After the birth of our fourth child my husband and I decided it was time. For a vasectomy? No, although my husband says it is! We decided it was finally time to get our toddler to sleep in his own bed.
Why We Co-Slept.
Before we had our last baby, our toddler Finn had pretty much co-slept with us from day one. Breastfeeding. Need I say more? It’s just easier in the middle of the night to latch baby on and go back to sleep. Sometimes that’s just what you have to do to survive.
Finn had a hard time sleeping and never slept through the night until he was well over one year old! There were nights I thought I would die from not getting any sleep so I did whatever it took to get him back to sleep, which included letting him nurse all. night. long.
Arrival of Number Baby # 4
Fast forward 3 years and he was still in our bed. There was never any plan as far as how we all would sleep when baby arrived. We had joked that this baby would have to sleep in the crib because Finn would still be in our bed. That became a reality.
Once Forrest came home he slept in the co-sleeper beside the bed and in fact Finn was STILL sleeping with us. Now, don’t get me wrong. My husband and I LOVE sharing a bed with our kids. But we also never shared a bed with two kids at the same time.
We thought “Well, we will just see how it goes.” It went something like this. My toddler would push my husband to the edge of the bed OR end up horizontal between us. A familiar story began to play out with the baby. Just trying to snatch what little sleep I could, he eventually ended up in the bed with us as well. I woke up night after night sore and uncomfortable because I held the baby and nursed all night long. My husband wasn’t sleeping well because of having to move our toddler all night long.
I have never been one to let my kids cry-it-out. My mama heart just couldn’t take it. I did try it a couple of times with Finn when we had made previous attempts to move him out of our bed, but each time I would cave and couldn’t do it. So he continued to sleep with us.
Our Breaking Point
A couple of weeks after bringing our newborn home we were exhausted. We barely functioned and decided it was time to do something.
But what? With our older kids they moved out of our bed when they were much older, mainly because it was just them for a while before the next sibling came along. So I had never implemented “sleep training” with any of my other kids before. This was new territory.
I worried my toddler would have to cry himself to sleep, feel abandoned or that the new baby was more important than him. There was also a part of me that was reluctant to let go of sleeping with him because I enjoyed it so much and it gave both of us comfort and security.
I worried about what others would think. Today everyone has an opinion on we should raise our kids. Many of my friends let their kids cry -it-out or sleep train and many who practice co-sleeping until their children decide they want to move out of their beds.
I wanted a healthy balance. My philosophy is “What is GOOD for ALL involved.” and ” Do it until it stops working, then find what does.” and “When you know better, do better.” Above all else ” To thine own self be true.”
For our family and the safety and health of ALL involved we decided we had to make a change. Even though that meant it was probably going to be hard and uncomfortable.
I was honestly clueless. We started out by putting a toddler mattress on the floor of our oldest sons room. That way Finn wouldn’t be totally by himself and we wouldn’t have to worry about him falling out of the bed.
Surprisingly, he would go to bed fine most nights that way. However, he would wake up several times in the middle of the night. Me and my husband were putting him back to sleep between 3-6 times per night. I thought he would get used to the new change and we just needed to give it more time. Nope. This went on weeks and we were still exhausted. Nothing we did helped. Eventually we just started letting him come back to our bed after the first time he got up.
Little Bell Sleep Solutions.
Around this time I met Ashley Bell with Little Bell Sleep Solutions. She is a certified sleep consultant. She offers customized pediatric sleep consultations that can help with newborn education/practice, schedules and routines, early morning wake-ups, frequent night wakings, night weaning, sleep regression, transitions and more!
There are a variety of packages to choose from. She offers a package for newborns (0-3 mo), infants and toddlers (4-24mo), and preschoolers (2-5 years)! No matter where you are starting in your journey she can create a plan just for your child.
She offers individual phone sessions, the ability to add an extra week of email or text support, and this is probably the best, FIRST NIGHT SUPPORT. This means that the first night you will have on demand text and phone support until 11pm that night!
Ashley emailed me a brief questionnaire asking about any medical issues Finn may have, feeding choices (breast/bottle/solids), current sleep schedule and bedtime routine, naps ect. About 48 hours later she created our customized sleep plan!
My package included two weeks of support through email and text. Ashley was always quick to respond to any questions I had. She checked in with us frequently throughout the process.
What I was doing wrong.
Ashley helped me identify that at this age most sleep issues were behavioral. Meaning, Finn was set in his ways and liked things a certain way. He was going to try to test the limits to see if we would really follow through. Every time we allowed him back in our bed at night we reinforced that he could do that and there were no consequences. Following through with what we said we were going to do was VERY important, even if it took a LONG time.
Having a solid bedtime routine was also crucial. Up to this point Finn went to bed when we did and never at a consistent time because our bedtime was never at the same time.
Ashley also helped me to realize Finn was ready to drop his afternoon nap. WHAT?! I relied on that nap more than Finn did at this point to help me get stuff done or have downtime. However, it was really hindering his nighttime sleep.
