Whether you’re a mama who intentionally planned on co-sleeping or you ended up there by accident, there comes a time for many families when co-sleeping just isn’t working anymore and you’re ready to stop. It’s time to move that baby out of your bed and into their crib….But the problem….you have absolutely NO idea HOW to do it! You feel stuck and are maybe even feeling resentful or hopeless. What started out as a way to get MORE sleep has now ended with an older baby or toddler who is glued to you all night long, preventing you from getting any sleep! Maybe you’re trapped for naps or are having to go to bed when your kiddo goes to bed because they need you in that bed to sleep. The problem is, how do you start? You know your sweet baby isn’t going to just happily start sleeping in their crib one night simply because YOU’RE ready.
NEVER fear! There IS a way out and it doesn’t involve doing anything cold turkey! This can be done gradually at a pace that feels comfortable to both you and your baby or toddler.
Here’s a general framework for how to start baby stepping towards getting that kiddo into their own crib with a minimal amount of resistance. This is ONE way of doing it and can be done more slowly or more quickly depending on your individual baby or toddler and their temperament. There are several different variations and tweaks that can be made along the way but this should at least get you moving in the right direction and give you an understanding of how this process can play out.
BABY STEP 1- Move yourself and your baby into the nursery.
We need to familiarize your baby with this new sleep space and the easiest way to do this is to move BOTH of you to the nursery. Set up a mattress on the floor and say HELLO to your new sleep space (for a while) You will now be co-sleeping in the nursery instead of in the master bedroom. Your husband can now move back into your bedroom! YEESSSS!
BABY STEP 2- If your baby is used to nursing to sleep in the bed, you are now going to nurse your baby in a chair in the nursery at the start of the bedtime routine but not as a means to go to sleep.
Yes, I know this step feels scary! But trust me your baby CAN do this! Once your baby is relaxed but NOT asleep you are going to move both of you to the bed and utilize another way of soothing your baby or toddler all the way to sleep. (patting, shushing, singing, etc) The first time you do this, yes your baby or toddler may begin to fuss or protest as this will feel unfamiliar, but at this point, you will know that they have been fed and that all of their needs are met. Continue to utilize the nonpreferred soothing method calmly and confidently as you lay next to them until they are asleep. Your calm energy will help them to co-regulate and know that the protesting will stop and they WILL fall asleep. Stay the course, even if this takes a while. (and it may on night one) Once they fall asleep you can continue your normal routine with them but begin the process of trying to move your body away from them while sleeping. Do this as much as possible throughout the night with the END goal being that you’re sleeping on one side of the bed while they sleep on the other. You can also put a pillow between you as a means of having some sort of barrier. Do this as slowly or quickly as your baby can tolerate it. This step can take 1-3 weeks and it depends on your baby’s tolerance for this change along with your ability to cope with the process. The goal is to help your baby become familiar with sleeping in their own sleep space on the mattress.
Note: Once you have nursed them in the chair at bedtime or nap time, you need to hold the boundary and not nurse them to sleep once in bed. In the beginning this will feel hard, but it gets easier quickly as your baby develops familiarity with going to sleep in a different way. The nonpreferred soothing method will begin to feel familiar and they will accept it into their pre-sleep routine.
Each time they wake at night, use the non-preferred soothing method ( shushing, patting, singing, etc) rather than nursing or feeding them back to sleep.
BABY STEP 3- If your baby has been used to nursing all night long and is over 6 months old then you need to set a benchmark of when you’re going to allow nursing in the night.
My suggestion would be to nurse once or twice at the most to begin with, with a benchmark set at the 7/8 hour mark from bedtime feed. For every waking before that benchmark, you will offer the non-preferred soothing method. Once it’s time to feed you will nurse or feed in the chair in the nursery. By doing this it will help to disassociate feeding while being on the mattress. You will also not feed to sleep in the middle of the night but will feed and then pull the baby off before he falls asleep and utilize the nonpreferred method to go to sleep on the mattress. Any protesting will be short-lived as long as you are calm and you hold the boundary consistently. Your baby or toddler will begin to learn that there is a new way of sleeping and eating during the night and will begin to accept the new methods as long as you’re consistent.
Note: If your baby is older than 6 months and you’re ready to night wean, one way to do this is to start decreasing the amount of time that you nurse, or the ounces in the bottle. Your baby will naturally pick up those calories in their daytime feeds and this will sustain longer stretches of sleep at night.
Another great option, if dad is willing to help, is to have dad sleep with baby until it’s time to nurse. This can be very helpful as the baby won’t be as frustrated as when mom is there but won’t nurse. For some babies at this stage, this makes things easier and for some it would cause a total meltdown. You decide what’s best for your child at this point.
BABY STEP 4- Happy Crib TIme.
