For my own memory-keeping, as well as for the benefit of any new parents who are breastfeeding and cosleeping and wondering how to eventually transition from family bed to independent sleep, I am sharing our personal timeline here. We’ve reached some exciting milestones this year and transitioning our sweet girl into her own bed, in her own room, for solo bedtime, was our crowning jewel! I hope I’m not jinxing us by writing about it, but I want to capture all the details.
March 2010 – we brought our precious newborn Zoebelle home from hospital. Had her sleeping beside me in the Arm’s Reach Cosleeper attached to my side of the bed. Kept my arm/hand on her at all times in the night, bringing her to me to nurse whenever she needed. It was wonderful to have her so close, yet didn’t feel quite close enough. Our bond was incredible and nursing her was absolutely everything!
April/May 2010 – by about 4 to 6 weeks old, it was pretty apparent that keeping her right next to me in bed worked best for all concerned. We absolutely loved having her with us – and she loved it too! Never any crying or fussing. Plus, I finally learned to nurse lying down (side-lying nursing) and then we all got tons more sleep. In fact, before too long, none of us even woke to nurse at all – she just latched on in her sleep and I barely woke up. E being 100% supportive of cosleeping - even though we had never actually planned to have her right in our bed with us - meant the world to me.
2011 – we still loved cosleeping in our big family bed, and we were still nursing in our sleep at night. Cosleeping made travel to new, strange places so easy for Zoe – and we traveled a ton this year, including to Maui! Our continuing closeness made it difficult when I had to travel for work, because Zoe missed me terribly during the nights when she was used to nursing at will, but thankfully those trips were pretty few and far between. Cosleeping made being a working mom SO much easier for me. We were doing a lot of parent and baby bonding in our sleep, and that nighttime parenting made our time apart more bearable for all of us.
2012 – we were still nursing and we all still loved cosleeping as a family BUT Zoe was a lot bigger now and we were starting to feel like we needed to figure out a transition plan. She took up quite a bit of room and had gotten pretty demanding! We still loved cuddling her at night – our big “I can do it!” girl turned back into a sweet, sleepy baby at night. Also, cosleeping helped a lot with the huge changes that took place this year for Zoe, like moving to a new house, leaving her old school and friends behind her, and starting at a brand new school with new teachers and friends.
2013 – we became determined to work on a transition plan. It was age and developmentally appropriate for her to begin separating a bit from me and learning to sleep independently. Throughout the year we talked often about Zoe moving into her big girl room and sleeping in her big girl bed. She was resistant and said she’d be scared without me there. On the nursing front, we were down to just nursing at bedtime and in the morning. By end of year, we were ready to try a transition plan. In December, Zoe and I started going to sleep for the night in her big girl bed. The plan was for me to lie down with her at first and then go back to the parental bed with E once she was asleep. This didn’t work well as I usually ended up falling asleep with her or even before her! But she did a great job adjusting to going to sleep without Daddy in her own room across the hall from ours, even though I was still there for comfort.
December 2013 – Zoe “earned” her hamster, Rhino, by successfully transitioning into her big girl bed in her room. We created a chart with boxes to check off each morning that she slept in her own bed. It wasn’t quite the full transition we had hoped for because we were still nursing so she still had that expectation and need for physical closeness with me. If I’m being honest, the resistance to separating the two of us at night was probably coming from my side as well. I still craved that closeness with her! I lay down with her in her bed and fell asleep with her, spending just about every night in her bed until morning – but, it was a first step in the right direction. She was still out of our bed! And I was able to sneak back in with E some nights for a much-needed, long-overdue cuddle.
January 2014 – Now sleeping in her room together, I began encouraging Zoe to wean in earnest using a chart and Playmobil advent calendar (the “princess wedding” one). Every night and morning that Zoe elected not to nurse, she got to check off on her chart and open a box on the advent calendar to reveal a new tiny toy. This worked wonderfully and within the 24 days of the calendar, she was weaned! We were both ready for this part of her infancy and early childhood to come to a peaceful, loving close. It was always her choice and I gave her tons of snuggles and special time throughout, and we talked about how she is such a big girl now. I knew that weaning was going to make the transition from cosleeping a ton easier. And it did!
