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Aug 27 2014

Ask a Sleep Coach: How Do I Wean My Child Off of Co-Sleeping?

By at 8:34 pm

sleeping-toddler

Dear Batya,



My son is 28 months. My goal is to have him sleep in his own room, in his own lovely bed, to NOT wake up every two hours asking for milk, and to sleep through the night. I have literally been woken up every two hours for the last 28 months and I’m exhausted. 

Some background: I had a C-section that ruptured on the INSIDE (it was horrible) and was not diagnosed right away. As a result, I literally could not lie down and sleep in a bed and I was having a lot of trouble with my balance, so I slept in a recliner with the baby on my chest. I nursed on demand. At one month post-partum, my condition was finally recognized. At two months post-partum, I endured a long surgery to rebuild and fix my abdomen. When I came home from the hospital, I started to co-sleep (since I wasn’t that mobile). We put guardrails on the bed and removed pillows, etc. It was amazing. I was able to get a good night’s sleep, I was nursing on demand, baby was happy, etc.

My husband, however, feels that it has been two years and it’s time for Jacob to be in his own bed. I am really starting to wholeheartedly agree.

Right around Jacob’s 2nd birthday, he chipped a tooth while playing, it got infected, and needed to be extracted. Three different dentists told me it was my fault because I nursed and was causing him to have tooth decay. I immediately stopped night nursing. So for the past three months, I have been creating a relaxing nighttime routine (dinner, bath, cuddles in his room, nursing in his glider, brushing teeth), putting him into bed nearly asleep, rubbing his back or hand until he’s asleep, then sneaking out. 



Two hours later, he comes to my room, in tears, asking for “Mommy’s bed.” I take him back to bed (no rocking, no nursing), put him back into bed (sitting in a chair next to his bed) and sitting there and/or rubbing his hand or back until he falls asleep. And I do this ALL NIGHT LONG. By around 4 a.m., I’m exhausted so I bring him to my bed to nurse and sleep. Did I mention that I’m exhausted?

I’m sure this is my fault! I’m willing to fall on the sword. I just want to teach him good habits now.

Thanks,

Michon

***

Wow–sounds like you’ve had quite the run for your money with your health, his sleep, and life in general the past two years. All of your goals are completely realistic and you can most definitely tackle them to regain control of your sleep and your life. Before starting however, a few ideas to help you get on track:

1. Recharge Your Battery. Sounds like you are in some SERIOUS need of downtime, and if you start tackling Jacob’s sleep already with a low battery yourself, you will simply go straight to burn out…and fast! It doesn’t have to be luxurious (although that’s always a plus!), it doesn’t have to be for long, and it doesn’t have to be far away. Just go away for the day to the beach, out with a friend, a hotel for the night. Just make it something you will enjoy that will help you get to a good place of serenity…and Jacob isn’t allowed to come with you.

2. Take a Load Off. None of this is your fault. You have been an amazing mother, simply loving your child to pieces. You didn’t mess anything up, spoil him, or do anything wrong. You can definitely take positive steps to improve your sleep, but you have to first understand that the guilt you feel is only making you MORE tired and drained. Did he become dependent on nursing and sleeping in your bed? Yes. Does he wake up at night and you don’t have the energy for a power struggle at 3 a.m.? For sure! But you’re doing great and at the end of the day all that matters is that your delicious little boy feels loved and secure with you… which he most definitely does.

That being said, once you feel you have the proper headspace and energy to move forward with his sleep, I suggest doing the following:

1. Sufficient wind-down time. It’s crucial to allow his body time to get into an optimal state for sleep. At bedtime, make sure you incorporate calming activities even before you introduce his bedtime routine (dim the lights, less stimulation, etc.). This way he can allow his body to produce the various hormones that are secreted in winding down properly.

2. Be in charge. At bedtime and in the middle of the night, pick a “sleep station” for yourself (it can be a chair in his room, next to his bed, in the doorway, etc.). When he protests or gets up, firmly (and gently) place him back down in his bed and tell him you will remain with him until he falls asleep…and do stay there with him until he’s fully sleeping. As the nights progress, he will learn to expect a predictable, firm, and loving response from you (Mommy always comes and sits in that chair with me in the room) and he will stop fighting his bed so much. At that point you can progressively move yourself further away from him and out of his room every few nights until he is comfortable falling asleep/staying asleep without so much of your assistance.

3. Incentives! Positive reinforcement is the key to happy sleeping at this age, as punishments will only exacerbate any situation and make him fight sleep more. Buy some type of treat or something small that you don’t mind giving to him daily for a few weeks (until his new habits are well entrenched). It can be M&M’s, a small candy, etc. Show it to him before bed and explain to him how he’s so big and is now going to be sleeping in his own room and in his own bed. And, for staying in his bed at night he’s going to get this special treat every morning! Wow, he’s so big! Make a big show about it all with clapping and dancing. It will make him feel very positive about being his own room.

Good luck, and good night!

Do you have a sleep question for Batya? Send it into info@kveller.com with the subject line “Sleep Coach.”

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