the crib.
If you want to eliminate night-wakings, some sleep training methods would have to be involved, which we can also help with! Now, best of luck getting your bed back to yourself! We will be crossing our fingers that a good night’s sleep, free of you getting kicked in the side, is in your future.