Before I start this blog I want to point out the difference between bedsharing and cosleeping:
Bedsharing = Sharing a bed with your child
Cosleeping = Sharing a room (but not necessarily bed) with your child.
This article is actually about moving on from bedsharing, but for SEO purposes I’ve included cosleeping in the title as many still refer to bedsharing as cosleeping.
So, for one reason or another you are thinking about moving on from bedsharing. One of the questions I’m most commonly asked is “when do children grow out of the need to sleep with somebody?”, or in other words – when do children naturally outgrow bedsharing? They all do of course, I have never heard of a teenager who still sleeps in the same bed as their parents. The answer however is commonly one that is not very popular. Most children will naturally want to stop bedsharing at some point between three and seven years of age.
My own daughter stopped bedsharing, entirely of her own accord, when she was four. You can read our story HERE
I can understand why some people may not to wait that long though, but if you are not totally child led is there a way to stop bedsharing that is gentle? I think there is and this is how I would do it.
1. Night wean first.
If you are still feeding your child at night (particularly if you breastfeed) I would not consider stopping bedsharing until they are night weaned. if you do you are likely to experience lots of disturbance at night and your child has two big things to handle at once, which I don’t believe is fair. I also believe it is gentler to night wean while your child still has the close proximity of you for reassurance. For my nightweaning advice see HERE.
2. Introduce other comfort cues.
Your child will need things in his or her own room to help them to feel secure in your absence. Think about conditioning a certain smell, a certain light, a certain blanket, a certain story book, certain music (for my suggestions see HERE) for AT LEAST six weeks while you are still bedsharing. The aim here is that these all make the child feel secure and remind them of you, even when you’re not there.
3. Get the child used to their own room
You can do this point at the same time as number two. You should set your child’s bedroom up at least two months before you plan to stop bedsharing. Ideally they will have a big say in the decor. You should play in their bedroom with them as much as possible every single day, ideally for at least half an hour. They need to view their bedroom as a really happy and positive place to be.
4. Ditch the idea of a cot or crib
In my experience babies and toddler who have previously bedshared will very rarely ever be happy to sleep in a cot or a crib. I would go so far as to say most babies dislike cots and cribs, but those who have bedshared seem to have a special hatred of them. Save your time and your energy and don’t try to get them to sleep in one. Instead my top tip is to go straight for a floor bed. A floor bed is simply a mattress on the floor. You could use the one from your cot or crib, or you could use a single bed mattress. I would suggest you don’t go bigger than a single mattress however as the extra space can be a little overwhelming for babies and make them feel less ‘cosy’ and secure. You may want to use something underneath the mattress for air flow, such as a trundle bed base or bed slats (you can buy these easily online, they are often called ‘replacement bed slats’ and tend to come held together by two lines of thick tape). Of course you need to make sure the bedroom is as ‘child friendly’ as possible and posing no threats to safety (secure furniture and blind cords etc..and for under 12 months stick with sleeping bags, not duvets). The beauty of a floor bed is it allows you to still cuddle the child to sleep and then gently roll away, without trying to put them down (which invariably wakes them). Here are some floor bed examples (photos courtesy of Kirstie Lucas, Amy Jones, Lucy and Lee):
5. Room in.
This builds on point four. For the first two weeks of your child being in their own bedroom you should ‘room in’ with them, that means sleeping with them in their bed for the whole night for a fortnight (if they are on a cot or crib mattress you may want to use a bed roll or air mattress next to them). After two weeks, when your child is now used to sleeping in their own room you can slowly roll away from them once they are asleep. If they wake in the night then you simply lay alongside them and cuddle them until they are asleep again.
The whole process from decision to (hopefully) sleeping alone in their own room, after you have night weaned takes around two months. It’s not quick, however it works and most importantly it doesn’t distress your child (or you!).
One last little point to consider, think about the timing. Don’t be tempted to move your child because you’re going back to work, the extra closeness to you at night will most likely help them with the transition of missing you during the day. Similarly don’t move them during a period of separation anxiety, you’re likely to make it worse. As a general rule avoid 8 to 15 months for this reason. Don’t move them either just before, or just after a new baby arrives. You don’t want them to feel that they have been moved out to make space for their new sibling. Becoming a new big brother or sister is hard enough as it is. If you want to move your child to make space for a new baby don’t do it either side of a new baby being due/arriving. Lastly, there will always be times when your child needs to be close to you again, particularly when they are ill or in pain. Don’t be scared to let them back into your bed again temporarily when it happens.
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