March/April 2014 – Zoe turned four in March. We temporarily admitted defeat and allowed Zoe back in our bed with us after our travel to Cali, where she had slept with us every night. We knew we had to come up with another plan – the attempt to transition her straight from our bed all the way over to her room hadn’t worked. Even weaned, she was still hooked on sleeping with me for comfort and warmth, and it didn’t matter to her where that happened. Even though we had successfully weaned, we still had a big transition ahead of us – possibly the biggest one yet! She just kept saying she wasn’t ready to sleep in her room alone yet; she said she’d be ready when she was five. She still wanted one of us (mainly me) to sleep in there with her. We knew we had to ease into the ultimate transition – moving her across the hall – by first getting her used to sleeping alone while she was still in close proximity to us.
May 2014 – Zoe hadn’t nursed since the early winter months of the year – her weaning was a huge success! We turned to the Playmobil advent calendar tool again (“unicorn birthday” this time!) to transition her back out of our bed and into a little, nearby bed of her own. We decided to make a temporary bed for her using a Yogibo bean bag, blankets and pillows. E set it up in our room next to my side of the bed. He made it look so cozy and adorable – Zoe loved it and took to it right away! It felt so odd to have her sleeping in a separate bed at my side again, just like in the very early days of 2010 when she was a newborn. The transition was emotionally hard for me even though I knew it was important for Zoe and for all of us. Using the advent calendar tool and allowing her to come into our bed each morning for a snuggle made this transition really smooth and easy for Zoe. She successfully transitioned to sleeping in her makeshift bed within the 24 nights of the advent calendar!
June 25, 2014 – After more than a month of sleeping on her own in the little soft bed beside ours – enough time for it to feel normal to all of us – one night after lights-out, she suddenly said, “could I sleep in my big girl bed in my room tonight?” I was worried this was just a bedtime-delaying tactic, but I wanted to give her support to make it a reality. Remaining calm outwardly but super excited inside, I helped her move across the hall with all her stuffed animal friends and set her up in her bed – she had so much more room and it was clearly SO much more comfortable! We moved her over about 9:15 pm and it took her 45 minutes to settle. During that time she called for me twice (I went in and helped her get settled again, sitting on the edge of her bed). She played her ukelele and sang to herself for a little while, and at one point she turned on the light to watch her hamster, as he was making quite a racket. Finally, after several sleepy sounding yawns and sighs, she turned the lights off, snuggled back into her bed and went to sleep. By herself. In her own bed. In her own room. With NO parents there for comfort. For the first time in her entire life!!!
She woke about 6:30 am the following morning and came into our room, where I welcomed her into our bed for some snuggle time as usual. I tried not to make too big a deal of it, but I must have told her a few too many times how proud I was, because she turned to me and said, “Okay, Mama, okay. Alright, alright.”
But I am so proud of our girl!! She really did get there in her own time and in her own way. Hooray, hooray! The sky is the limit now! And I wanted to post this a month ago, but E told me no way – that I’d jinx us for sure. So, I waited until…
July 28, 2014 – It’s been just over a month now and I think it’s safe to say the switch really is complete. Zoe has slept every night in her own bed, by herself, except for two nights. One night she had a slumber party with one of her cousins in our basement (TWO floors away from me! I barely slept a wink that night, even though I had the baby monitor in the basement with her so I could listen for her calling me – which she never did). And another night very recently, E was in charge of bedtime and had a weak moment and agreed to let her sleep in our bed – but none of us enjoyed it much, because we’re all so used to having more space when we sleep now! And she went right back to her own bed happily the next night. She rarely asks to sleep with us at bedtime because she knows she’s welcomed warmly into our bed in the morning for snuggle time.
Looking back, overall I’d say it’s been a wildly successful transition this year. I think the key was waiting until Zoe was ready – we encouraged her, provided tools to help, and tried to really listen to her fears and concerns. Even though we knew we were ready and really believed she was too, we tried NOT to push her – I think that would have backfired, bigtime, with our willful little girl. Instead, we set incentives in place and patiently waited for her to choose to sleep in her room on her own. And we are so very, very proud of her that she decided the time was right and has done such an amazing job making that change! Some nights she needs more nightlights on. Some nights she needs more stuffed “friends” in the bed. Some nights she needs me to sit beside her a little longer in the dark. Some nights she calls one or both of us in a few more times than usual. And some nights she insists that her “sissy” Autumn, our Goldendoodle, sleeps on the bed with her. But for the most part, bedtime at our house is a pretty peaceful affair these days and let me tell you, I have added HOURS back to my mommy me-time life. It’s blissful.
What tools have you used to help you transition a child from your bed to his or her own? As always, I’d love to hear your success stories – and work-in-progress (aka war) stories – in the comments below!