Tips to Improve Sleep While Co-Sleeping
In today’s episode of the Gentle Parenting show, Kim gives a solo discussion all about co-sleeping. Around 60% of parents end up co-sleeping within the first year of their baby’s life (whether intentional or not). Sleep training, night weaning, and sleeping through the night can be difficult when co-sleeping, but Kim breaks down her tips with concrete examples for you to continue co-sleeping while getting the rest you and your family need.
How to Safely Co-Sleep
As a complete disclaimer, Kim wants any parents listening to make sure they are safely co-sleeping. If you are not in the bed when your child is asleep, for example at naps, you need to make sure they are still staying safe with bed railings and a mattress low to the ground. As a child grows and becomes more mobile, it’s especially important to make sure the room is baby-proofed so if your child does get up in the night, they are safe.
The Most Important Part of Co-Sleeping
Kim says that “whether you’re co-sleeping or not, your child still needs to learn the life skill of putting themselves to sleep independently.” This means that they need to fall asleep without you lying down with them. Remember, this needs to happen whether or not you are co-sleeping.
It’s great to teach this skill while co-sleeping so when a child or parent decides that it is time to sleep independently, the transition to their own bed is easy. Children don’t magically figure out how to fall asleep on their own – parents need to do something different.
Kim shares all the following scenarios as if a family was co-sleeping with a 10-month old. This 10-month old takes two naps a day and has a bedtime of around 7:30. The parents have reached a point where they do not want to be going to bed at 7:30 pm or laying down for two naps a day.
Where to Start with Sleep Training While Co-Sleeping
To start sleep training, i.e. teaching your child to fall asleep independently, Kim says you have two choices: start at bedtime or start with naps.
If your baby still can nap on the go, in a stroller, carrier, or car, you can continue with those nap times. But, if you want your child taking both naps in the bed, there are some tips to follow. First, follow Kim’s nap coaching tips in either her Gentle Sleep Solutions course or in her book. If your child is still taking two naps a day, start with the morning nap before the afternoon. This creates a solid foundation to build upon and starts the daytime sleep off on the right foot.
If you start with bedtime training, there are some tips to follow. Your child may be dependent on you laying with them to sleep, while you’ve hit a point of not wanting to lie down for the night at 7:30 pm. For your child’s bedtime routine, try to feed, cuddle and complete all of the steps either outside of the bed or while sitting up in bed with the lights on. Follow the steps of The Sleep Lady Shuffle and lay your child down for the night drowsy, but awake.
Dream Feeding While Co-Sleeping
If you want to go down to only one feeding a night while co-sleeping, Kim offers two options. First, you can do a dream feed when you come to bed. Wake them up, scoop them up, feed them then co-sleep the rest of the night. Or, you can wait until the first wake-up of the night to feed and then continue to co-sleep after that.
If your child wakes up before you come to bed and you think it’s too soon for a feeding, then just comfort them back to sleep without a feed. Kim assures that in 7-10 nights, things should get better. In about 3 nights, they should start to fall asleep even faster.
Early Rising While Co-Sleeping
While co-sleeping, you may encounter early rising. If your child is waking up before 6 am, comfort them (without feeding if you’re ready to night wean). If they wake up after 6 am, take that as your sign to wake up for the day. Don’t snuggle and feed them back to sleep. If needed, turn the lights on, open the shades and give your child an obvious sign that it’s time to start the day.
Multiple Night Waking While Co-Sleeping
If your child is feeding 4-5 times a night (with the exception of a purposeful dream feed) make sure you’re ready to begin weaning. Check with your pediatrician to make sure that’s ok. You can still offer a full dream feeding when you go to bed, but start to taper down other feedings. Reduce bottle ounces or breastfeeding time.
When you’re ready to wean and have already tapered off, don’t feed your child back to sleep after waking. Snuggle, pat, scratch, or comfort them back to sleep. You can slowly do less and less at each waking. Kim suggests using an “armor” bra – sleep with a tight-fitting sports bra and tight long sleeve so the breast is not available for you or your child.
More Help With Co-Sleeping
Kim can’t possibly cover everything she needs to when it comes to co-sleeping. For more help, head to her blog for additional articles, or grab her book for a whole chapter on co-sleeping.