I am a proud bed sharer, although at this point I suppose I should start saying “former bed sharer” – like all transitions and milestones in Callum’s life, this one has been bittersweet. While bed sharing (sharing the same sleeping space as your child) or co-sleeping (sleeping in the same room as your child – this term is often used as a catch all for any sort of sleep sharing) is quite common if not the norm among my friends, it is still something that raises eyebrows in many parenting circles. The most common concern seems to be: “Aren’t you worried he will sleep with you forever? How will you ever break that habit?”
I’m a fan of StrideRite on Facebook; yesterday they posed the question: “What was the earliest you had your child sleep in his/her own bed?” Aside from the obvious “What does this have to do with shoes??” I found it rather interesting. The vast majority of the responses (some several hundred at the time I saw it) were an emphatic “From day 1! Didn’t want to start that habit!” Many who gave a later date did so with a disclaimer: “We didn’t have another room for him” or “He slept in our room but always in his crib.” The responses seemed to confirm the widespread fear that co-sleeping or bed sharing leads to some horrible place where parents suffer in misery and never get any sleep. Moreover, they suggest that co-sleeping and bed sharing are seen as some shameful secret that one should avoid confessing to in public.
I am not a crib hater; in fact, I have a gorgeous handmade crib that my dad built for Callum at my request (guess I should have asked for a bed instead!). My grand plan (ha!) before Callum was born was to use a co-sleeper for the first few months and then to move him to the crib in his own room. Let’s just say that having never had a kid before, that plan was altered rather quickly. We did have the co-sleeper set up by our bed (we used the original size Arms Reach), but at some point during those first few months I discovered that Callum slept better (and therefore I slept better) when he was beside me in bed. We did occasionally try him in the crib for a nap or at the start of the night but he was never settled there for long – he had developed a preference for sleeping snuggled up with mama – and I was quite ok with that!
As Callum grew and became more mobile (read as “bed hog”) there were moments when I thought it might be time to move him to his room. But then when he’d wake in the middle of the night and I could quickly comfort him back to sleep without really fully waking myself, I quickly tossed those thoughts aside.
I don’t think there’s any one “right” time to make the transition from bed sharing or co-sleeping to sleeping in separate spaces (although I’d argue that all mamas and babies benefit from co-sleeping the first few months). Some babies do demonstrate a clear preference for their own space and seem to do better not snuggled up by mama as they get more wiggly. Others need the comforting touch of a parent well into toddlerhood. As Holly noted, co-sleeping can be a great way for working mamas to reconnect after time away. In any case, the timing of the transition will vary depending on the needs of the whole family.
After Callum turned one, we started talking seriously about when and how we wanted to transition him to his own sleeping space. Around 15 months or so we realized that more often than not, we were waking Callum when we came to bed (especially problematic given that my husband is a serious nightowl – so Callum was getting a double dose of wake ups). He was also starting to cut back on his night nursing quite a bit on his own. Finally, he was quite content to sleep alone in our bed for hours – he seemed ok about being in his own space.
About that night nursing…for us it made more sense to transition Callum to his own space and then see what happened with night nursing. For other families, it may make more sense to go in the opposite direction. Our choice was based largely on the fact that we felt much of the night nursing was due to wakings that we were causing – and the fact that I still planned to nurse as needed when we first transitioned.
Given Callum’s age and the fact that he’d never really slept in a crib, it made more sense for our family to put him in a “real” bed instead – this would eliminate another transition in a few months and would give him a sleeping space that he was more used to. As an added bonus, I could still sleep with Callum in his room to ease the transition (or when I fell asleep nursing him in the night!). In our bed, we had been using bed rails to prevent any rolling out in the middle of the night. It made more sense to just put Callum on the floor in his room to make things as easy as possible. We also decided to get a full sized mattress (space for mama!). So our solution was a full sized futon placed on the floor (we may add a frame in a few months when Callum is older).
Callum took to his new space very quickly! I think it helped that it was easy for him to get in and out of (important for a very active kid) and that it was as big as what he’d been sleeping in (or almost anyway). For the first couple of months, we continued to wear him to sleep as we had been but put him in his bed instead of ours. I also started nursing Callum in his bed before bedtime so that he’d come to see it as a “safe” and cozy place. When he’d wake in the night, I’d go in to nurse him and snuggle until morning.
Now some months later, Callum sleeps quite well most nights. We have since night weaned (which I wrote about last week), and have had more and more nights where he doesn’t need mama or daddy at all. When he does need us, he knows we are just down the hall. In fact, he rarely wakes up crying – just pitter patters into our room with this “um…can you help me out here” sleepy look on his face.
There are many excellent resources available for co-sleeping, bed sharing, and general nighttime parenting. A few that we like:
Elizabeth Pantley’s The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night
Kelly Mom’s sleep resources
Dr. McKenna’s information on the benefits of co-sleeping and how to do it safely
Attachment Parenting International’s guidelines for safe sleep
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