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Is bedsharing or a crib right for my family?


I’m not going to lie, I’m a huge fan of bedsharing. For many families, it is the ideal solution to a baby that wakes up multiple times a night. When our babies cry at night, and we have to get up out of bed, walk down the hall to their room, pick them up, soothe them, transfer them back into their crib and then return to our own bed, suddenly we find ourselves completely awake and unable to fall back asleep easily. It seems that just as we start to fall asleep, baby is crying again and the whole cycle repeats itself.


This is why many families find having their baby (safely) snuggled up against them is the easiest way to deal with multiple wakes up. You can simply roll over and feed or soothe baby back to sleep without even having to get out of bed.


But let’s get real. I have never spoken to a client prenatally who PLANNED on bedsharing. This is why I always recommend new and expectant parents familiarize themselves with La Leche League’s Safe Sleep Seven and James McKenna’s research out of the Mother Baby Behavioral Sleep Lab to make sure they have the safest set up possible for those nights when out of exhaustion they bring baby into bed with them.


I also find that for a large portion of my Sleep Clients, transferring their baby or toddler from bedsharing to independent sleep is at the top of their sleep challenges. I work with clients first and foremost to make sure that their desire to stop bedsharing is actually coming from them and not outside sources like well meanin or fear mongering grandparents, friends or co-workers. If it’s working for you, there’s NO NEED TO CHANGE A THING. But if you want to help transition your child to sleeping in their crib, there are a few key points to consider.


First off we want to make sure your child is comfortable in their crib. For many bedsharing babies, they have barely spent time in, let alone slept in their crib. This is why we want to get them used to it in the daytime hours, as well as make sure it is where they are falling asleep at bedtime, which is when they are developing their strongest sleep associations.


Play sessions during the day with your baby in their crib can be very helpful. Grab a couple of non-stimulating toys like stuffies. Place them in the crib and follow your baby's lead for some child directed play. If they seem content in the crib, try moving away from the crib and busying yourself with another task while still in the room like organizing their toys or change station, or folding laundry. You can even tell your child you will be right back and leave the room for a minute or so, to get them used to the separation.


(Some babies who had a negative sleep association with the crib such as sleep training at a young age may not want to play in the crib at all. You can set up toys and a play area right beside the crib until they are more used to playing near it, before you start with sessions inside the crib.)


Check that the crib mattress is on the appropriate side (either baby or toddler) and use a soft, tight fitting, hypoallergenic crib sheet. Many parents will actually sleep or nurse with the crib sheet for a couple of days so that it smells like them and will be soothing to their child. Some parents find it helpful to warm up the mattress with a hot water bottle (always checking the temperature to assure it isn’t too hot and removing the bottle before putting the baby in the sleep space).


When you are ready to start having your baby sleep in their crib, you can put them in the crib either fully asleep or awake and aware. If your baby is younger than six months it's often easier to transfer them into their bed completely asleep. But especially if your baby is older than six months, you may find that when you put them in their crib fully asleep they wake up shortly thereafter. That’s because they fell asleep in the comfort of your arms and are waking up in a completely different place. I used to sleep walk as a child and I vividly remember the disorientation I would feel waking up on the bathroom floor. This can be a similar experience for a baby who will very likely (and deservingly) need your help falling back asleep.

Experiment with putting your baby into their crib completely awake (after their bedtime routine and whatever method you use to soothe them and parent them to sleep). Some babies may start to cry right away and this is where you can trust your instincts to pick them up and soothe them back to calm. Once they are calm you can put them back into their crib again and continue to reassure them with songs, verbal reassurance, back rubs, bum patting, etc.


By staying close to them, they will know that you are there to support them in this big transition and you will continue to build their trust and attachment by picking them up if they become too distressed. And by actually falling asleep in their crib, when they do wake up there in between sleep cycles they will know where they are and after some time may be able to fall back asleep without needing your help.


Even though it seems like it’s never ending, this stage of parenting is really quite short. Your baby will almost certainly need your help with night wake ups throughout their childhood due to bad dreams, illness, developmental milestones and life changes. But I honestly do not know a single teenager who routinely sleeps in their parent’s bed. Whether you decide to continue to bedshare or transfer your child to their own sleep space, it should always be an individual decision based on what works best for your family. You are the expert on your child(ren) and by following your parental instincts more than any blog or book (or Sleep Educator ) you can’t go wrong.

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