An elbow to the ribs? A foot to the head? Is dad sleeping on the floor? Has your child become reigning ruler of your bed?
It happens so easily. You had a colicky baby, a baby who would only sleep on your chest. The only way you could get some sleep was to curl up with your baby and sleep together. It wasn’t what you planned. It also wasn’t what you had envisioned. But co-sleeping has become your norm.
It doesn’t have to be.
And moving your child to their own crib doesn’t have to be a traumatic and challenging ordeal. It can be rewarding for everyone, simple and peaceful.
First, what are your reasons for wanting change? It’s important to know what drives this change. Change is difficult. Being aware and mindful of your goals can help keep you motivated.
Reasons for Transitioning From Co-Sleeping to Crib Sleeping
- Parents are not getting any sleep
- Baby is not sleeping as well as they used to
- Dad is sleeping on the floor or another room
- A new baby is on the way
- For safety—babies and toddlers can roll off the bed easily
- Your baby wants playtime, not sleep time
- Your child is excited about their new big bed
- Upcoming surgery
- You are just ready
Whatever your reasons are, keep in mind the outcome you want and need—enough room to sleep, sex with your partner in your bed, space for sleep, and this exciting time of independence for your child.
This picture of your ultimate desired sleeping situation will help you to stay consistent. More than anything, it is really crucial to stay consistent with your baby. Otherwise, you’ll end up confusing everyone.
I recently went on a holiday with my twin boys to KL for a week. There was only one bed, and we had to share. The boys usually sleep in their own cot, and we only co-sleep on holidays when there is limited sleeping space.
It always starts the same.
The First Night: This is so nice. All these lovely cuddles and snuggles with my boys. Why don’t we do this more?
The Second Night: Hmmm, I’m not feeling so comfortable. Shit, one of the boys just fell out of the bed. Oh my goodness, I need to sleep.
The Third Night: I’m so tired!! Okay, now I remember why we don’t co-sleep.
The Fourth Night: Foot in the face, pushed to the edge of the bed, and still no sleep. Ugh, this is the worst.
Back Home: So happy to have my own bed again.
Before You Start the Transition
1. Bedtime Routine
Make sure you have a consistent bedtime routine already in place. A positive and consistent bedtime routine is essential. According to a study by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, “Results indicate that the establishment of a nightly bedtime routine produced significant reductions in problematic sleep behaviors for infants and toddlers.”
Routine and consistency help children to feel safe and reduce stress. Having a familiar bedtime routine will help when changing your child’s sleep environment. Make sure you have a consistent routine going well for a few weeks. Use a sticker chart to make the bedtime routine a positive and fun experience.
A bedtime routine is also vital because you get to spend some time and really connect with your child. Put the phone down, turn the TV off, and connect with your child. Talk with them while you put on their pj’s, laugh with them while they get toothpaste everywhere. You can sing songs and read books together, have a snuggle in their bed, and listen to a podcast. Make a routine unique to your family.
2. Talk About the Change
For toddlers, talk to them about the change before you make a move. Suddenly changing the rules for your child with little or no indication can be confusing and frustrating. Even though your toddler may not have excellent language skills, they will still be able to understand what you’re saying. Make sure to talk about the move to their bedroom as an exciting new step in their life.
3. Exciting Room
Revamp your child’s room. Create some excitement for your child’s new sleep environment. You could paint the walls a new colour, put in new curtains, set a new soft toy on their bed, or get some new bedding. Even just moving the furniture around and putting some shelves up can help transform the room. The point is to make your child happy and excited to start sleeping there. Glow-in-the-dark stars that stick to the ceiling are also a great idea.
4. Day Sleep Needs
Make sure your child is getting all the day sleep that they need. If they are not getting enough naps during the day, it could cause problems for bedtime. Also, if your child sleeps too long or too late in the day, they may have trouble going to bed. Make sure that every other area of your child’s life is running smoothly for this time of change.
