Moving a co-sleeping baby or child into their own crib or bed is a socially-charged decision about which everyone in the world has an opinion. As a new parent you may slowly be getting used to the fact that the whole world tries to tell you how to live your life, and the internet in particular is full of judgers, criticizers, and pious naysayers who are going to tell you that no matter what you do, you're Doing It Wrong.
Let this growth opportunity be a chance for you to practice ignoring what other people tell you, figuring out what works for you, and then standing by your own choices. Then when it's your turn to watch other new parents figuring out what works for them, try practicing a little less Facebooky snap-judgment-passing and a little more Bill and Ted. Be Excellent to Each Other.
That said, changing a baby's sleep situation can be a balancing act worthy of the savviest of UN diplomats. Maybe for some people it's easy. But consider yourself in good company if your attempts to reclaim your bed require a bit of staunchness and some steely-eyed focus on the longer view.
I was an unwilling co-sleeper. I wanted my baby to sleep in his crib, ideally in his own room. But he wasn't interested in these suggestions. Exhaustion and disability (with a c-section, I couldn't lift him out of a crib) dictated the terms: for the first months, our baby slept with us and we used the crib as sculpture.
However, eventually it was Time. Despite my husband's objections, I put my foot down and insisted that the baby start sleeping in his crib, and if it took days of blood-curdling wails, then that was what it would take, but I needed sleep.
There are any number of ways of getting your co-sleeper to sleep on his own. I don't know what will work for you, and I only have personal proof of the efficacy of the way that worked for me. But I can tell you about other ways I tried, and maybe they'll work for you.
Bonus ideas you can add to any approach are: put a small piece of your clothing with your smell on it in your baby's crib. Establish a bedtime ritual. And don't try to do two big things at once; don't try to wean a baby off of the breast and the parental bed at the same time.
7 Here's What Worked For Us In Real Life
Here's the real story from the trenches, smeared with grit and reeking of napalm. The internet says I will Rot in Hell for this. But it worked. Let the record show, I spent plenty of time on the internet beforehand, and with my nose deep in baby books, and I tried any number of more socially-acceptable approaches first, and none of them worked, for this particular baby.
I think he actually found them more confusing, like their vague boundaries instead of being soothing just made the situation harder to process for him. Anyway this is what I finally did, this is what worked quickly and effectively, and I dream of a world where society spends less time judging and condemning parents and more time celebrating what an amazing job they're doing. Let the record show, our crib was next to our bed for the first year; we went through a second transition when the crib moved into what became my son's room.
After officially trying the approaches the baby books recommended, hating myself when they didn't work, and continuing to stagger through my days in a haze of post-surgical and sleep-deprivation-induced physical pain andVicodin-and-sleeplessness-induced hallucinations, I laid down martial law. I needed rest. So I put the boy in his crib at nap-time and left the room for an hour or more, and he cried for an hour or more, and then did not sleep.
I did it this way for two days. My husband was as unthrilled about the process as my son, and let me know how he felt, but he was not the one lactating, he was not the one home with a baby all day every day, and he was not the one recovering from major surgery. They were a grim two days in our house, but I did not relent. Then on the third day I left my son in his crib, he cried for twenty minutes, and then he was fast asleep.
From that point on he understood that cribs were for sleeping. The boy napped in his crib and he slept in his crib at night. And I could finally sleep. A better-rested mother is a mother who can do her job. A better-rested mother is a mother who can appreciate the good times better. The best thing you can do for your baby is take care of yourself.
This story actually set us up for the kind of parent I've been ever since; it created a template that has given me a peaceful child. Ever since those three days, I've been the parent who presents the boundaries up front and upholds them clearly and consistently. In return, I have a calm, secure child who knows exactly where the sidewalk ends.
6 Here's How Others Would Have Liked For Me To Have Done It
the “staying with them” way
You can cuddle your baby until they fall asleep and then put them in the crib. This has the advantage of fewer up-front tears. Your familiar presence soothes them.
However, as anyone who has trod the bedroom floorboards at 4 am knows, it can take a while to cuddle a baby to sleep. And, if after all that effort you put them down and the process wakes them up, you have to start all over and you've lost that window of sleep opportunity for yourself.
You can also stay with your baby, awake in the crib, soothing them until they fall asleep. I tried both ways but didn't have success with either. I did not try the way whereyou stay with them but sit in a chair that you move an inch farther away every time. That just sounded mean to me. But I'm sure someone has tried it and had success with it, and instead of seeing it as mean, saw it as a way of providing a gradual but supportive distancing.
5 The Quiet But Cuddly Way
You can put your baby in the crib while awake and stay with them for a little while, patting them but not talking. (The talking makes them feel it's time to be awake and active.) You leave the room. When he cries, come back in right away and pat them, but don't talk to them or pick them up. Do this until it works, until you give up, or until the baby is wet or poopy and needs to be picked up and changed. I had no success with this approach, but you might.
Some parents also try sleeping with their children in their children's rooms, or even in their children's beds, which just moves the idea ofthe family bed into a different room. Some parents are still doing this when their children are eight years old. To me this sounds too much like a child centric household and I don't see what benefit an elementary schooler gets out of believing they have to have a parent with them in order to go to sleep.
I feel the average size of a child's bed indicates it is not meant to hold two people, especially not if one of them is a grownup. Yet this approach is espoused on the internet and I know people who say they do it because it works for them. In order to live by my own moral code, which says judge less and accept more, I must say: if you want to do it this way and it works for you, awesome.