Before we got started we implemented a few key things from the sleep plan Ashley provided.
First we talked to him about the changes that we were going to make and what he could expect. If he got up in the middle of the night we would not allow him to get back in our bed. We then told him he had 2-3 nights left he could sleep with mom and day so he could gently transition but knew what to expect.
We bought a 2 way monitor and put it in the room with him and showed him that we could see and talk to him and he could talk to us. He liked that we could talk back and forth and I think it put all of us at ease.
Our calendar was clear for the week. I knew this could be pretty rough and we needed a clear schedule to just focus on Finn.
I hadn’t yet set Finn up in his own room yet so he was still in my oldest son’s room,
I try to feed Finn dinner around 6pm. Later than I really want to but my husband works long hours and it’s important to us that we eat together as a family.
Then he gets in the bathtub and plays for about 15 minutes to wind down. Finn has a very hard time “slowing down”, and I think the warm water helps. Until it’s time to bathe, then he screams like you are trying to murder him. He just hates getting clean. All boy, what can I say?
After the bath we let him play with his toys. Around this time it is about 7pm.
We usually end the day by watching a TV show he picks and snuggling for a few minutes. He really enjoys that and often will get drowsy sitting there with us.
Although, we have stopped letting him use the ipad at night because that seems to that seems to have the opposite effect and gets him wired.
I like to put Finn to sleep drowsy but awake. If he falls asleep and wakes up in a completely different spot than where he fell asleep he gets scared and cries out more and gets out of his bed. If you fell asleep on the couch in the warm, loving embrace of your spouse but woke up in a strange unfamiliar bed you might be in a panic too!
Surprisingly, the first few nights Finn fussed a little and cried but didn’t get up when we first laid him down. That was such a relief. If he had a harder time getting to sleep Ashley provided me with the “chair method”.
This method includes helping the child fall asleep with you in the room and gradually moving farther away each night, while providing periodic comfort and reassurance if needed.
The Nighttime Shuffle.
My biggest problem was KEEPING Finn in his bed. Even though he went to sleep decent, he still woke up all through the night and I had to put him back to sleep in his bed.
The first few nights he would stay in his bed until 4-5 o clock. I thought that since I had to get up at 6 am to get my oldest off to school I might as well let Finn get back in the bed.
Ashley checked in with me a few nights in and asked me how things were going. i told her he was almost making it all night long but not quite and I was allowing him back in the bed in the early morning hours.
She said even then he needs to go back to his own bed until it’s truly time to get up. I was still reinforcing bad habits.
Ashley suggested we create a reward system to give him and incentive to help him reach his goal.
We created a sticker chart and he had to fill up the allotted spaces before he earned a prize for sleeping in his bed all night.
We put it in a visible place and made sure if he did accomplish the goal the next morning HE would put the sticker on HIS chart.
However he only got to place the sticker on the chart if he stayed in his bed ALL night after the lights were turned out and didn’t get up until I woke him up for the day.
Did It Work?
I can’t sit here and say it was overnight. We began this journey back in October and had a few set backs along the way: illness, the holidays, transitioning out of my older son’s room into Finn’s room by himself.
Along the way we began to pinpoint why he would come down at night.
He got cold and didn’t know how to or wouldn’t readjust the blankets. We bought him a weighted blanket made for toddlers.
He was thirsty. We began to leave a sippy cup with water by the bedside.
He got scared of the dark so we left the light on in his closet to make him feel better.
Finally this week he was able to accumulate enough stickers to get a prize!! He was so proud of himself!
I am so glad we transitioned our toddler to his own bed. Everyone is getting much better sleep at night including him! Now that he has an established bedtime routine he will often tell us he is sleepy and wants to go to HIS bed! I never saw that coming!
He usually gets up after my oldest son leaves for school about 6:45 which is the perfect time for us.
I always thought of sleep training as a “bad” thing. I realize now there are a lot of things I train my children to do because they don’t know how to do them.
- Potty training
- Eating with utensils
- Learning manners
- How to read and write
- How to dress themselves
Sleeping is no different. My toddler got used to sleeping a certain way, not a bad thing, but a habit was formed. He had no idea how to put himself to sleep without having one of us by his side or having certain things in place. Going to sleep in a new way and place was foreign to him.
Isn’t it hard when adults try to form new habits or break old ones? Children are no different.
Sleep consultants are trained to understand the science of sleep as well as the developmental needs and milestones of the children they work with. They also understand that there is not a one-size-fits-all answer
I am so glad I collaborated with a certified sleep consultant on the best way to help us get Finn out of our bed. Ashley was able to identify exactly what Finn needed to make this as smooth of a transition as possible.
If you are having a difficulty getting your child to become an independent sleeper, reach out to Ashley at Little Bell Sleep Solutions. You can even call her at 724-822-9236 for a free 10-minute consultation!
Sleep Products I Love.
If you have worked with a sleep consultant to help your little one (and you) get better sleep let me know in the comments below!