Dr. Sarah Mitchell
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April 4, 2022

 How to Stop Co-Sleeping With Your Baby - Dr. Sarah Mitchell

I frequently deal with parents who are trying to stop co-sleeping and most of them started co-sleeping more out of desperation than any type of attachment parenting philosophy.

I personally come from attachment parenting philosophy -- I wanted to co-sleep, and baby wear, and feed on demand, and all that great stuff, but it just didn't work for our family. I found myself having to feed him back to sleep every couple of hours in the night, which is a very common situation for a lot of my co-sleeping parents.

Is Co Sleeping Good or Bad?

So, is co-sleeping a problem? If it works for you, it works for me. However, for many of the parents I work with, it's not so much the co-sleeping that's the challenge, it's the stuff that goes with the co-sleeping. For example, they co-sleep but then they have to wake up every couple of hours in the night to either feed their babies back to sleep, or rock them, or hug them, or just snuggle them in that much more. Which is lovely, except for when it happens every two hours, you and your child wake up feeling tired for the day because those frequent wake ups really impacts the quality of your nighttime sleep.

How to Stop Co-sleeping? (If You Want To!)

So how do you stop co-sleeping?  It goes back to the five pillars of the Helping Babies Sleep method. Let's walk through those one by one and give you a couple of action items to follow.

The first pillar is understanding that sleep really is a learned habit.

Most kiddos have some sort of a sleep crutch, something external they rely on to help make them drowsy and relax them into sleep. It could be co-sleeping, it could be feeding to sleep, it could be being rocked back to sleep, it could even be the pacifier. Sleep really is a learned habit, and yes, you're going to go through some frustration with your child when you change the way that they've known to fall asleep all these months, maybe even years.

The second pillar is timing of sleep.

A lot of the co-sleeping families that I work with, what we find, is that their bedtime is too late. And when your child is a little bit overtired, it's harder for them to settle and then stay asleep. Timing is very important.  

Action item number one is: focus on timing of sleep. Keeping your kiddo in those age appropriate awake windows, from the sleep cycles awake chart that you can download here, can help decrease your night wakings and your chance of 5AM wake ups.

The third pillar is intentional feeding.

Are you using the breast or the bottle for fuel, rather than to soothe? During the daytime, are you letting your child feed on demand anytime? Because then you can expect that they'll want to do that, or expect to do that, in the middle of the night. So are you an intentional feeder? 

With some toddlers, kids who have a little bit more cognitive capacity, we actually set a timer on mom's phone as to when feeding time is happening. That makes it a third party -- I know it sounds totally unnatural, yes, and I get that – but if you need some action items, this is something that can help you.

Putting kids on feeding window eliminates what I call the "snacking cycle": when your child is allowed to nurse or even bottle feed every couple of hours during the day, they're going to do that in the night because it's hard to get all of their caloric intake in during the day with such small feeds. They're actually not really very hungry when they go to eat, they are snackers. 

Action Step number two: start consolidating your feeds if you're feeding a lot in the night or the day time, trying to make them longer and less frequent. 

The fourth pillar of the Helping Babies Sleep Method is messaging and being consistent. 

If sometimes your baby is waking up and you're putting the pacifier back in, sometimes you're rocking, sometimes you're, feeding... that's going to give different messages about how sleep happens. So when you're finally ready to really work on this, how can you make it as easy for your child to learn as possible by being really consistent and delivering the same message about sleep? That essentially is getting you into the sleep teaching. 

The fifth pillar of the Helping Babies Sleep Method is responding -- either acknowledging or attending.

So, if I take away that known way of falling asleep, how do I offer comfort to the tears of frustration that are for sure going to come? There are different approaches to doing so. This is what most people think of when they think of sleep training, how do I respond? Do I put them in the crib? Do I sit by the crib? Do I leave the room? Am I coming over intermittently? 

I'll give you one quick case study, a family that I worked with, with a nine month old that nursed frequently through the nighttime and was used to a lot of  physical attention. So we put a crib at the end of the bed because we decided that trying not to nurse her but keeping her in the bed was going to be too hard for her. Not enough differentiated change in environment to communicate changes. It would be too tempting to be so close to momma and not be able to nurse, and being in that same environment that she has been in for so many months now. So we put her in the crib at the end of the bed and had a parent lie beside her on the floor, offering her comfort with touch and verbal reassurance, with voice, through the crib slats. And she did really, really well. She was sleeping through the night in the crib within a week.

Looking for some more simple tips?  Take our simple 6 question sleep quiz to help you with 1 no tear action you can take tonight.

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