4 The Incremental Visiting Way
Put the baby in his crib while awake but sleepy.
(By the way, you'll have more success putting a baby to sleep when they're showing the very first signs of sleepiness, not when they're already tired and cranky. It took us months to figure out that our baby was a humper and that as soon as we saw him humping, that meant we had to put him down for a nap immediately. But we finally made the connection between the humping and the successful naps. Humpers are usually boys, so if you have a boy, try that on for size.)
Take your leave of him, and then leave the room. When he cries, come back for incremental visits.
You can scale down the increments on a per-day or a per-nap basis or both. For instance on the first day when the boy cries you can come in and visit him for ten minutes, and then leave, and then when he cries again you can come back for another ten minutes, rinse, repeat; and then the next day you can come in and visit him for nine minutes as many times as is required; and then the next day, for eight minutes as many times as is required, and so on.
And/or, you can visit your baby for ten minutes the first time during nap-time, nine minutes (or five minutes, or whatever) the next time during that same nap time, then eight minutes (or two minutes, however you're scaling), and so on. I tried this way both when we moved the baby to his crib and then later when we moved the crib into his own room. I wanted it to work, and it's got those tidy number patterns, so it would be nice if it worked for someone.
3 The Incremental Location Way
Gentle, or confusing? My son and I found this confusing—at least, he didn't say so in so many words, but it sure didn't work for him. However, your baby might find this gentle; a reassuring way to balance new ideas with the comfort of familiar ones. The idea is, instead of switching all at once from bed to crib, just do a little crib at a time. You can try just doing the crib for naps and then bed during the night. Or you can try starting out the night in the crib and then ending up in bed.
There are people who say this works, and you can certainly try it. To me it sounds vague in a cruel way. In our world back then, clock time had almost no meaning. Sleep was sleep and we grabbed it when it was available. So why would the position of the sun affect where one made one's bed? And why start the night in one place and end it in another?
We accidentally did this sometimes when our son was moving into his own room, but we didn't consider it a strategy; we considered it an unfortunate regression that confused a transitional process and making it take longer. We knew that what we got in immediate gratification just delayed the day when our dream would come true and we would have a child who slept in his own room all night long. ….
If I were a baby, I wouldn't understand why sometimes I would get to sleep with Mommy and Daddy like usual and sometimes they would try to make me sleep in some new foreign situation. And as long as that vagueness continued, I would keep not understanding it, instead of getting my opportunity to discover inner resources and to establish a new clear concept of “bed.”
2 The French Way
pour les parents qui veulent que leurs bébés fassent ses nuits
I am a die-hard Francophile and admire their entrenched love of combining order with pleasure. It shows up in everything they do, from the Jardins du Luxembourg to pains au chocolat to how a baby goes to sleep. While every parent makes different choices, even in France, the standard French approach to babies and to sleeping is to put babies in their own cribs and their own rooms while still pretty young.
What marks their attitude is a belief that sleeping through the night in their own bed is a desirable, positive thing for the baby, not just for the parents, and it's the parent’s job to help them achieve a personal accomplishment that will help them, the babies, live better lives.
“Elle fait déjà ses nuits?” an interested neighbour will ask. Is she doing her nights yet? These nights of sleeping independently are personal achievements that belong innately to the sleeper. What parent would be mean enough to deprive their offspring of such gold stars? This is the way I did it when I moved my son into his own room (despite resistance from his father), and it absolutely worked.
If you want to be French about it, make clear distinctions between night and day in the nursery. Daytime, curtains open, noise, games, conversation, chronically available breasts, etc. Nighttime, a bath, darkness, curtains closed, a soothing lullaby, quiet, etc. This helps establish the idea that nighttime is different from daytime and that we behave differently at night.
Make sure all rambunctiousness has ceased by evening and that a calm bedtime ritual is in place. Then put your baby to bed in his own crib, in his own room, at a bedtime based on when the baby actually shows the first signs of being sleepy. When those eyelids just start to flutter (or if you like I have a humper, when the baby starts to hump), that's bedtime, neither before nor after.
And then after ritualistically taking your adieux...leave him there. If you keep popping back in, you delay the baby's process of learning that nighttime is for sleeping, that being by himself is a safe situation, and that he has the power to put himself back to sleep.
Then, afterward, make a big celebratory deal of nights successfully spent sleeping all by himself like a big boy. Be fabulously encouraging and proud. Make a big tsimmes. Outdo yourself with hugs and kisses. Humans of all ages, even very young humans, respond to positive reinforcement.
1 Dealing With Bigger Children
Bigger children are more capable of meaningful interactive dialogue and abstract reasoning, so use that. Talk with them about what's about to happen! Explain what you're going to be doing, and why you're doing it, and why this is the right choice for everybody.
You could mark the occasion by letting your child help pick out his new blankets, sheets, and/or Big Boy Bed (even if it's a toddler bed) and give them the pride of ownership. Let your child feel complicit in a joint adventure instead of like a vassal subject to royal decree.
You could also introduce a transitional object before making the move, as a soothing measure. I have no idea if this works or not. It's not something I did and it's not something anyone I know did. But you can try it and see how it works for you. Better yet, since you're dealing with a large child, you can suggest the idea to them and see how they feel about it.
Today's toddlers are tomorrow's rocket scientists; instead of assuming the entire responsibility of figuring out how to transition your large child, the adventurous among you might try sharing this responsibility and coming to a mutually agreeable compromise. If you do, though, remember that you are still the parent and your child is still the child, and whatever boundaries you agree on, be clear and consistent with them.