Smoothing the way to your baby sleeping alone

During the early months, many parents keep their babies in their bed at night—a sleeping arrangement known as bed-sharing. When done safely, bed-sharing can make nighttime breastfeeding easier, extend the duration of breastfeeding, and contribute to infant and maternal health and well-being. Other parents keep their babies in their own bed in their room, known as room-sharing.

Some parents continue bed-sharing and room-sharing long term and wait for their children to wean themselves away from them. Other parents decide they’d like to move their child to her own crib or room on their own timeline. For those in the last group, here are suggestions for helping the change go smoothly.

Moving away from bed-sharing

Here are a few things to consider when you’re ready to move your child to his own bed:

  • Consider transitional options. Is she ready to move out of your bed? If not, can you make an intermediate move, transitioning her to a sidecar or putting a playpen or a portable crib next to your bed? Consider the full range of options as steps toward solitary sleeping.
  • Put your baby to sleep while she’s still awake. In order to sleep through the night, your baby must learn to fall asleep on her own. This will take some practice so be patient. Try placing her in the crib (or toddler bed) before she nods off in your arms or next to you.
  • Start with naptime. Sleeping alone for a full night may be too big a challenge for your child initially because children who awaken during the night often gain a sense of security from their parents’ presence. Naptime presents a shorter goal for sleeping alone and is often easier to achieve. And sleeping alone during daylight hours may be less stressful for children who are afraid of the dark.
  • Develop a bedtime routine. A consistent routine that enables your child to feel loved and secure may help her relax and accept lying down and falling asleep in her own space.
  • Adjust your expectations. Recognize that weaning to a crib is a process. Adjust your expectations based on your child’s developmental stage: Your child may still need reassurance if he awakens at night, which many children do. If your child knows you’ll respond to his needs, it fosters his trust and confidence.
  • Set reasonable limits. Your child may understand and accept simple rules such as “stay in your bed until the sun comes up” or “you may call to me if you need me.” These guidelines may be comforting during nighttime awakenings.
  • Consider a toddler bed. Some older children who have never slept in a crib might enjoy the ceremony of moving straight into a “big kid bed” and may be more eager to sleep in their very own space. Don’t be surprised, though, if your child asks to return to your bed after a night or two.

Moving away from room-sharing

When you’re ready to transition your child to his own room, consider these tips:

  • Make her room a welcoming place. To help your child prepare for her new sleeping place, make her room feel comfortable and familiar. Before making the move, spend time in the room playing and reading, and for diaper changes.
  • Make sure she’s feeling well when you make the change. Like the rest of us, babies associate illness or discomfort with a move to a new situation if both happen at the same time. So make the move when your baby is healthy and isn’t going through teething.

Decisions about your family’s sleep arrangements don’t need to be etched in stone. Finding the perfect arrangement for everyone is a process of trial and error. Be flexible and, most important, responsive to your child’s changing needs.

Last updated November 6, 2017

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