Are you curious about how to stop co-sleeping with your baby or toddler?
Like so many things in motherhood and parenting, I wasn’t sure when I would stop co-sleeping with our daughter. But this is no surprise as our sleep situation and co-sleeping itself were unexpected in some ways.
Transitioning from co-sleeping, and moving back into bed with my husband, was a harder change than ending our breastfeeding journey. Truthfully if it wasn’t for expecting our second child in four months, I probably wouldn’t have made the shift at this time.
I didn’t want our daughter to associate not co-sleeping together with the arrival of our new baby so the decision was made easier in that respect. As time would tell, this was something our nearly 21-month-old, Sam, was more ready for than me.
Gentle reminder: This was the right time for us. There are undoubtedly many articles online explaining the “best” time to make this change. Much like everything else with parenting, the timing will be unique to you, your baby, and your family.
Below is my story of gently transitioning away from co-sleeping. I share tips on what worked for our family, with the help of Baby Sleep Advice’s guiding principles.
1. Mentally Prepare to Stop Co-Sleeping
For us, moving on from co-sleeping meant I would get to move back into bed with my husband, and our daughter would remain in the bed in our guest bedroom, with a safe setup, of course. I’d imagine if we were transitioning her to a different room or bed, there might have been more resistance, or it might have taken longer.
Keep in mind: Your experience will depend on your child’s age, temperament, how much the current setup is changing, and more.
I set a flexible deadline that I thought would be more than enough time (a few months). This time frame helped to alleviate any internal pressure and allowed time for the process to unfold gently and naturally.
Relieving internal pressure but having a goal in mind was important as I needed to feel confident in making the change. I struggled with this part for a few weeks as I had to discern and sort out if this truly felt like the right time. More than stopping breastfeeding, there was a discomfort I felt around this decision. After some reflection, this feeling was more about letting go and letting Sam grow and become independent and not about it being the wrong time.
This discomfort with change or discernment is something I anticipate experiencing many times as Sam grows older. In many ways, her sleeping on her own signifies a real milestone of growth in her life.
2. Baby Steps to Sleeping on their Own
Having a transitional object or “lovey” in bed with you before making the change can be extremely helpful and can comfort your baby/toddler during the night if they wake up and you’re not there. This could be many things – a stuffed animal, blanket, or another special object.
Another thing you could work towards is getting more space between you and your baby/toddler during the night. This helps them adjust to not being physically close to you while they sleep. You can start with as little as an inch and work up from there.
3. Get Them Excited
Well before I felt ready to make the change, I began talking to Sam about it. This tip is a popular one amongst the Baby Sleep Advice team and the way we navigate changes, anything from weaning to decreased night wakings.
Effective tip: We believe that babies and toddlers understand way more than we give them credit for. This practice of talking about upcoming changes can be extremely powerful and helpful, while easy to do throughout the day. We have received a lot of feedback that this has helped families navigate changes.
A few months prior, I started to tell Sam that Mama would be sleeping with Papa soon and Sam will have the whole bed for herself. Speaking in an excited, decisive, and celebratory tone never hurts. There was no emphasis on us not sleeping together and it was all about her getting her own bed.
Sometimes I could see her take it in, and other times the comment seemed to go in one ear and out the other but with a compounding and repetitive effect, and as something I have implored in all significant changes, it feels like a huge aid in the long run.
If their sleep location or setup is changing in a major way, it’s also a good idea to talk about this with them and spend time in that location during the day so they feel comfortable there.
4. An Alarm Clock is Your Friend
When it arrived in the mail, we opened the box together. I spoke fondly of her new cloud friend who would be with her at night and let her know when it is time to go to bed and time to get up. She now gives the cloud clock a kiss before going to bed as part of our nighttime routine.
5. Lots of Positive Reinforcement
The first two nights she slept on her own, she woke up around 4 am. On the other hand, I woke up every few hours, feeling like a limb was missing. When I heard her sweet voice calling for me, I went to her and slept the rest of the night with her. There was no talk of going to bed on her own at that point.
To our delight, the next three nights, she slept all the way through until about 6:30-7:00 am. Note: she had been “sleeping through” a few months more or less before this.
Don’t forget to celebrate: I would always acknowledge the mornings she slept through, saying how proud I was and how she is such a big girl. Sam would happily and aggressively nod, in a way only proud toddlers can.
6. Manage Your Expectations
This is a big one. I see making changes like this much like a good financial investment. There will be nights where she doesn’t sleep through and wakes up, but the overall effect is a good and progressive one, improving over time in spite of “setbacks.”
Since starting, she still wakes up one time a few nights a week, but I don’t expect her to sleep on her own every night from now on. Instead, we enjoy the good runs while we have them and know this is a process, and know we are headed in the right direction.
Remember: Despite the ups and downs, you’re doing great and navigating this together as a family!
Getting several nights of her sleeping on her own is a win for us at this point. Even as an adult and a good sleep (pre-baby, that is), I still have nights where sleep doesn’t come as easily, so why would I expect anything less from a non-stop growing and evolving little one.
Raising kids is like asking for constant growth and transition. Besides welcoming a new member to our family (a pretty big change), I’d imagine our next shift will be eventually supporting Sam in being able to go to bed on her own.
For now, we are still enjoying evening cuddles (most of the time) and being with her while she falls asleep. There is no timeline set on that one. Time will tell.
Are you considering drawing your co-sleeping time to a close? What transition do you find your family in right now?
Are you looking for help in making a change or transition with your baby? Team Baby Sleep Advice is here with open hearts and ears. We value a gentle approach where it’s possible to skip the tears while making changes that best support your baby and family. Explore Heidi’s award-winning sleep programs and determine which path is right for you!