If your child spends most nights sleeping in your bed, you may wonder when this stage will end. Parents who choose a gentler approach to raising children may want to take the time to let their children choose when they're ready to stop co-sleeping. But if co-sleeping interferes with your family's sleep, it may be time to smoothly ease out of it. Stopping co-sleeping doesn't have to be a traumatic process for your little one. Below, we're breaking down the steps.
What is co-sleeping?
Co-sleeping involves sharing a bed or room with your baby or toddler. Some families begin co-sleeping from infancy, while others wait until their kids are older. Sometimes co-sleeping is just a periodic thing that happens when the child is having a particularly rough night, such as when they're sick or wake up scared. Co-sleeping doesn't always mean sharing the bed with your baby. Some parents co-sleep by pushing a bassinet up close to their bed so they can easily reach their baby at night. You can also get a small bassinet in your bed to keep your baby safe while having them close to you at night.
Why do parents choose to co-sleep?
The reality is that most babies and toddlers will wake up throughout the night. Some parents choose to co-sleep because it is the best way for everyone in the family to get rest at night. If the baby is breastfed, then co-sleeping can make night feedings easier.
Risks of co-sleeping
There are some potential risks to co-sleeping that parents should be aware of. Never leave your baby unattended in bed, especially if they are old enough to roll over or crawl. This presents the risk of them falling out of bed and getting injured. You should also never co-sleep if you have been drinking alcohol or using drugs since this increases the risk of rolling over onto your child and hurting them.
If you take the proper precautions, co-sleeping can be safe and enjoyable for your family, but remember that every family is different. What works best for one family will likely look much different for others.
When is it time to stop co-sleeping?
Some parents worry that once they let their baby share their bed, they'll never have the bed to themselves again. Luckily, this isn't true. Even children who co-sleep from birth can learn to fall asleep independently. Children who co-sleep may take a bit longer to learn to sleep independently, but that doesn't mean they never will.
Every family is different, so there isn't a set time to stop co-sleeping. It should become evident to most families when it is time to stop. Usually, this means that co-sleeping is no longer helping everyone get to sleep but instead hinders a full night of sleep for those involved. If your child no longer relies on being breastfed at night and the quality of everyone's sleep is suffering, it may be time to gently transition away from co-sleeping.
How to smoothly stop co-sleeping
Stopping co-sleeping doesn't have to be a drastic or traumatic process. You can observe your child's cues and start leaning away from them when they seem ready. You can also take the following steps to smoothly transition your child into their bed.
- Talk about the impending change. Giving your child a heads up is a great way to help prepare them for the change. Toddlers do well with repetition so bring up the fact that they'll be sleeping in their own space more than once. You can also talk with them developmentally appropriately, such as incorporating the conversation into playtime.
- The time is right. Try to make the switch from co-sleeping during a time when there aren't a lot of other major changes going on. That way, your child won't be overwhelmed by multiple changes going on at once.
- Establish a bedtime routine. A solid bedtime routine will help your child get used to sleeping independently. Knowing that they'll be heading into bed after tooth brushing and bath time gives your child some familiarity and security.
- Be consistent. It's hard for most parents to be firm about keeping their children in their beds, but it's important to stick to your guns. Caving in and bringing your child into bed will drag out the process even longer. If and when your child wakes at night, try joining them in their room and holding their hand until they fall asleep in their own space, rather than bringing them into your bed. You can also try bringing your child's bed or crib into your room and teaching them to sleep in their own space.
- Give your child some control. Toddlers strive for autonomy, so give your little one as much control as possible. Find ways that they can be involved in the bedtime routine. Ask if they'd like to brush their teeth or take a bath first, or let them pick out their pajamas.
- Make sure they're comfortable. It's important to ensure that your child has a bed or crib they want to sleep in. Make sure they feel safe and comfortable in their sleep area and figure out what needs to change if they don't. You can also help make them comfortable by finding a special pair of pajamas they love or giving them a nice blanket or stuffed animal to sleep with at night.
Co-sleeping may feel never-ending for some parents, but rest assured that your child will eventually sleep on their own. Taking steps to ensure your child feels seen, heard, and comfortable can help make the process smooth for everyone.
Stopping co-sleeping doesn't have to be a traumatic experience for you and your child.
Give your child some autonomy and prepare them ahead of time when beginning the process of helping them to sleep on their own.
Find a routine that works well for you and your family, and be consistent with it.
Make sure your child feels safe and comfortable in their sleep space.
Lay with them while they fall asleep, or set up a separate bed in your room to help ease them into sleeping on their own.