Is Co-Sleeping The “Right” Way to Sleep With Your Child?

Is Co-Sleeping the "Right" Way?Over the years, I’ve really had to reflect on what works and what doesn’t for so many families, in order to give the best advice to our clients. After personally working with over 10,000 families (with my team, of course!), I have a lot of opinions. :)

Not too long ago, my eldest son (and inspiration for The Baby Sleep Site®) was going through a rough patch of waking a lot at night and coming into our room. Sometimes it was a nightmare and sometimes he just felt scared in the dark room, alone (and who could blame him?). Mind you, he was not a toddler anymore. He was a school-aged kid! So, I did something you might never expect and decided that if he was coming to me virtually every night, I would sleep in his bed for a solid week to restore his feeling of security. I had tried almost everything else, already. I stopped him from watching anything scary on TV or playing any game that seemed too influential. We had talked a lot about fears, being brave, reading books about it, and all sorts of stuff. It simply wasn’t enough. So, I shared his bed with him for a week to “show” him it was safe. And, it seems to have worked! At least, it has for awhile now. I did let him know that it was temporary, but doing this made him very happy. :)

When I think about him since he was a baby, he really has been the type of child who wanted/needed to be very close, physically and emotionally. For that reason, it might seem like he was the type of baby who needed to co-sleep/bed-share. Unfortunately, co-sleeping just didn’t always work for us. I tried. I really did. But when my son and I co-slept, he woke constantly and I barely slept at all. Even our most recent week of co-sleeping didn’t work that well. He would wake up when I moved positions too much, and his elbow would land in my face or a knee would be in my back. But, emotionally, he needed it, and it worked as a temporary sleep arrangement.

Is Co-Sleeping The “Right” Way?

For some families, I do believe co-sleeping can be an effective sleep solution (when done safely). For them. It works for baby and it works for parents. But, it isn’t the only way, and it isn’t the “right” way for everyone. My younger son has never seemed to need or want to sleep close. Although very affectionate by day, by night, he wants his hugs and cuddles and then doesn’t like to be very close. When he was first starting to talk, he’d say, “Too tight” even if you didn’t have your arm around him. He wanted us further away. He, too, is a wild sleeper and he grinds his teeth. I have worked with a lot of families who are in this same position: they wanted to co-sleep, but their baby wanted nothing to do with it (or would co-sleep in arms, but not in a bed, which is simply not sustainable for years!). And, I’ve had others try to co-sleep (either out of desire or necessity), but it just didn’t work for their family. In the end, we at The Baby Sleep Site® trust our families to know what is best for their own family. We work with co-sleeping families who want to improve sleep and continue to co-sleep and others who want to transition to crib, because it’s just not working. The bottom line is to choose what works with YOUR family, not because someone or some book said it’s the “right” way to sleep with your child.

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Is Co-Sleeping a Solution for Baby Sleep Problems?

Co sleeping solutionWhen I was pregnant with my first, I was adamantly against co-sleeping. The reason was that I saw how difficult it was for other parents to get their child out of their bed, months and years later. Although I knew it was right for some, it wasn’t for me. Before you have kids you have all these ideas about how you will do things, but after the baby comes it’s a whole new ball game. I did end up co-sleeping with my first baby for about 2 months and with my second for just 3 nights. This article will talk about whether co-sleeping is a viable solution for you and your baby’s sleep problems or not.

My first son was a challenging sleeper from basically the beginning. Once the newborn sleep-all-day stuff wore off, he was difficult to soothe to sleep for every nap and especially at bedtime. I had to rock him for 2-3 hours (I’m not exaggerating) only for him to sleep for an hour or two before needing to be rocked again. It wasn’t that he wasn’t tired. He’d fall asleep just fine, but would wake up whenever we’d put him down. I know many of you relate.

Once my son was 2 months old, out of necessity, co-sleeping was the only solution. I had gone back to work and just couldn’t hack it anymore. Getting up every 2 hours was not even a possibility anymore. Co-sleeping was just a temporary solution for us, though. The main difficulty for me was that I was getting depressed going to bed every night at 7 p.m. and missing out on time with my husband. More than that, he was still waking every 2 hours to breastfeed for 30 seconds to go back to sleep and although he went right back to sleep, I didn’t always. I was getting more sleep, at least, but it still wasn’t the best and I was petrified I was going to roll on top of him or my husband would cover him with blankets. So, we did transition back to the crib at 4 months when I learned about 4 month sleep and sleep associations. Once he was gone, I did miss him. :( But, it was the best thing for me and my family. We were all happier after that, mostly because he was getting way more sleep than ever, since he was so cranky without it (still is!).

Although co-sleeping wasn’t a long-term solution for us, I do believe that it can be for others. We only did it 2 months, but it doesn’t mean others can’t do it longer and still be successful at helping your baby sleep better. Knowing what I know now, I know that you can co-sleep, you can break sleep associations if you must, and you don’t have to let your child sleep with you until they are 8 if you don’t want to. I have personally helped many parents transition from co-sleeping to crib at a variety of ages.

Co-sleeping Solution

If your baby is having sleep problems, co-sleeping might be a good solution for you. Whether you are breast feeding or bottle feeding, if numerous night wakings are doing more harm than good for either of you and you feel your baby is too young to learn to self-soothe, you may find simply sleeping together is the best option. This is a personal decision for each family. The main thing is that you do co-sleep SAFELY. There have been several recent news articles about the risks of bed sharing and the increase of suffocations. The thing to keep in mind is sleeping on a couch, sofa or other unsafe place is included in these statistics and there are safe ways to co-sleep.