This can be done simultaneously as Baby Steps 1 and 2. You are going to use your baby’s wake times to familiarize him with the crib if he is not used to being in his crib at all. You can put a toy or two in the crib and stay in the room with your baby at first. You can play peek-a-boo or talk to your baby in the crib. Do this when your baby is at their best during the daytime. You are simply trying to get your baby familiar with the inside of the crib. If your baby cries then try to sing or offer some way to distract them. If they continue, then pop them out and then pop them back in once they are settled. Make it a positive, fun experience, and do this several times per day. Also, play in the nursery with them to familiarize them with being in the nursery at other times besides sleep times.
Note: If your baby is familiar with the inside of the crib because he’s been doing naps in the crib or starting the night out in the crib then this whole process can be done in the crib instead of a mattress on the floor. At this point, you just have to stop pulling him into your bed in the middle of the night and be 100% consistent. There will be an extinction burst but know that the more consistent you can be the quicker you will get through the initial discomfort that comes with changing their sleeping routine.
BABY STEP 5- You are going to work this plan until your baby is going down in the bed easily being patted/soothed to sleep and is content to sleep in the bed, but not be right next to you.
Depending on the age of your baby and your desire to drop the night feed you can replace your presence in the bed with your spouse and let him take over for a few nights until your baby has dropped the night feed and is now sleeping all night on the floor mattress without eating. Your spouse will utilize the nonpreferred soothing method to soothe your baby to sleep for any wake-ups. Over the course of time, the nonpreferred soothing method will become the normal way for your baby to go to sleep. Once your baby has accepted this new way of going to sleep you can begin to wean him off of needing to be patted/shushed by doing it less and less each night. You will then find that your baby needs nothing from you other than to be fed/cuddled before bed and laid down to sleep. If your baby is 12 months or older you can also introduce a lovey for sleep times. Using an attachment object can be VERY helpful as you’re transitioning your baby towards independent sleep.
Pro Tip- Sleep with the lovey for a night or two so it smells like you! Or use a soft t-shirt that hasn’t been washed. Babies love the smell of their mama and this can offer a wonderful way to offer calm and comfort to a baby as they’re learning how to sleep more independently.
BABY STEP 6- At this point, your baby is now ready to be moved to their crib.
They should be sleeping independently on the mattress. (At this point you may have even moved yourself out of the room after your baby has gone to sleep for the night and only retuned if your baby needs soothing) Moving forward, you are going to do the exact same routine but you will now be using the crib instead of the floor mattress. You can choose to lay on the floor mattress initially and sleep in the nursery if you wish. However, If your baby or toddler is older and your presence in the room is making things worse, then leaving the room may be the best option. If you need to go in to soothe your baby you will simply be doing this crib side. At this point, your baby should be used to being soothed with other methods and be much more accepting of it. The only thing that is new at this point is sleeping in the crib and you will have successfully weaned him off of being nursed in the bed and needing to be next to you all night long.
If you’ve successfully made it to this step always remember to PAUSE before going in to soothe. All babies (and adults!) come to partial awakenings during the night. Rushing in too quickly can cause more of a wake up than if you had just waited. Trust me, many times parents are completely surprised to see that their baby will settle back down to sleep after only a few short minutes.
BABY STEP 7- Continue to be consistent and work on independent sleep.
Utilize your spouse or partner as necessary to make things easier on baby. Know that consistency and a calm, confident spirit are going to make things easier for everyone. Give your baby 3 days/nights to adjust to sleeping in the crib and know that as time goes on your baby will come to love his crib and enjoy sleeping in it! Each day should get easier as your baby is learning that this is his new sleep space.
As always make sure that your baby’s wake windows are considered for all sleep times (we want to make sure to avoid over-tiredness). Many co-sleeping babies end up going to bed WAY too late because if baby won’t sleep without mom in the bed and mama can’t leave once baby is asleep, well…You see the problem. An early bedtime somewhere between 6:30-7:45 is likely going to go a LONG way in helping baby to go to sleep more easily. (Most babies and toddlers are hardwired for a bedtime between 6-8pm). Also, remember to keep the sleeping environment VERY dark and use your white noise machine for ALL sleep times. If you’re not sure what your baby’s wake window should be, here’s a chart for quick reference!
So there it is! Your framework for stopping co-sleeping and moving towards independent sleep in the crib! Obviously, there are MANY variables such as temperament, age of baby, how long co-sleeping has been happening, nursing or bottle feeding, etc. that affect this process. If this post only created MORE questions for you, or you’re feeling overwhelmed at the thought of doing this without support, then please reach out and I can offer you some individual help on your specific baby and situation. You don’t have to be stuck in the land of co-sleeping if you don’t want to be! I’m here to help you get unstuck!