Sleeping arrangements for families with small children are incredibly varied. I know people who use separate nurseries with baby in the crib from the start, to friends that have family beds with parents and kids all piled in together. For us, co-sleeping with just our babies has been a sanity-saver.
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Safe co-sleeping has allowed us to foster wonderful nursing relationships, get almost full nights of rest even with newborns, and to ecologically breastfeed. Plus, as famous sleep expert Dr. Sears explains here, co-sleeping can actually reduce the risk of SIDS. The combination of all of these factors made co-sleeping the right choice for our family.
However, we don’t prefer to have more than one child in the bed with us. When I found out that I was pregnant with Zelie, I knew I wanted to gently and slowly transition Philomena into her own bed, and eventually into her own room. I wanted this to happen in advance of baby’s arrival so that Philomena wouldn’t feel like Zelie just came in and kicked her out.
It Worked Until it Didn’t
I had nursing aversions my whole pregnancy with Zelie – it really hurt to have Philomena suck. Eventually I just couldn’t sleep at night when she was nursing.
It was also around this time that she went from sleeping completely soundly to constantly waking with every toss and turn Ethan or I made in the night. This meant painful night nursing every hour sometimes.
The co-sleeping arrangement that had formerly worked amazingly for our family just didn’t anymore, and no one was rested by sunrise.
When Philomena was about 18 months old, and I was about 2 months pregnant, we explained to her that we weren’t going to fall asleep nursing anymore.
We are not comfortable with cry it out, so Ethan took over at night so she wouldnt be alone. Daddy would comfort her as much as she needed, but we were all done nursing in bed until the sun came up. I actually went and slept in the other room for the first few nights so that she wasn’t constantly seeing the person she wanted to nurse. Let me tell you….
She. Was. Mad.
I got it, she was used to this comfort and it was really hard. But she had Ethan there to help her make this big change.
That first night she cried in his arms for about an hour then went to sleep. She woke again at 1 in the morning and cried another hour. He patiently held her and comforted her, reassuring her that everything was okay, and she would be able to nurse mommy when the sun came up.
The second night she cried maybe 20 minutes with daddy before going to sleep, and she didn’t cry during any night wakings – she could now be comforted back to sleep with rubbing her back or her hand.
That was it for the night crying. Within the week she was going to sleep just laying there with daddy or I rubbing her back for a while. She still wanted early morning nursing, but I could handle that way easier than the all-night-long nursing from before.
Toddler Bed Transition
A month after Philomena was night weaned, we bought a toddler bed for her and put it right next to ours. We explained to her that she was moving into a bed just for her, and she was so excited to try it out.
The first few nights I needed to put her back in the bed in the middle of the night when she would crawl into ours. She would get really upset, but I reassured her I was right there and would dangle my arm over the side of our bed and rub her back or hold her hand.
Once she got used to her own bed, she slept soooo much better not being disturbed by our movements in the big bed.
One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
I won’t say we were perfectly consistent with all of these transitions, because we weren’t. Sometimes I was so exhausted from pregnancy I would let her back into our bed at 11 at night. When we were visiting family at Christmas I fell back into the night nursing because she was having a hard time in a different place.
We tried to work with where we were in the moment, overall consistent, but sometimes needing to accept the two steps back and move forward.
Her Own Room
After about 2 months of Philomena consistently sleeping in her own toddler bed in our room, we moved her to the her own room. We expected this to be hard for her, but she shocked us. She was so incredibly excited to sleep in the same room as our big Our Lady of Guadalupe and Divine Mercy images that it was never an issue – she simply called it her “Jesus and Mary” room and was happy from the first night. (I consider this a great blessing!)
We bought this simple Vtech monitor here on Amazon and could hear her really well from our room. (I love this basic model because even with the volume turned up all of the way, there isn’t any static, yet it is so sensitive you can hear right when your child is waking up.) This really helped me adjust to her being in the other room, knowing I could always hear her.
Transitioning to another room turned out to be especially helpful, because Zelie had a few hard nights in her first two weeks of life. She had her days and nights mixed up a few times, and some upset tummy issues. Had Philomena been in our room there is just no way she could have slept through those nights of us caring for a newborn adjusting to the world.
Finally, we were all getting rest again.
The last transition we needed to make was from Philomena nursing when she first woke up. I didn’t get this done before Zelie arrived – I was just so tired in the early morning during those last weeks of pregnancy.
We soon ran into an issue once Zelie was born where she was often nursing me in bed when Philomena woke up, and there were many tears and meltdowns if she couldn’t nurse first thing.
For this process we told her she could nurse after breakfast each day, and for now have a little bottle of kombucha. We would have her special drink ready the night before, and she got to come cuddle with us in to the big bed with her treat to help her wake up and get out of that awful groggy mode.
Like any other tough change, she struggled for a few days but after a week or two hit her stride with our new normal.
I know every child is different, and we may find what worked for Philomena doesn’t work for other children. I do, however feel like this basic model will probably suit our family well in the future, and am glad we could gently transition Philomena when the time was right.