For co-sleeping to be a solution for you and your family, it is best when both parents are on board as a first step. In my case, my husband did support my decision. He did want a sane wife. :D In some cases, a partner will take up temporary residence in a guest room to get more sleep. Here are some guidelines for safe co-sleeping:

• Do not co-sleep if you’ve been drinking, on drugs or on medication that makes you too drowsy

• Do not smoke in the room you are co-sleeping as it’s an increased risk to SIDS

• Do not co-sleep if you have a too-soft mattress or waterbed

• Do not co-sleep where baby can get stuck in a hole or crevice (such as between you and the back of the couch)

• Do not place a baby to sleep next to an older child

• Do sleep on a firm mattress with not too much adult bedding (too much bedding in a crib is just as dangerous!)

• If your baby is young, consider a sleep positioner or Arm’s Reach Co-Sleeper

• If your baby is older or a toddler, and moving around, consider a bed rail. I have had parents come to me when their child crawls right off the bed and falls.

If you think co-sleeping might be the right solution for your family I encourage you to read more detailed co-sleeping safety tips and the benefits of co-sleeping. We also have more information here about the differences between bed-sharing and co-sleeping.

Co-sleeping is not a solution for everyone and my philosophy is that we all must find our own way to parent our children and find the right solution to our baby’s sleep problems. Hopefully this article has helped you determine whether co-sleeping is the right solution for you and your family. Keep in mind that even co-sleeping, you may need manage sleep associations in order for all of you to sleep well. And, when you are ready to transition to crib, I typically recommend a slower approach the longer you’ve been co-sleeping. I don’t typically recommend jumping to cry it out for long-term co-sleepers. If you’d like to discuss options, I’m always here.

Was co-sleeping a solution for you? Share your story.

Sleep Training (From No Cry to Cry) Series – Part 2

 
Sleep Training Series, Part 2: Co-Sleeping

Part 1 of this series I discussed why it’s a good idea to sleep train your baby and the bedtime routine, your first step. Now I will discuss the various methods to help your child learn how to fall asleep without your “help”.

Co-Sleeping

Co-sleeping is not a “sleep training method”, but I wanted to talk about a way you can sleep train your baby but still co-sleep. Remember, sleep training is not cry-it-out (CIO). You can sleep train without letting your baby cry. Co-sleeping works for many families without any special steps taken, but for some it’s difficult due to the fact their baby wants to nurse all night. Nursing may or may not be the challenge for the mother, but perhaps the fact she can’t go right back to sleep during or after nursing. And, maybe mom and dad want to continue co-sleeping, but not nurse all night.

In some cases, nursing while co-sleeping has become the baby’s sleep association and the key is to break that association. But, how do you do it without letting the baby cry, yet still sleep in the family bed? The key to this dilemma is to help your baby learn to fall asleep without nursing. You will want to move nursing away from the final moment your baby falls asleep, but without replacing one sleep association (e.g. nursing to sleep) for another (e.g. rocking your baby). I include pacifiers as a sleep association. I am not a big fan of pacifiers but know plenty of people who use them and have no problems. But, others become frustrated they are replacing the pacifier 8-10 times per night. At this point, the pacifier has become a hindrance more than a help, so be very careful not to replace nursing with a pacifier. Once baby learns how to fall asleep without nursing, (s)he can start to learn to go BACK to sleep throughout the night, which is true of all sleep associations. This method will take a lot of patience, determination and commitment on the parents’ parts, but with consistency, it can work.

Co-Sleeping Safety

I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about co-sleeping safety. It gets a bad rep sometimes, but when done properly, it can be perfectly safe. If you feel nervous you are going to roll on top of the baby, an Arm’s Reach Co-Sleeper or The First Years Close & Secure Sleeper are great options. Dr. Sears’ website has more tips including put baby next to mom, not between mom and dad, sleep in a large queen or king-size bed, and don’t sleep on a too-cushion-y surface where you might roll over too easily (e.g. waterbed or couch), among other tips. He makes sure to mention not to sleep with your baby if you are severely sleep-deprived where you might be less aware of your baby. Ironically, I would think this is when most people do start to sleep with their baby (if they didn’t plan to from the get-go like me).

When Co-Sleeping Isn’t Working

There may be another reason or multiple reasons co-sleeping is difficult for your family. If it’s not working for you, that’s okay. It works for some, but not all. This is not a reflection on you as a parent. Some people are too nervous and don’t sleep well due to worry. I’d say that makes you a caring parent. Some people just can’t go right back to sleep. You have no control over that. Some babies are very active, waking you up all hours of the night. Whatever the reason, if it’s not working for you, don’t let guilt drive you to more and more sleep deprivation, which can lead to unhappiness, stress, and depression. Once you feel ready, you may want to transition your baby out of the family bed. As I always say, well-rested babies make happy babies and well-rested parents make happy parents and happy parents make better parents.

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Sleep Resources That WORK

bss_ebook_3stepsystem_leftFor those persistent nighttime struggles, check out The 3 Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep. Using the same unique approach and practical tools for success, this e-book helps you and your baby sleep through the night.
 
 
 
 
bss_ebook_masteringnaps_leftIf you’re looking for ways to get your baby or toddler into a healthy sleeping routine during the day, I encourage you to explore Mastering Naps and Schedules, a comprehensive guide to napping routines, nap transitions, and all the other important “how-tos” of good baby sleep. With over 45 sample sleep schedules and planning worksheets, Mastering Naps and Schedules is a hands-on tool ideal for any parenting style.

 

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Continue to Part 3 of this series where I discuss the “fading” approach.
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Share your co-sleeping story with us!