No. You can’t.
Sorry to be so concise, but that’s the straightforward answer. We can get into details as we move along, but for those of you who just wanted a “yes-or-no,” I thought I’d give it to you without a bunch of preamble.
So why do I think that sleep training and bed sharing are mutually exclusive?
When I meet a new client who’s been bed sharing, they fall into one of two groups.
1.Parents looking to get their kids out of their bed
2.Parents who want to keep their kids in their bed, but want them to sleep better
For those parents who are looking to move their little one out of their bed, I’ve got a variety of approaches which I personalize based on baby’s personality, temperament, and established sleep habits.
For those in group two, I’ve only got one approach. I’m happy to help, so call me when you’re ready to move your little one to their own bed.
It’s not because I’m a tyrant. In fact, the reason I don’t like to work with families who bed share is because I think it’s too confusing to the child.
In a bed sharing situation, baby usually has access to a breast whenever they want it, and that’s almost always their sleep prop. They wake up in the night, after completing a sleep cycle, and they instinctively go for the breast. Not necessarily because they’re hungry, but because that’s the way they know to get to sleep.
Grown ups do the same thing. (Well, obviously not the exact same thing. Otherwise your husband would be banished to the couch inside of a week.) But we have routines and strategies that we use to get to sleep when we wake in the night. They’re usually very brief and simple, like turning on our backs, taking a sip of water, flipping the pillow, or wrapping our blankets around us, but they’re sleep skills, just like nursing.
So if you’re going to break that association between nursing and falling asleep, which you have to do if you want your baby to sleep through the night without waking you up, then baby’s got to learn a new skill; one that doesn’t involve you. That’s not going to be easy when their favorite method of falling asleep is sitting right in front of their face.
If you’re determined to stay in close proximity to your baby when they’re sleeping, try using a sidecar or a crib in the room, but there’s just no good way to teach a baby not to nurse themselves to sleep if they’re sleeping right next to you.
One final thought on this topic before I sign off. I’ve seen a lot of people on Facebook and other social media channels, saying things like, “They’ll leave your room when they’re ready! Don’t rush them! This time is so short! Nobody sleeps in their parents’ bed when they’re 18!”
Again, if you’re happy with the arrangement you’ve got, I’m not here to change your approach. But I would like to point out that I’ve seen families with kids up to eight (!) years old who are still sleeping in their parents’ beds. Don’t assume that your little one will get finish brushing his teeth one night and say, “Actually, I think I’ll go sleep on my own tonight.”
Sleep habits die hard, especially with kids, so the day your child sleeps in their own bed, in their own room, is probably the day you tell them they have to.
The good news is that once your child has moved into their own bed and learned some independent sleep skills, they will typically sleep much better, more soundly, and for longer than they do in your bed. And so will you and your partner, which means the whole family will be rested and refreshed in the morning, which comes with a whole collection of mental and physical benefits
P.S. Are you ready for your little one to sleep in their own bed? Contact me today, firstname.lastname@example.org
I'd LOVE to hear your thoughts on bed sharing in the comments.
“What should be done eventually, must be done immediately.”
This was a quote from a college athletics administrator about why he was firing a football coach, but I think it’s got a lot of appeal outside of the sports world. Especially when it comes to babies.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard parents tell me, “I just don’t think he’s ready for sleep training yet.” or, “I know it’s a bad habit, but it’s working for the time being. I’ll wean him off of it soon.”
Soon, meaning, “In the meantime, I’ll just keep doing things I know are short-term solutions which are going to cause us problems down the road.”
Don’t misunderstand my intentions here. I’m not trying to shame anyone for doing what they feel they have to in order to keep the peace in their family, however temporarily. I am just as guilty as anyone of putting band-aids on things in order to hold the fort until I could deal with the bigger issue. How could we ever cope as mothers if we had to deal with every issue the moment it came up?
1. Hello darkness, my old friend: Light, natural or artificial, sends a message to our brains that it’s daytime, and not time to sleep. Melatonin production is triggered by darkness, so start turning down the lights an hour before you plan to put baby down. (Especially electronic screens, which emit a blue light that is particularly inimical to baby’s shut-down process.)
For babies who wake up early, invest in some blackout blinds. You can get a decent set for under $30, and I’ve had many parents tell me it’s the best money they ever spent.
2. Turn down the heat: New parents can be obsessive over their babies’ comfort, and making sure they’re warm enough while Mom and Dad are out of the room for the night is such a basic instinct that people tend to overdo it.
Babies, like their grownup counterparts, sleep best when they’re warm and snuggly inside of a cool environment. A warm nighttime onesie and a cool nursery, somewhere around 65°F and 70°F (18°C – 21°C) is the best way to ensure that baby remains comfortable through the night.
3. Keep it boring: I know we all love the look of a cute, elegant mobile over the top of our baby’s crib, or the sounds of the little faux-aquarium with the little plastic light-up fish, but even though they may seem soothing to us, they can be a real source of fascination for your little one, which is great! Just not when they’re trying to sleep. To a baby, they can be the equivalent of a big budget action movie, so keep visual stimulation away from the crib.
A white noise machine can help to block out any outside noise that might jar baby into waking up, and a yellow night light can keep toddlers from getting spooked by the darkness, but other than that, the more boring your child’s bedroom is, the better they’ll sleep.
4. Be predictable: A well-planned, consistent bedtime routine is conducive to a good night’s sleep, no matter what your age, but particularly with babies. Once their bodies and brains start to recognize the signals that indicate an upcoming bedtime, they will start preparing to pack it in for the evening as soon as that first step begins.
Their energy levels will start to wind down, melatonin production will kick in, and muscles will start to relax, so by the time you’re giving them a goodnight kiss, their system should be all set for a long, restorative sleep.
Wrapping Up: Teaching your child great sleep skills isn’t a one-night operation. It takes some time, a lot of repetition, and plenty of discipline and diligence on the part of the parents, but for those of you who are desperate for just a little bit of relief, these tips should help you and your little one get a few more hours of shut-eye, starting tonight.
You can work on the rest of if once you’ve had a little rest.
Jo Anna Inks
I help tired, frustrated parents get their babies sleeping through the night and napping well so everyone in the family can get the rest they so desperately need!