Leaving a Co-Sleeping Baby Alone in Bed

Written by NPN Mentors on April 6th, 2015

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Leaving a Co-Sleeping Baby Alone in Bed at Natural Parents Network

An NPN reader asks our natural parenting mentors:

We have been co-sleeping with our son since birth. He is eight months old today! We love co-sleeping and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I breastfeed exclusively and have started, with limited success, on solid foods.

My question is regarding how to start the evening with a co-sleeping baby. My son likes to go to bed at around 7:00 pm, which means that I also hop into bed around the same time. We are coping fine with it but I would like to have some adult time with my husband before heading to bed. I’d be happy to go to bed around 9:00 pm. I’ve looked at various ways to keep him safe in bed but he is so active that I think he’ll still roll out.

During the day he used to nap in a hammock, but he is now too big for that. I tried his crib for naps (which up until now we haven’t used at all) but he hates it! We are using some Montessori principles so I have tried putting the crib mattress on the floor as a floor bed. It has been fairly successful. Otherwise, I spend most naps lying with him on our bed.

I am searching for a solution to naps and bed time. I am wondering if it would work to get a twin or double futon and put it on the floor in baby’s room for naps and at night. I could nurse him to sleep in the evening and then transfer him to bed with us an hour or two later. Does this sound like a reasonable option?

Also, is nursing to sleep something I should try to stop? I feel like it is a very natural thing to do. I would like my husband to be able to put him to sleep, but maybe that will come when solid foods are more routine?

Any advice is much appreciated! It’s hard to find moms who admit to co-sleeping with whom to discuss these issues!

Here’s what our natural parenting mentors had to say:

Amy of Presence Parenting: It sounds like you are mostly enjoying your co-sleeping experience and just have a couple of practical questions you’d like addressed. I’m glad you asked because I’m sure you’re not the only one, and the more we talk about such things, the more we can change the taboo nature of them in our world.

From what I’m gathering, you’d like some time with your husband after your son goes to sleep, and you want your son to be safe when he’s sleeping without you. There are several ways to do this, and you’ve highlighted the very practical solution of putting a mattress on the floor. As long as the room he’s in is safe, meaning he can’t roll or eventually climb to get into something dangerous, be wedged somewhere, or have something fall on him, then this option works well. Cribs are generally used to contain a child and prevent them from accessing a potentially unsafe environment (the room around them), so if you make the room he’s sleeping in safe and supervised with your (nearby) presence or a monitor when you’re out of the room, you are maintaining the safety necessary for your son.

Some ways to make sure a bedroom is safe for a soon-to-be crawling and climbing baby include: removing or putting up anything baby can wrap or tangle himself in (i.e. fluffy clothes, scarves, blankets, belts, etc.), closing closet doors, addressing electrical outlets with outlet covers, making sure any blind cords are safely tied up with appropriate hardware or cord wrapping solutions designed to keep babies safe, securing dressers and shelves to the wall, removing heavy, sharp or dangerous items on dressers and in shelves, removing potentially dangerous substances such as lotions and perfumes that baby might ingest when curiosity strikes, and noting any areas baby could get trapped in if he rolls or crawls around so you can block those areas and check on him frequently.

One way to help yourself determine what needs to be addressed in a particular room is to get down and crawl around. What looks interesting as you look up? What might you want to pull on that would fall on your head if you did? See the world from baby’s point of view and remove anything that might be harmful if played with or explored by baby. When you’re around, you can help him learn to navigate these dangers a bit, but when he’s alone he needs the room to be safe. Also, we’ve found it’s helpful to add in some baby items such as small baskets of safe toys or board books so that he can entertain himself if he wakes up before you realize.

Nursing to sleep works for some families; however, if you find yourself wanting Dad to be able to put him down as well, you can experiment with other approaches to sleep. When I was pregnant with our fifth child, we weaned my then-16-month-old daughter from nursing to sleep, largely because I was exhausted and my nipples were sore. She still nursed during the day, but her father and I gently encouraged her to learn to fall asleep without nursing. I found it to be a bit difficult in the beginning because she cried a lot, but in the long run it has worked out really well because when she’s tired she will go get in bed, curl up, and go to sleep. Sometimes she will lay there for a while and she seems calm, content, and able to find her way into rest on her own.