5. Age-Appropriate Bedtime
Making sure your child’s bedtime is at an appropriate time will help make bedtime a breeze. An excellent time for bed is usually between 6:30 and 7 p.m. or between 4 to 5.5 hours since they woke from their last nap. Having the right bedtime helps prevent overtiredness and works with your child’s natural body rhythm.
6. The Best Environment for Sleep
Setting up a great environment for sleep is a wonderful way to help your child find it easier to fall asleep. A good environment is dark—the darker, the better.
Darkness reduces stimulation for your child and stops them from getting distracted by all the things to see in their room. Darkness also helps to stimulate the production of melatonin, a sleep hormone that occurs in the body. Use black-out curtains to get a nice and dark room.
Cool temperature is also conducive to quality sleep. A cool temperature indicates to your child’s brain that it is time to sleep and also helps in the production of melatonin. Lastly, white noise is a great tool to help your baby fall and stay asleep.
7. Extra Special Playtime
Playtime can be an important element, especially with other children. Find 10 minutes of your day and have some extra special one-on-one time with your child. This can help your child feel acknowledged, special, and valued.
Finding this time and spending it with your child can really help with bedroom transition, particularly if there is another sibling on the way. We want to avoid the child feeling as if they are being pushed out of your bed. Extra Special Time can help them feel Extra Special.
8. Attention Needs
Making sure your child’s attention needs are met is essential for a smooth bedtime and sleeping arrangement transition. We’re busy, and we work; the days go by too fast sometimes. This is when the ‘Extra Special Time’ plays a crucial role to meet your child’s needs. Make your child feel extra special and give them attention. It can be as simple as 10 minutes in the morning making a card for their grandma, or 10 minutes playing ball before getting in the car.
How to Transition Your Baby to a Crib—A Gradual Approach to Start in a Child’s Room
You can use this method with children from 6 months of age. It is also a great method for toddlers and older children. There are other sleep training methods; however, I believe that a gradual approach is an excellent way to transition away from co-sleeping.
This phase usually takes three nights to complete, but you can take as many nights as you need. Lay a mattress by your child’s cot or bed. Stay with your child until they fall asleep. You can choose to either sleep the whole night on the mattress or head to your bed. If your child wakes during the night, go back to the mattress and stay with your child until they fall asleep.
During this phase, you can offer as much comfort to your child as they require. You can speak softly to them, stroke or touch them; you can support them. However, try to keep your child in the crib. You can pick them for a cuddle if needed, but try to keep the settling in the cot. As the nights progress, try to fade out how much you are physically settling your child to sleep. Doing so will make it easier to move to the next stage.
When your child can fall asleep with minimal hands-on settling, you can begin Phase 2. Move the mattress halfway to the door of your child’s room. Read your books, say your goodnights, have lots of kisses and cuddles, and move to the mattress. Let your child know you will just be on the mattress.
Do your best only to offer verbal comfort. Do not let your child fall asleep with you on the mattress. The idea is to support your child with your presence, but for them to fall asleep on their own. This phase generally takes three nights to complete but can take longer if needed.
Move the mattress to the doorway during this phase. You might want to change to a chair at this point. Again, only offer verbal comfort from this position. If your child wakes during the night, take up the same position by the door. This stage usually takes three nights to complete.
Move to just outside the door. Your child can hear you, but not see you. At this point, you may be able to say goodnight and leave your child to fall to sleep. Pop-ins are also great at this stage. I love pop-ins. They are a wonderful way to provide comfort but allow your child to fall asleep independently.
Tell your child you are going to the bathroom, and you will come back to check on them. Leave the room for 5 minutes and then return as promised. You must come back when say you are going to. It builds trust and helps your child feel safe.
Next, you can say, “I’m going to wash the dishes. I’ll be back in a few minutes.” Head out of the room and pop back in for another check and another reason to leave the room. Each time you leave the room, you should be gone for a progressively extended period. The idea is that your child will fall asleep at one of the points when you are not in the room.
