I just read another article discussing co-sleeping versus sleep training and after reading the scathing comments afterwards it really feels like parenting is becoming as polarizing as politics.
There are families where co-sleeping is definitely the right decisions and there are families where sleep training is definitely the right decision and there are even many families who have done both depending on the child or the situation.
There is only one thing that all of these families need to be thinking about with their children and that is one things is sleep associations.
So it doesn’t really matter which style you choose, just make sure that you think about what sleep associations your child is making and just be aware of how they are falling asleep.
What is a sleep association? A sleep association is something outside of the child that helps the child fall asleep.
Common sleep associations are:
These are all things that help a child fall asleep no matter whether you are co-sleeping or sleep training.
So as your child gets older, you will want to look at what sleep associations your child relies most heavily on.
- If your child will only fall asleep while rocking and with white noise (i.e. in the car), and you know that your child won’t be able to rock if they are in a bed or a crib, then know what white noise is a must and that you will need to add in another sleep association once you take away the rocking.
- If your child will only fall asleep while sucking (bottle or breast) and you know that they will need to wean from the bottle or the breast soon, then you can look at other associations to replace the sucking. Or just can introduce the pacifier or thumb-sucking to replace the other sucking.
When we talk about sleep associations, someone might interpret that having sleep associations is a negative thing. But it isn’t. They are essential. They are how we learn to sleep. So this doesn’t mean that you never nurse your child to sleep as an infant because they will always associate nursing with sleeping because that isn’t true. Infants nurse to sleep. And as they grow, they learn new associations. All of these are positive things and all are used to fit the child, the family and the situation.
Speaking of situations, they change. You may have a child who co-sleeps wonderfully with you in the family bed. You are happy, your husband is happy and your child is happy. However, you soon find out that you are pregnant and you realize that you will need to move your child to their own bed. This is a common scenario and a very stress-inducing one at that. Your child knows that snuggling with you and either breast-feeding or drinking a bottle in your bed means that it is time to sleep. So those two sleep associations (sucking and cuddling) mean sleep.
But now you need to move your toddler into their own room. Set up the room with new sleep associations. Maybe get a noise machine and black out curtains. If you have a rocker, use that in the new room. See if your child attaches to a lovey. All of these are possible new sleep associations that will replace the cuddling and sucking associations. If you have the time, only remove one sleep association at a time. So if you are breast-feeding, you can continue to do that while moving your child into their new room. It will mean that you will need to come to the room to feed which initially be less sleep (stick to it; you can do it!!) but more sleep in the long run. Once your little one is settled in the new room, then you will remove breastfeeding as a sleep association. You will need to keep your little one awake and make sure they go down drowsy but awake. Then you can be there to shush, sing, pat their tummy, etc., until they fall asleep. Sounds easier on paper than in real life but again, this isn’t forever.
Your goal: remove sleep associations that are more work with sleep associations that are less work as the child gets older. This is a process that you may have to do over and over. Change is inevitable.
With each change, your child may protest and they may be tears. But don’t fear change. It’s ok if they cry. You will be there to support them through the change.