Most families find many creative ways of making the family bed work for them. Some parents will not have a problem with everyone in the bed, especially if it's king-sized. Others may find that the older toddler starts to "wean away" from the bed very gradually, and during your pregnancy you might be able to start this process. If he has his own room, you can make a big deal of picking out a "big boy" bed with fun sheets and décor that he picks out. Then you can start a bedtime ritual of reading to him and lying down with him in his bed. Of course he may or may not like this new routine, but it's fun to experiment and see what happens. It's also great to get your partner more involved in these rituals so that it's a routine by the time your new baby arrives.
Other options you might think about are:
- The "sidecar" arrangement. A sidecar is placed right next to the family's main bed. A sidecar could be a crib or bassinet. It could also be an additional bed that the partner could sleep in while the rest of the family sleeps in the main bed. This is a great option if you can't or don't have a king-sized bed. It's also nice if you are worried about having your family in one bed.
- Futon or small mattress on floor. Some families have a futon or small mattress on the floor of the parents' bedroom. This could be for children who are transitioning out of the family bed but not quite the family's room or for children that are transitioning to their own room but want the flexibility of coming back in when needed.
- Musical beds. Sometimes having a few different rooms with a variety of sleep arrangements within them is helpful. One night all of the family's members may feel comfortable in one room, or it may be that mama and the children sleep in one room one night while papa catches up on sleep in another. Or maybe the family's toddler is in need of some concentrated time with his mama so they move to another bed for a little awhile while daddy and baby sleep. The baby could be brought in for nursing, or the mama could go in as soon as she hears the baby stirring. This option allows for quite a bit of day-to-day flexibility.
If you determine that your child is only happy in your bed, please know that it can be safe if you take some common sense precautions. One would be to have the toddler sleep away from the baby—they don't seem as sensitive as a parent about the care a new baby needs, especially in their sleep. For instance, the baby could be in the "sidecar" crib and the toddler on the other side of the parents' bed, or the baby could be in between you and your partner with your toddler sleeping on the other side of one of you. Placing a safety rail on the side that your toddler sleeps on will help to ensure that he doesn't fall out of the bed. As always, please continue to follow Infant Sleep Safety Guidelines.
No matter which option you decide is right for you and your family, flexibility and experimentation is the key. It may be "musical beds" for a while until you settle into an arrangement that works for your family. Every family has unique sleep schedules and temperaments, so there's no "one size fits all" formula. Rest assured, however, that families have been co-sleeping since the beginning of time, and it's considered normal in most cultures around the world.
We would suggest you read The Family Bed by Tine Thevenin, Three in a Bed by Deborah Jackson, orNighttime Parenting by Dr. William Sears for many creative ideas. Dr. James McKenna, Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame, provides additional information.