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Jan 22 2014

Ask a Sleep Coach: Stuck Between Co-Sleeping and No Sleeping

By at 3:54 pm

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Anyone with kids knows that getting them to sleep is no easy feat. Luckily, there are people who specialize in these things, like Israeli sleep coach Batya Sherizen. Below she takes on a question from a Kveller reader, Kair. Do you have a sleep question for Batya? Send them into info@kveller.com with the subject line “Sleep coach.”

Dear Batya,

My husband and I are struggling through each night and I am hoping that you might be able to help with my 22-month-old’s sleep.

I work full time, so when it came down to choosing how we would spend our nights with our daughter, we chose co-sleeping. I was pumping during the day, and nursing at night not only allowed us to keep up our breastfeeding relationship, but also allowed us some time to be together, and feel close, because we didn’t have that during the day.

Traditionally our night routine involves us putting on pajamas, reading a story or two, and then snuggling up in the rocking chair and nursing to sleep. Once our daughter Lucy is sleeping, I transfer her to her crib with relative ease. When she wakes up–no matter what time that is –she comes into bed with us. That could be 9:30 p.m. or 3:30 a.m.; as soon as she calls for us, she joins us for the rest of the evening.

None of us are sleeping well in this situation (except my husband, of course–he can sleep through anything). Lucy is nursing on and off throughout the night, and I am awake trying to coax her back to sleep so we can get some rest before our 6 a.m. wake up every morning.

Our pediatrician says that if we want to get her sleeping in her own bed, we need to set a time (let’s say 6 a.m.) and not go in her room before that–even if it means she cries and cries for hours. I am hesitant to use this approach (it’s very difficult to hear her cry like that), but we also live with my parents and that makes it hard for other people in the house as well. Lucy’s doctor said it could be hours a night, for a week or more, until she learns.

I have tried to explain to her that we don’t get out of bed until the sun comes up, but our wake up time (now that it’s winter) means that we get up before the sun–so I’m certain that it’s confusing for her not to have that as a marker to gauge the time–who can really tell the difference between the dark at 3 a.m., and the dark at 5:45 a.m.?

So I am reaching out to you for help. Should we just let her cry? Do we visit her every minute, or few minutes, to let her know that she is safe but can’t take her in bed with us? (Certainly that would make her furious!) I can’t really reason with her, or use incentives because she is still quite young…

We’re desperate for some advice and would appreciate anything at all that you have to offer.

Thank you so much.

Warmly,

Kait

Response from Batya:

It is so tough to feel torn. Torn between wanting to sleep with her and snuggle up all night vs. feeling like you’re not functioning and that you have no other option but to let her cry alone.

Although your doctor recommended leaving her to scream, it doesn’t sound like you are comfortable with that–and that means you shouldn’t do it! A mother should never feel forced to do something that makes her uncomfortable, especially when it involves our children and their best interest.

That being said, you’re basically outlining two extreme philosophies here: Cry-it-out completely for hours at a time without responding to her vs. continuing to nurse her all night–upholding your identity as a human pacifier (just kidding!). Neither of these may be appealing to you, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a middle ground.

If your goal is to have her sleep in a crib, you first need to decide where you want that crib to be. If your ideal goal is to have Lucy sleeping in another room, then it’s best to start by having her crib in another room from the get-go. At her age she needs a consistent environment for sleep in order for her to gain a clear, secure understanding of her surroundings and where she will be sleeping.

Next, you want to begin incorporating a calm, relaxed wind-down routine before bed. Ideas like a bath, pajamas, story, etc. Make sure you spend enough time helping Lucy get calm and relaxed before bed. The last thing to do is to nurse her like you normally do, but don’t let her fall asleep nursing.

Instead, try placing her in the crib–awake. Yes, she will protest, yes she will be frustrated, but you will remain there with her. Sing to her, stroke her head, rub her back and do whatever you can to make sure she feels secure and loved WITHOUT taking her out of the crib.

Doing this will accomplish a few things:

1. You don’t have to compromise your own parenting philosophy to leave her screaming for hours on end alone while you cry YOURSELF to sleep in another room.

2. You can help ease the transition for her intense personality so that way she can slowly adjust to her crib WITH your help.

3. You’ll know she feels emotionally secure because you are with her, helping her slowly along the way to crib sleeping.

As the nights progress she will get more and more comfortable falling asleep and remaining asleep in her crib. Based on her response and your own comfort level you can begin helping her less and less until she is a champion crib sleeper!

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