So you’ve found yourself with a tiny human in your bed. Some of you may be thinking “how on earth did this happen?” Or maybe you are in the “that seemed like a good idea at the time” camp. Or maybe co-sleeping happily served its purpose in you and your baby’s sleep journey and now it’s time to transition to separate sleep spaces.
Whatever your reason for starting co-sleeping was, it’s ok. It’s ok if it worked for you at the time and now you would like your bed back. It’s also ok if it really didn’t work for you at the time but you were so deep in the sleep deprivation haze, that it was the only way you survived. Either way, if it’s time to say goodbye to the ribcage kicks, toddler morning breath in your face and tiny (but mighty) bed toots (that didn’t come from your partner….) I am here to help! Read on for the 5 ways you can successfully escape from co-sleeping.
1. Rip Off The Bandaid
If co-sleeping has turned your bed into a barrelful of monkeys, and you are going to lose your bananas if it continues for one. more. night. then this is your ‘get it done’ plan. Start with your baby’s naps. Put them in their own sleep space during naps for about a week, to get them used to sleeping without you. After the week you can add in nighttime. Be prepared to do a bit of modified CIO (Cry It Out) as this is a big change for your little one and it is natural for them to protest it at first. If your baby is older than 6-9 months there will likely be a bit more protesting. Your baby is just sharing with you that they have developed a preference to sleeping with you and this is totally new for them. Don’t be discouraged by this, and don’t let it sway you. If you offered cake with dinner every night and then suddenly stopped, your baby would most certainly be saying “where is my cake woman?!”
2. Slow and Steady Can Win the Race Too
If co-sleeping has only turned your bed into a pailful of monkeys and you have barely lost one of your bananas, then this might be the plan for you. It is more of a gentle approach that will take around 2-8 weeks. Think of this as a gradual release from co-sleeping. First, start with having your baby sleep beside you instead of on you (if this is what co-sleeping looks like for you). Then move towards putting more space between you and your baby, so you are no longer touching while sleeping. Next, give your baby their own sleep space in your room (i.e., in a bassinet, pack n play, or other safe sleep space beside your bed). If you were nursing while co-sleeping for comfort and not need for food, then try reaching in and holding your baby’s hand, rubbing their back, etc., instead.
After a week or two of this transition, you can move your baby to their own room and lie on the floor beside their crib until they fall asleep. Next, you can start to put more distance between the two of you. This can look like less touching and also moving yourself closer to the door each night until you are sitting out in the hallway (with a well-deserved glass of wine at this point).
You should expect there to be some protesting throughout this, just as there would be if you very slowly started removing cake, piece by piece, from your dinner time routine. This is natural and a healthy way of expressing their emotions. They are allowed to feel annoyed/frustrated/upset that they are no longer getting that familiar cake with dinner. However, it doesn’t mean they NEED the cake. Remember that it is not our job as parents to give our children everything they want.
You can help your little one through each of these stages in the transition, by doing some modified CIO. Check out my 4-24 month course as it walks you through the process of modified CIO and modified modified CIO.
3. Toddler Incentives
If you have a toddler then be prepared for some strong-willed pushback. Toddlers definitely have preferences and they are definitely going to say, I mean scream, ‘GIVE ME BACK MY CAKE WOMAN”. So first off, you want to make moving into their room more exciting than an all-day Paw Patrol marathon. Think picking out their new set of bedsheets, helping set up their “big person” bed (note that I use the term “helping” verrrrry loosely here), and shopping for a new “time to wake” toddler wake clock. Yes, that’s right, the toddler wake clock is going to be your new best friend. Also, make sure you talk through the plan with them and respect that they are going to have some big feelings about it. The key though is to offer an incentive that is better than sleeping with you. Which is obviously not 372 bags of candy and 57 new toys. What I suggest is the incentive of quality time with you (movie night, trip to the park, shopping trip, etc.). Whatever it is, it just needs to trump a sleepover in your bed.
4. Setting Boundaries
All children do best with clear and consistent expectations. And all children will test the boundaries at some point or another. Just remember that the older your child is, the better you are going to need to be at outsmarting them. I suggest having a plan for your bedtime routine and think through what you are going to do when your child pushes back so it doesn’t result in a fight or a punishment. I find that not putting myself in a position for a power struggle works best. I stay consistent and don’t engage in a fight over another trip to the bathroom or another glass of water. Have a clear and consistent bedtime routine that you do not deviate from. Don’t give in to “one more song” or “one more bedtime story”, even if it seems easier at the time, and even if it seems like the end of time and all that is left are songs and stories. Reinforce your bedtime boundaries in a calm, gentle but firm way, and know that boundary testing is normal. We don’t want emotions running high right before we are trying to gear down for bed.
5. Being Responsive
Like all aspects of parenting, we want to be responsive to our children’s needs. You know your child best, and can tune into their needs vs wants. Transitioning from co-sleeping at any age is going to result in some degree of emotions and push back. I suggest having a plan and validating your child’s feelings. Being responsive to their needs means providing age appropriate responses to their emotions. Whether it’s setting a 10 minute timer and then providing soothing for your little one, or validating your toddler’s feelings before redirecting them back to their own bed, you can be responsive while still sticking with the plan. You can also have compromises as part of your plan. For example, if your child
sneaks comes into your room in the middle of the night, they could have a bed on the floor instead of coming into bed with you. Or you could allow “quiet play time” in their room if they wake up before their toddler awake clock turns on. If your toddler is demonstrating signs of real anxiety or fears, I suggest getting my 2-5 year package which has troubleshooting guides for separation anxiety, nightmares, and fears as well as transitioning to a big kid’s bed.
Better sleep by having one less human in your bed is possible! If you would like more detailed information on transitioning from co-sleeping, check out my 4-24 month guide pack as well as my 2-5 year guide pack or reach out to one of our sleep consultants for more individualized support!