How you choose to sleep is personal, and if you choose to co-sleep with your baby, there are a few things you need to know in order to be safe and secure. I feel that parents really need to ask themselves a few questions before they make the decision to co-sleep, even if it’s just for a couple days so that they can get some sleep. First, you need to be clear about your intention. Why are you co-sleeping? And how long? Do you just want to co-sleep for a few months or years? Or are you utilizing co-sleeping as a backup for those desperate moments before you and your baby are ready for sleep coaching. Regardless of your reasons, it is essential to co-sleep safely.
Tips on How to Co-sleep With Your Baby (Bedsharing) and Room Sharing
Here are some things to think about as you figure out the right and comfortable sleep-enhancing arrangement for both you and your child.
1. Make a decision about the shared bed or bedroom before the baby is born, reserving the option to change your minds without any guilt if your decision turns out not to be the best one for you and your family.
2. If you decide to keep your baby with you, consider your sleeping options. You can bedshare, where your baby sleeps in bed with you, or you can room share, and have your baby in a crib right next to you, in a bassinet that you can reach over and touch, or in a cosleeper that can attach to your bed.
3. Understand your motives when you are deciding whether long-term or short-term co-sleeping is right for you and your family. Think carefully about how having a child in bed with you all the time will affect you. Cosleeping can be a several year commitment, a practice that you may need to continue until the child chooses to transition to her own bed.
4. Some couples that choose to cosleep, but want to foster a degree of sleep independence in their baby and a little early-evening freedom for themselves, put the baby down in her crib at bedtime. Then they move her into the family bed when they get ready for sleep themselves, or the first time she wakes up at night.
5. It is still important for babies to learn how to put themselves to sleep, even in a family bed environment. Try to put your baby down drowsy but awake at least once a day.
6. If you choose to cosleep with your baby short term, plan to transition to the crib between three and six months when an established bedtime routine becomes so essential. During the months that you are cosleeping, have the baby nap in her crib, cosleeper or bassinet consistently to make the transition to crib smoother.
7. Many families end up doing what’s called reactive cosleeping. That means the baby starts out the night in the bassinet or crib but ends up in the parents bed because that’s the only way they can get him back to sleep. Or they wanted to cosleep for a few months and here it is six months or a year later and they can’t figure out how to stop it. Cosleeping by choice is one thing; cosleeping by default is another.
8. Be aware of the safety issues about cosleeping and talk to your doctor about the most recent safety recommendations to reduce any hazards.
9. Do not sleep with your baby if you are very overweight, or if you have been drinking alcohol or using drugs or medications. You need to be able to respond properly and quickly to your baby’s needs.
10. When you do move a child out of your bed, you must be completely consistent. Consider spending a week or two getting her accustomed to napping in her own crib or bed during the day, before you make the nighttime transition.
Choosing to co-sleep with your baby can be a wonderful bonding experience for the family. If you, your partner and child sleep soundly at night, enjoy the co-sleeping experience, safely. If you are reactively co-sleeping, you may want to explore some other gentle sleep options, or even move the baby into a crib next to your bed, as suggested above. Remember, your sleeping arrangements are ultimately about everyone getting a good, restful night’s sleep.
Copyright © 2009 Kim West, LCSW-C, author of The Sleep Lady®’s Good Night, Sleep Tight: Gentle Proven Solutions to Help Your Child Sleep Well and Wake Up Happy
Kim West, LCSW-C, known as The Sleep Lady®, has helped thousands of tired parents gently teach their babies and children how to go to sleep and stay asleep. West has appeared on Dr. Phil, the Today Show, NBC Nightly News, Good Morning America, TLC’s Bringing Home Baby, and CNN, and has been written about in a number of publications including The Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, Parents, Baby Talk, Parenting, the Baltimore Sun, USA Today, and the Washington Post. West hosts the sleep section of The Newborn Channel, played in maternity wards in hospitals across the country. She is the mother of two daughters and a licensed child and family therapist, practicing for over seventeen years. She lives with her family in Annapolis, Maryland.
Visit Kim West at www.sleeplady.com.