I never imagined I’d co-sleep. I even had the infamous pre-parent judgmental conversation with my sister-in-law. She began co-sleeping with her daughter at 6 months and continued doing so until our niece was 6 years old. “No, that’ll never be me,” I asserted when talking to her about it. She told me they never wanted to co-sleep for that long, but they didn’t know how to stop at this point. I left the conversation filled with the promise of a pregnant mother, thinking my baby would sleep through the night by 4 or 5 months old. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Though our daughter did sleep independently until she was about 7 months old, a bout of sickness during cold and flu season had me worried. I decided it would be okay if she shared our bed for a night or two until she felt better. Those nights turned into weeks and months. We enjoyed those extra snuggles. And, in retrospect, I am so glad we did co-sleep for a few months. However, we lost a significant amount of sleep due to comfort nursing and random wake-ups triggered by her being in our bed.
We finally decided it was now or never. There were two options. We could co-sleep with her until kindergarten and eat our words. Or we could reclaim our bed and allow her more space and comfort in her room. We decided to go with the latter option. For one, toddlers are notoriously weird and active sleepers. We often woke up with a foot in our eye socket or a hand down a shirt. And two, she no longer needed to eat at night. Also, our bedroom shares a door with hers. This means my mama heart could rest easy knowing I could see and hear her from where we slept. We finally stopped co-sleeping with our 15-month-old baby girl, and I lived to tell the tale.
What We Did to Stop Co-sleeping With Our Toddler
As a former co-sleeping parent, here’s how we stopped co-sleeping with our toddler and my advice if this is something you want to achieve.
Stop Night Nursing (If You’re Ready)
This was honestly the most challenging part of them all for me. Although we still supplemented with formula, I was proud to be breastfeeding beyond my goal of 1 year. It was such a tender, memorable time for my daughter and me to enjoy together. It was part of our nightly ritual. However, I realized she was associating comfort with nursing and not eating much. I had to make the difficult decision to cease night nursing.
I was WAY more emotionally torn than I expected to be. But I realized it would need to happen if we wished to stop co-sleeping. I offered breastmilk more throughout the day but did not offer it in the evening. She began to lose interest in it during the day. And when she would sign for it at night, I signed back, “all gone.” I made sure she understood milk from mom was off the table. Since I like to think I’m raising a reasonable kid, it did not take her long to catch on. Instead of night nursing, I offered her warm cow’s milk to ensure she wasn’t going to bed hungry. This now became part of her new routine.
Establish a New Routine
It takes multiple days to kick a habit, so establishing a comparable routine (not a total shock to their sensitivities) and comfort is key. When we were co-sleeping, we would brush her teeth, bathe her, do a quick lotion massage, turn on an audiobook, and nurse her in her dark bedroom until she fell asleep—at that point, I transferred her to our bed.
When it came time for the switch, we took away the nursing portion and replaced it with warm milk, and instead kept her in her room, rocked her to *near* sleep, and then laid her gently in her crib. I would pat and shush alternatively until I felt she was asleep, and I could exit. This took our overall routine down from about an hour to thirty minutes or so. When she was co-sleeping, she was waiting to be put to sleep completely and then laid down in our bed, where she felt us nearby. The new routine meant we were still near her but allowing her to do some of the legwork herself.
Check for Sleep Deterrents
Simple issues can cause some sleep problems. Perhaps your little one doesn’t want to sleep in their crib because their room is too cold, and mama provides the snuggliest and best warmth? Is your room one where there’s white noise your little one is used to? Or is it dead silent with their room being on the same side of the house where there’s a highway or a busy street? Play around with fixes for this one. You’d be surprised how a few small adjustments can make or break your toddler’s sleep environment. Per usual safety guidelines, make sure your child is dressed appropriately and will not be too hot or too cold during the night in their sleepwear.1 This alone keeps adults up, so why let your baby deal with this common annoyance?
Make the Crib or Bed a Happy Place
When possible, put your toddler down to nap in their crib. We found that NOT letting our daughter cry in the crib, to begin with, was a good introduction. We instead watched her cues to make sure she didn’t start to associate the crib with “bad.” We gave her snuggles and rocked her until she seemed ready to try again or fell asleep. If they fall asleep with you holding them outside of the crib, try to put baby down and tiptoe away gently. Before you know it, they’ll be fighting the crib less and enjoying their new space without tossing and turning, snoring parents more.