Dr. Sarah Mitchell
About Author

How to Stop Co-Sleeping With Your Baby .....If You Want To

No doubt you loved the moisture of their breath on your check, the weight of their arm on your body and the hours you've spent baby gazing. But now you find yourself in the position where you are googling how to stop co-sleeping.    

You’re not alone and it’s not uncommon that was working for you, just isn’t working for you anymore.  As one client said “It was working well for us, until it wasn’t,” and another client said “I used to love it but now I feel like it’s getting worse and he’s holding me captive.”   Being held captive in the middle of the night is a terrible feeling especially if you’ve been doing everything for everyone else all day long already!   You need some time for yourself.

Every parent has their own journey when it comes to their little one’s sleep, behavior and health.  There is no one way to raise your baby.  But if you’re starting to feel like the fractured night time sleep being kicked, or having to hold your arm in a certain position to suit your co-sleeping toddler’s preference… let’s talk.

In particular I work with many breastfeeding, co-sleeping toddlers with parents who have the best of intentions to comfort and protect their little one, but who end up wondering how did they “let this happen” and get into this situation where they are nursing multiple times a night, or rocking multiple times a night to get their baby back to sleep.

Why does co-sleeping not always work?

You’ve heard the glamour stories of other parents who swear by co-sleeping.  It helped decrease the night waking, made the family feel more attached and well rested.  And so you’re feeling guilty or like a failure that that isn’t your story.

Every now and then I co-sleep with my kiddos when their Dad is away or if their are going through something emotional. The truth - at their sweet ages of 6 and 8 they would LOVE to sleep with me every night.  But that just doesn't work for me or my husband. We also didn't do any co-sleeping between 4 months and 3 years of age. It was too hard for them to understand that they could co-sleep sometimes but now always and back then co-sleeping just didn't get us all enough sleep. After the age of 3 kids have more reasoning skills.

When my son was first born I did co sleep with him for a few weeks as it seemed to calm him. It worked… but only for a few weeks and then it spiraled out of control culminating on a night when I could hear him crying but couldn’t find him in the sea of sheets.  Panic hit… but was relieved when I found him in the bassinet beside the bed where I had sleepily put him on the last feed.  That was my turning point to make a change.  

Other parents wait until 14, 18 or even 22 months of age to make a change when things seem to peak during sleep regressions.  We all have different thresholds and different demands on us during the day.  The Mom working out of the home may feel guilty about the little time she has to spend with her baby and is willing to do whatever it takes at night.   The stay at home Mom may feel like she doesn’t have a choice or can’t imagine hearing her baby protest change.  We all have our own story.


Co sleeping doesn’t always work and there are a few reasons for this:

1.        Your baby or toddler’s temperament

Some kids are more flexible than others, and this starts at birth.  We know that the way we sleep is learned, and so overtime your child has learned to be nursed or rocked to sleep and so that’s what sleep looks like to them now.  Try and change that and the strong-willed baby will not be having any of it and protest.  In the toddler years your baby’s cries and opinions are increasingly powerful and alarming.   This will leave you feeling flustered and worried that you are doing something wrong or hurting your baby. Co-sleeping on its own might be working for you but the extra rocking and nursing might not be.

2.       Sleep Debt

Little ones who are waking multiple times a night to feed or be rocked back to sleep, have fractured night time sleep that is cutting into their overall sleep and leaving them tired when they wake up for the day.  Being overtired makes it harder to fall asleep and then stay asleep, keeping you and your baby in a vicious cycle of needing more help to fall asleep and waking up more frequently and needing help falling back asleep.

3. Feeding Habits

One factor to consider about why it’s hard to make changes to the co-sleeping breastfeeding toddlers sleep is feeding. At this point your child may have shifted some of his/her caloric intake into the night.  I frequently see kiddos who don't drink milk during the day or are picky eaters because of the milk in the night. This can make it hard for a parent to differentiate if this crying for milk is a true need or a want.

Mother nature did a great thing creating breasts that can calm and comfort your child.   But into the toddler years some feeds can be more for comfort than nutrition.  There’s nothing wrong with that except if you’re feeding on demand in the daytime and then trying to wean in the night.  That’s confusing for your little one.   It is so hard for your child to understand that she can nurse anytime during the day and at bedtime, but then not in the middle of the night.  You want your child to try and soothe herself back to sleep in the middle of the night for the first time?  That is rough time to introduce change.

What are the next steps?

I’ve worked with many breastfeeding, cosleeping toddlers who demonstrate outrage at the thought of being taken from the family bed.  There are ways of introducing change to your toddler to do things gradually and gently.  You don’t need to lose your s#@t one night and go cold turkey.  These kind of impulse moves set you and your child up to fail as you don’t have a roadmap to success and will likely change your mind half way through, making the next time even harder.

Here’s an article written by a 3rd time Mom who was breastfeeding and cosleeping and hired me when she woke up one day and just knew she couldn’t go on.  Can you really teach your baby to sleep?

Here are 3 simple things you can start working on today:

  1.  The timing of sleep - making sure your baby or toddler is getting to sleep at her recommended sleep window.  You can download my sleep summary by age with sleep windows and sleep quantity recommendations.
  2. Work on reducing the number of times you feed in the night by offering touch or rocking instead.
  3. Start introducing a transitional object such as a soft bunny (for babies older than 1) that your child can create a positive sleep association with. You can use this more when you are ready to wean off the nursing.

Yes, you can really teach your baby to sleep.  It's never too late to make a change. You need to educate yourself on how much sleep your baby needs based on her age, and when that sleep should happen.  Create a plan for yourself and figure out in what manner you will communicate change to your child and how you will handle the tears that will follow as your child protests change.

Your child is allowed to have her powerful emotions and it’s your job to acknowledge and show compassion for those emotions.  The hardest part is to be able to say yes, I hear you, I’m here for you and then sit there and not try to mute the emotions that are making you uncomfortable.  For many parents this is the first time they don’t do everything they can to distract, mute or appease their toddlers… but it won’t be the last time.

Parenting is hard! None of this is your fault.  There is hope.  Imagine waking up after a full night’s sleep feeling rested to the sound of your toddler happily playing in her crib.  This is possible for you.

If any of this resonates with you, you can check out how I work with parents in my Home or Virtual Consults.  You can book a 15 minute complimentary call  to discuss your situation, if we’re a good fit and how we might work together.

You can be loving, attached and well-rested.

Your child is one of the most important things in your life.  But don’t forget that you are an important person too.

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