Sleep Training & Co-Sleeping

by | Jul 23, 2019

Can You Sleep Train & Bed Share?

TLDR: No. You can’t.

Sorry to be so blunt, but that’s the straightforward answer. We can get into details, but for those of you who just wanted a “yes-or-no,” I thought I’d give it to you without a bunch of preamble.

I want to start by saying that I have plenty of friends and family members who choose to co-sleep and even swear by it. Some of them even have more than one kid sleeping in bed with them. Power to them! If you enjoy it and are doing it safely, I’m not here to stand in the way of how you choose to parent. I’ve also seen a lot of people on Facebook, Instagram, and the blogosphere, saying things like, “They’ll leave your room when they’re ready! Don’t rush them! This time is so short!” Again, if you’re happy with the arrangement you’ve got, I’m not here to change your approach. But I would like to point out that I’ve seen families with kids up to ten (!) years old who are still sleeping in their parents’ beds. Don’t assume that your little one will finish brushing his teeth one night and say, “Actually, I think I’ll go sleep on my own tonight.” Sleep habits die hard, especially with kids, so the day your child sleeps in their own bed and in their own room, is probably the day you tell them they have to.

That being said, I’ve spoken to more than a few parents who are co-sleeping advocates but are still waking up multiple times per night with feet in their face or thumbs in their eyes. They want to know if sleep training will get their little ones to stop squirming or waking up fifteen times a night to nurse. I really wish I had a more satisfying answer for those parents because I can completely sympathize with the desire to cuddle with your baby and keep them close 24/7. I understand wanting those two best-case-scenarios to live in harmony – to sleep next to your baby but not have them wake up (or wake you up) repeatedly throughout the night. That would be magical for sure.

Unfortunately, this fantasy is often just that: a fantasy.

Why Can’t I Do Both?

When I meet a new client who’s been bed sharing, they fall into one of three groups:

  1. Parents who have been reactively co-sleeping because their little one wouldn’t sleep any other way (These parents are looking to get their kids out of their bed!)
  2. Parents who have chosen to co-sleep but wish they all slept better.
  3. Parents who are co-sleeping and have no intention of stopping. It’s working for them! (These parents don’t need my help.)

For the those parents in group one who never planned on co-sleeping or have decided that the clock has run out on it, I use a variety of approaches which I customize based on baby’s personality, temperament, and established sleep habits. For those parents in group two, I’m happy to help, but only when they’re ready to move their child into his or her own bed.

I promise my rigidity on this issue is not because I’m not a dictatorial tyrant. In fact, the reason I don’t like to work with families who bed share is because I think it’s too confusing to the child.

In a bed sharing situation, baby usually has access to a breast whenever they want it which is almost always their sleep prop. After completing a sleep cycle or two during the night, they wake up and they instinctively go for the breast. Not necessarily because they’re hungry, but because that’s the only way they know how to get to sleep.

We adults do the same thing. (Well, obviously not the exact same thing otherwise your husband would be banished to the couch within a day.) But we have routines and strategies that we use to get to sleep when we wake in the night. They’re usually very brief and simple, like turning on our backs, taking a sip of water, flipping the pillow, or wrapping our blankets around us, but they’re sleep skills nonetheless – just like nursing.

So if you’re going to break that association between nursing and falling asleep – which 9 times out of 10 you have to do if you want your baby to sleep through the night without waking you up, then your baby is going to have to learn a new skill; one that doesn’t involve you. That’s not going to be easy when their favorite method of falling asleep is sitting right in front of their face.

If you’re determined to stay in close proximity to your baby when they’re sleeping, try using a sidecar or bringing a crib into your room. Room-sharing and sleep training can absolutely live in harmony but in my opinion, there’s just no good way to teach a baby how to find their own sleep strategies if they’re sleeping right next to their old (preferred) method.

Still Get Those Cuddles In!

If you’re wary about giving up those bedtime cuddles, I have a suggestion that has helped many of those that I’ve worked with. Set aside 15 or 20 minutes each morning – well after your kids are out of their own beds – and bring them into your bed. Cuddle them, sing with them, read books, wrestle, play…whatever the heart desires. This way everyone can enjoy the closeness and familial bond that comes with sharing a bed without sacrificing a good night’s sleep in the process.

So if you’ve been co-sleeping for quite a while and have decided that you’re ready to reclaim your bedroom but your little one has other ideas, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. I’ve worked with many families in this exact scenario with tremendous success, and I can help you get your bed back too!

If you’re exhausted, totally overwhelmed by your child’s sleep habits, or looking for answers to the sleep questions that keep you up at night (literally), then you’ve come to the right place. I’m Jamie, founder of Oh Baby Consulting, and my goal is to help your family get the sleep you need to not just survive, but thrive!