Getting enough sleep is essential for every member of the family. For some families that means having children sleep in a separate room, while others get more sleep if they roomshare or bedshare with their children. Rather than taking sides about which is best, let's put aside the cosleeping debate for just a moment and talk about the things that are important no matter where your children sleep.
Whether you cosleep or not, you can establish routines that work to the benefit of the whole family, whether it is moving the baby from one bed to another, or simply changing the amount of soothing you do in the night.
1. Project Calm Confidence - The most important factor in helping children sleep successfully is the caregiver's attitude. If the parent is relaxed and confident that the child can fall asleep, stay asleep, or fall back to sleep, the child is far more likely to be able to do so. The first step is believing your child can do it. Children are really good at picking up on our beliefs about their abilities, even if we try to hide them. Read up about sleep and so you know what is and isn’t realistic for your child’s developmental stage. Even if the transition period is difficult, shifting towards independent sleep nearly always results in more sleep for both parent and child. This improves everyone’s focus, attention, and ability to empathize with each other.
2. Talk About Changes - If you decide to make a change in any routine, it is helpful to talk about it with the child first. Children accept even difficult changes more readily if they have had time to prepare themselves for it. When you talk about it, make sure to reflect and accept your child's feelings, while still maintaining your attitude of calm confidence. "Tonight if you wake up, I will hold you and sing to you. We won't do any nursing until morning, because I want you to have more time to sleep." Talking through changes is helpful even for young babies who aren’t yet able to understand your language. They probably understand more than you think they do, but even if all they hear is the tone of your voice, this can set the tone for learning the new routine. It also gives you a chance to verbally rehearse your plan and practice feeling calm and confident about the change.
3. Stick With It - Keep a new routine consistent for at least a week before trying a new adaptation or giving up. Children, especially toddlers, can take time to get used to a new routine, even when they have warning. The protest you may hear those first few nights does not mean the new routine is a bad one. It is just the baby's way of telling you, "Change is hard!" You can empathize with that feeling. Offer simple, confident explanations: "I hear you really miss nursing when you wake up at night. I will listen, and soon you will be ready to sleep."
4. Leave Room for Readiness - Over time, continue to evaluate the amount of assistance you are giving to help your child fall asleep. Babies change very quickly, and the amount of help your baby needed two months ago is probably overkill now. Continue giving enough help to avoid unacceptable stress, but not so much that your child has no opportunity to improve their own skills. If you take this approach and reduce your role in the infant's sleep gradually over time, just a bit each day, you may not need to make difficult transitions at all. Even night weaning can be done a little at a time once the child is old enough, by slowly reducing the amount in the bottle or the amount of time you offer the breast.
These strategies can be employed no matter where your baby sleeps and will hopefully help you move towards the goal the whole family shares...a sound night's sleep!