This is a great strategy to help your child learn to stay in bed. You need to show them you are committed to the outcome as well. The first time your child gets out of bed, you can say “Come on, sweetie, it’s time for bed.” After that, there is no morning talking.
Each time they get out of bed, calmly guide them back without saying a word. Repeat as many returns as your child needs. It might only take a few times for your child to realize you are serious about this staying in bed business. It might also take lots and lots of returns on the first night.
The important thing is not to say anything. When your child is constantly popping out of bed, they are testing your limits and seeking attention. By returning them as many times as needed, you are enforcing the limits you have set. By not talking, you are not providing any attention, whether positive or negative.
Bedtime is not playtime; it’s time to get quiet and rest. Interestingly, children are not concerned with the type of attention they are receiving. When mum and dad get cross, frustrated, and yell to go to bed, it still meets a child’s attention needs. They just learn how to get negative attention. Not talking provides a calm, clear limit, and it does not negatively meet attention needs.
The idea behind a gradual method is to help ease your child into their new sleep environment. For 10 days to 2 weeks, you slowly reduce your involvement, and they gradually increase their independence.
Helpful Tips and Tricks
1. Commit to Consistency
It’s imperative to commit to your decision once you decide you want to make the change. It can get really confusing for your baby if some nights they are allowed to co-sleep and some nights they are not. Children thrive on routine and consistency. They love to know what and when to expect. It helps them feel safe.
2. It’s Okay If They Don’t Fall Asleep Right Away
If your child is hanging out in bed, talking, chatting, or singing for a little while, don’t worry. We can’t force our children to go to sleep. We can set up the best environment for rest and good daytime habits, and we can encourage sleep. But, at the end of the day, they will fall asleep when they are ready.
3. Give Your Child a Lovey
If you haven’t already, take your child shopping and let them choose a toy they would like to have at bedtime. A lovey is a wonderful comfort item your child can cuddle and snuggle up to at night. This comfort item can provide a lot of security for your child when you are not around.
4. Just Aim for Bedtime
Tackling naps and bedtime might be too much for everyone. And that’s okay. While a consistent approach across the board will mean faster progress, sometimes you just need to go at your own pace. To begin, aim for bedtime in the crib first. Once bedtime is going well, you can then work on naps.
5. The Sleep Fairy
I love the sleep fairy; I use it with nearly all my toddler clients. They love it too. It is a wonderful and sweet way to encourage your child to stay in their bed all night.
For younger children, tell them a story about the sleep fairy before bed. Tell them that the sleep fairy is a little fairy who loves to see girls and boys sleeping all night long in their bed. When she visits, she often brings a little present—but only if they stay in bed all night. Before you go to bed sprinkle glitter on your child’s bed and leave a little chocolate or toy for them to find when they wake up.
With older children, you can write a letter to the sleep fairy, and tell the fairy how well your child has been sleeping in their own bed. Leave the note by the bed. In the morning, your child will find glitter, a little chocolate or toy and, and a reply. The sleep fairy and your child might even be pen pals.
6. Professional Help
If the move from bed-sharing to separate rooms seems important but impossible, it is a great idea to hire a sleep consultant. A sleep consultant can take into account your family lifestyle, values, and parenting styles. They can help you adapt methods to suit you and your family. They can also help out with any questions you might have along the way.
Most importantly, a sleep consultant help make sure you are implementing your sleep training methods correctly. Generally, sleep training methods don’t work when they are not properly implemented. In the middle of the night, when you’re foggy with sleep or you haven’t slept in what feels like a year, instigating change on your own can be difficult.
Moving your child from your bed to their own can be easy. Be firm and keep in mind the reasons you have for changing. Make a plan. Stay consistent. Give your child even more affection and attention during this time of transition. Then, enjoy the newfound freedom of a childless bed.