Initially, we would set the scene for rest with a simple routine: snack, tooth brushing, reading books, and low lights. At a certain point we’d turn out lights and all lay in bed to rest. I talked with her about nursing again when the sun comes up and told her that if she’s thirsty she can have water. I also empathized with her sadness about not nursing to sleep. I said things like, “I hear you feel sad about not nursing. You really want to nurse right now. Nursing has been so much a part of going to sleep, and this is different. It’s different for me too and I’m here to hold you and love you, even if you’re sad or mad.” This helped us both work through the frustration. Sometimes I would cry with her or I’d need a few moments to myself if she was really resistant, and Dad would rest with her during those moments. Eventually, though, it worked into a really beautiful experience of us going to bed together without nursing, and she’s now almost three and a half and still sleeps sidecar to our bed. (When we weaned, my husband created a toddler bed that stands right next to an adult bed for closeness, and she loves her bed.)

Everyone’s experience with nursing and sleeping is unique. What’s most important is that you find an approach that works for you and your family. Here are some additional resources that may assist you in exploring your options: KellyMom on Night Weaning, Dr. Jay Gordon on Sleep and Changing Patterns In The Family Bed, Dr. Sears on Night Weaning: 12 Alternatives to the All-Night Nurser, and Dr. Aletha Solter on The Crying-in-arms Approach for Helping Babies Sleep Through the Night.

Ariadne of Positive Parenting Connection: Co-sleeping has many benefits and it’s great that you are looking into ways to keep it safe now that your little one is becoming more mobile. A floor bed in a room that is furnished in a safe manner is a great option to avoid rolling off an elevated surface. Just remember to clean under the bed often and keep the floor free of any small parts the child might find.

The floor bed offers both proximity and safety. If you wish to co-sleep once you are ready to go to bed yourself, you could always transfer your little one to be next to you (keeping safe co-sleeping practices in mind). This split schedule is likely to bring you a few hours to yourself to recharge and enjoy the evening while still giving you both a chance to enjoy the many benefits of co-sleeping. This always worked well for my children; now they happily go to sleep in their own beds each night but visit each morning to start the day.

As for nursing to sleep, my experience is that it can be a soothing and very bonding experience. My three children were nursed to sleep and it wasn’t a difficult habit to break but rather something we transitioned away from, one around 11 months by his own choice, another by 15 months, and the last by 16 months. If it feels like a problem or something you dislike, it’s okay to not do it and to find other gentle ways to soothe to sleep. If you enjoy it and it’s not an issue, it’s really not something to worry about. As children grow with a safe and loving sleep routine, even if it needs to be changed later for whatever reason, they have already learned that you are a source of security and love so they will trust your lead and follow your cues to establish that new sleep routine when the time is right. There are so many ways dad’s can bond with baby too, and even establish their own sleep routine if needed, so just encouraging time together between dad and baby is enough. There is no need to change what you are doing if it feels right.

Shannon of The Artful Mama: First, let me say, great job trying to do what is best for your family and trying to balance everyone’s needs in this situation. I’ve been in this situation as well. I have found a few solutions with each of my children that worked for that child in that time, but may not have worked for the other child or at a different stage of development. It is a learning process and one that evolves with your child.

The first option I tried was to put bed rails on my shared bed so that my child was free to roll around without falling out. Once I was in bed and I knew that I would be there if they moved around, I could put the rails down so my partner and I could easily get out of bed and not have to shimmy ourselves to the end of the bed. This may not be a safe option if your child does not know how to get off the bed themselves and would think about pushing or standing using this rail system. If your child can get down or you have a baby monitor installed so you know when they wake and come in to get them, this can still be an option.

Another option was to use a toddler bed with a rail. I would put my child to sleep in there first and then could leave. Once the child woke at night, then I would bring the child to bed. When we started transitioning out of the family bed, I would put them back to sleep in their space. This could also work with the floor bed that you mentioned.

The other option which has worked for us is to teach our children how to get off a bed without our assistance. It was something we practiced once they started to crawl. We started with the couch and then moved to the bed. We would bring them to the edge of the bed and show them with guidance and support how to go belly down, feet first, while gripping the bed. When they were first learning this skill, we placed a lot of pillows on the floor around our bed. Once they were taller, we were able to take the pillows back to the couches during nap time.

Another possibility is to bring the crib into your room and secure it to the side of the bed with one side removed. You could also try putting your mattress on the floor. The main thing is to find what works for your family and to trust your instincts.


Photo Credits

Aneta Blaszczyk

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