Monday, August 1, 2011

Transitioning from Co-Sleeping

This is a bittersweet topic for me.  Probably for you too if you are in the middle of transitioning baby/toddler from your bed.   I've got a couple of friends going through this right now, so this post is for them.

Let me clarify - I don't miss the days of having a toddler in my bed, but I really do miss having a small baby.  I loved the smell of that little one and feeling her little body mold to mine as she nursed throughout the night. 

I have talked about co-sleeping and bed-sharing in previous posts over the years.  Here's one, two, and three of my favorites.  But there does come a time when you -- and baby -- are done and just want your own sleeping space.  And that's OK.  Even exciting.  My number one bit of advice is to be patient.  I know this is easier said than done on some nights, but I promise that they will sleep in their own bed one day and it will be all night long. 

Everyone's circumstances are unique and all babies are unique.  Take what works and throw out the rest.  I'm going to tell you some things that worked for us with our 4 children -- who are fabulous sleepers now at ages 15, 12, 10, and 6.  They weren't always that way though...

Baby #1 was not exclusively co-slept.  He was back and forth all night long.  He stopped breastfeeding at 15 months, and while I hesitate to say this -- that is when he stopped waking all night.  Now don't go use that as an excuse to stop breastfeeding!  I wasn't trying to wean him, I just realized on Friday that he hadn't nursed since Tuesday.  He was still in a crib though until about 21 months. 

Moving out of a crib and into a "real" bed is really the same as moving out of mom and dad's bed and into their own bed.  The techniques we used were about the same. 

Baby #2 always slept in a crib and wanted to be left alone.  Ironically, she has been our worst sleeper since about the age of 6 -- hard time falling asleep and a light sleeper.  There was no transitioning with her.  She never nursed to sleep.  She always wanted us to put her in her crib and leave her alone.

Baby #3 was our hardest.  We had the crib and by the simple nature of having the crib set up, we felt obligated to use the crib.  If we had just been co-sleepers and not tried to force her into a crib, we probably wouldn't have had the difficulties that we did.  All night long, she rotated from the crib, to our bed, to a playpen.  That being said, I can appreciate that many of you are in this situation right now and you do not use a crib.  So how do you lovingly transition baby to his own bed?

 You've taken extreme care in helping your baby feel secure about sleep up to this point.  She's learned that sleep is pleasant, but like any change, it takes some getting use to a new bed and surroundings.  It can be exciting and scary for your baby.  Be patient.

Baby #4 never had a crib.  When she moved to her own bed, granted, she had two sisters in the room with her.  It was exciting for her.  She was one of the big kids.  She was 28 months old.  She had had her bed in our room, but she would never stay in it.  Moving it to the girls' room was best for her.  We had tried to move her at about 20 months to that bed (in our room), but she just wasn't ready.  It was too much work.  If it's that hard, they aren't ready!  She stayed in our bed another 8 months. Again, ironically, when she quit breastfeeding at 28 months, this is also when she transitioned, and slept through the night.

OK, there's a little about our experiences.  On to some of our tricks:

One of our tricks with baby #1 and #3 that helped was to sit outside their bedroom in the hallway.  This sounds crazy, but it gave them the security that I was there, but they needed to learn to sleep in their own bed.  Key advice here:  Have a good book and a book light!  I found myself looking forward to this time of night because I didn't feel like this was a time-suck, sitting in the hallway.  When I didn't have a book to read, I hated sitting there thinking of all the things I needed to get done.  "Hurry up and fall asleep!" was all I could think.  I became impatient and toddler felt that, cried, and became more clingy.  Fail.

They will come out of bed, likely, several times.  That's OK.  This is new and exciting to be able to get out of bed.  They feel independent.  And if they have mostly nursed to sleep up until now, this may be quite new for them.  We kept a sippy cup of water by their bed.  When they get out of bed and come look at you in the hallway, simply put your book down and tuck them back in.  I didn't talk to them at all, especially after several times of getting out of bed.  Initially, I would remind them that I would stay until they fell asleep, but eventually they get bored with the whole thing and fall asleep. 

I never did nightlights for any of the kids.  I felt like it kept them awake.  They had never slept with one in our room, so why start now?  I felt like knowing I was nearby is what made it all OK.

Some parents have a pallet on the floor in their room and try that initially.  It's all the same idea, really -- just letting toddler know that you are still nearby.  I never liked doing the falling-asleep-next-to-baby and then sneaking away, even if their new bed was big enough.  It was no different than what we had been doing.  Plus, I found myself feeling like my evening was shot.  Yes, I am selfish with my time.  If I was reading in the hallway, I was good with that. 

Whatever is going to make you the most patient parent, that is what I suggest!

I know the next question is "How long did it take?"  I sat in the hallway with #3 for probably 2 weeks.  She was 2 years old.  And stubborn.  Still is.  She's also the most organized and responsible, so I let it slide!

If transitioning is a really awful experience, just wait a few weeks or months and try again.  I promise, this will not last forever.  They will sleep in their own bed.  You want them to feel proud of themselves though, kind of like potty training.  If they aren't ready and you are making them do it, your whole family will be miserable.

 Roll with the punches (even the ones in the back in the middle of the night!).  Know this phase of co-sleeping with this baby is almost over.  You don't get that time back so enjoy every single minute.  It'll make getting your own bed back that much sweeter.


Janie said...

It just seems so much less cruel to transition to a crib much, much earlier - but I am firmly in the non co-sleeping camp. My newborns nurse in bed with me and sleep next to me in bassinet or swing - when my baby is too big for bassinet they are in their crib. I'd be a useless mommy with the cramped sleeping, not being able to move and roll around - I'm a crazy sleeper and the hair pulling and baby falling out of bed once they can crawl. no, no, no more power to you moms that like it

Unknown said...

I started my daughter sleeping in the bassinet as a baby. Then I moved her to the crib. Surprisingly, it wasn't until she was older that we started co-sleeping (bed sharing). I just got too lazy to get up with her in the middle of the night hahah. But anyway, I guess we got super lucky, because when she was 2 we got her the big kid bed, and didn't really have to go through a big transition. I just put her to bed in it instead of our bed. And she didn't wean herself (far from it) but she night weaned and started sleeping through the night by herself. Is it too much to hope for that our second will be that easy?! Hahah probably not, I guess I'll favorite this page for later. =) (By the way, I can't believe your second little one would go to sleep by herself in the crib. That's awesome! I thought that only happened in movies lol.)

Welcome! said...

We are on night two of this. Some tears last night, none tonight. Thanks for sharing.

Meg said...

Thank you- I have a 3 year old and a 15 month old and I have struggled on and off with my 3-year-old with bedtime issues like you described. I am glad to be armed with new ideas for when the nest time comes!

Nicole said...

Thanks for the suggestions! My daughter is 10 months and we're hoping to start the transition from our bed to a pallet on the floor after she turns 1. Have you read the No Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers? I bought it but haven't read all the way through it yet, hoping it helps.

speedymom said...

I just took the nitelight out of our toddlers room, you are right I think it really helps. I still nurse her down and sneak out, but we recently night weaned and it was so easy! But if I had tried a few months ago it wouldn't have worked. My girl is so funny, she will tell anyone ( even complete strangers) that her mommies boobahs sleep at night and she has more boobah when the sun comes up. I am SO glad no one understands her but me, haha!

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