How to Stop Co-Sleeping with Your Toddler
I never imagined I’d co-sleep: I even had the infamous pre-parent judgmental conversation with my sister-in-law who started 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 just didn’t know how to stop at this point. I left the conversation filled with the promise of a pregnant mother who thinks her baby will sleep through the night by 4 or 5 months old. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Though our daughter did sleep on her own 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 while we battled whatever crud had landed in our home. Needless to say, 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), but lost a significant amount of sleep due to comfort nursing and random wake ups triggered by things we suspected were a result of her being in our bed.
We finally decided it was now or never: we could either co-sleep with her until Kindergarten and eat our words, or we could reclaim our bed and allow her more space and comfortability in her own room. We decided to go with the latter option, because not only are toddlers notoriously weird and active sleepers, (we often woke up with a foot in our eye socket, or a hand down a shirt) but she no longer needed to eat at night and our bedroom also shares a door with hers, meaning my mama heart could rest easy knowing I could actually see and hear her from where we slept anyways. We finally stopped co-sleeping with our 15 month-old baby girl, and I lived to tell the tale.
How to Stop Co-Sleeping with Your Toddler
Stop Night Nursing (If You’re Ready)
This was honestly the hardest part of them all for me—though 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, and it was part of our nightly ritual. Once I realized she was associating comfort with nursing and not actually 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 was going to need to happen if we expected to stop co-sleeping. I offered breastmilk more throughout the day, but did not offer it in the evening at all. She began to lose interest in it during the day, and when she would sign for it at night I simply signed back, “all gone.” I made sure she understood milk from mom was off the table, and 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—which became part of her new routine.
Establish a New Routine
It takes multiple days to kick a habit, so establishing a routine that is comparable (not a total shock to their sensitivities) and comfortable 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 and 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
Some sleep conundrums are caused by simple issues–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 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 busy street? Play around with fixes for this one, but 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–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, and would instead watch her cues to make sure she didn’t begin to associate the crib with “bad.” We gave her snuggles and rocked her until she seemed ready to try again, or simply fell asleep. If they fall asleep with you holding them outside of the crib, try to gently put baby down and tiptoe away; and before you know it, they’ll be fighting the crib less and enjoying their new space without tossing and turning, snoring parents more.