Frequently Asked Questions
5th Principle: Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally
- We have a two-and-a-half-year-old who is still sleeping in our bed. People are advising us that it is time for her to move to her own bed, but we aren't sure what's best for her.
- My daughter is three and has always enjoyed sleeping in our bed. Now that our second child has arrived and is also sleeping with us, my daughter wakes up constantly due to the baby waking. What can I do to help her get enough rest?
- Our six-month-old baby is unable to fall asleep on his own. He needs to be nursed or held to fall asleep. My family says it's time for him to soothe himself, but I'm unsure how to go about it.
- What is API's position on night weaning?
- How can my wife and I have intimate time together with a baby in our bed?
- I am having a second baby and am concerned about sharing our king-sized bed with a two-year-old and a newborn. Is this safe?
- My daughter is starting to try to crawl out of our family bed. Would you recommend we purchase a bed rail and, if so, from which company?
- I'm pregnant with my second child, and my son no longer naps. How can I survive if I'm up all night with the baby and up all day with my son?
- I have a two-year-old, and I'm almost due with my second child. Is there a way to encourage them to nap at the same time without resorting to sleep training?
- My three-year-old still nurses to sleep, and I'm pregnant. Should I be looking for alternative methods to parent my toddler to sleep? Do you have any suggestions on tandem nursing at night?
- My one-year-old toddler wants to nurse a lot at night, and I'm extremely tired. How can I encourage him to stop nursing at night?
API supports emotional responsiveness and responsive nighttime parenting practices regardless of the age of the child. Most children move away from the family bed situation around the age of five years. Many parents find the option of a toddler bed at the end of their own bed a great transitional tool. If the child herself is ready to transition to a bed in her own room, many parents will lie with the child while she falls asleep and welcome her into the family bed during the night if she chooses to return.
In all aspects of what we do as parents, we are often advised by well-meaning friends and family. This can lead to doubts about our own abilities and practices. To help you find a place of comfort and surety with your co-sleeping arrangement, we would first encourage you to look at your family practices in the context of your own situation, and ask if it is working well for all of you. Then, ask yourself if the doubts are coming from outside influences or if they are felt from within. Lastly, read and share with your friends and family some of the resources we recommend and have linked on this page. There are many well-researched and well-written books about co-sleeping that you may find helpful.
My daughter is three and has always enjoyed sleeping in our bed. Now that our second child has arrived and is also sleeping with us, my daughter wakes up constantly due to the baby waking. What can I do to help her get enough rest?
Some families have temporarily used the "musical beds" solution when they've had a new baby. It might work for your partner and daughter to sleep together in one room and you and the baby in another until your daughter adjusts to having a new little person in the house. Some families sleep on a large futon on the floor rather than a bed that tends to make more noises. Another possible solution is having white noise in the room, like a fan or soft music, so the baby noises aren't so obvious. If none of these ideas help, make sure that you give your daughter a sleep routine that allows for a good nap in the afternoon—darken the bedroom and perhaps listen to soft music. Hopefully, all three of you can have a good rest.
It is very normal for your son to fall asleep at the breast. In fact, just about all babies will do this if they are allowed to, as breastfeeding is very soothing and calming. Please rest assured that your son will eventually be ready, willing, and able to fall asleep on his own, but usually not at the age of six months. Your son gets a lot of comfort and reassurance from your presence, from being held, and from breastfeeding, so it is natural that these things help him relax and go to sleep. As he matures, he will gradually need this less and less. It may be helpful if you view your son's falling asleep on his own as something that he will gradually do with your encouragement and help, rather than something that he should do before he's ready.
There are some things that you can do to facilitate your son falling asleep on his own, such as having a regular bedtime routine. As he gets older, you may want to try breastfeeding until he is almost, but not quite, asleep. If he is sleepy enough to go on to sleep, you can put him down gently and pat his back until he falls completely asleep. There are also a number of helpful books you can read. We recommend Good Nights by Dr. Jay Gordon and Maria Goodavage, Nighttime Parenting by Dr. William Sears, and The No-Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley.
Once your baby reaches an age where he is able to be helped to sleep by means other than nursing, it would be helpful to any other caregivers to know how he likes to be comforted back to sleep. Be sure that the person caring for him is someone who will be understanding, accepting, and comfortable with what he needs.
We live in a society that puts a lot of value on independence. This may be fine for adults but is not as fine for babies. It often leads us to expect babies and small children to be more independent than they are biologically ready to be. It also puts a lot of pressure on parents to push their children toward independence even when they are small babies and toddlers. It may be that you are feeling some of that pressure right now with your own family. Joining a support group of like-minded parents can help reinforce what you read and learn about Attachment Parenting (AP), and the leader(s) and members can help you navigate through AP waters.
API does not have an official position on night weaning. Night nursing, like all nursing, is a special relationship between mother and child, and both must be happy and willing to continue this aspect of their relationship. With that said, night weaning should ideally occur when a child is developmentally ready. In general, readiness for weaning may naturally go through spurts and regressions, and it is natural for babies and toddlers to go through phases where they suddenly nurse more at night, perhaps in reaction to teething or reaching a developmental milestone during the day. As toddlers grow, it is natural for some mothers to begin to set developmentally appropriate limits on night nursing. If a child is objecting to limits, it may be a sign either that he is not developmentally ready or that there is some other underlying cause for the night waking. A mother is in the best position to know if her child is waking to nurse during the night to fulfill a need, either physical or emotional, or if nursing has become a habit that could potentially be replaced with other loving and compassionate interactions. Regardless of what the mother determines, the key is to remain compassionate, empathetic, and patient.
Be creative! A family bed should not prevent parents from being intimate. It just takes a little ingenuity. For example, parents can steal away to another room or have children become accustomed to napping in a different room. Make weekend naptimes your special time to reconnect as a couple. The key is flexibility and spontaneity! Although a family bed changes things, it should not deter couples from nurturing their own relationship.
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, or Nighttime 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.
Attachment Parenting International doesn't endorse a specific brand of bed rails. The most important thing we emphasize is to keep safety in mind and do your own product research before making a purchase.
Bed rails can certainly increase safety, but it is important to note that there have been some unfortunate cases where babies became trapped between the bed rail and part of the bed. This can happen in a family bed or a toddler bed, so it is imperative that the bed rail fit tightly and securely to the bed; even a small gap could pose a risk to your child. Another thing to be aware of is that your child may try to crawl over the rail and could possibly become injured by a fall.
Many families find that taking their mattress off of the bed frame and placing it on the floor eliminates a lot of worry. Should a child wake and decide to crawl off the mattress, it would be inches from the floor, lessening the severity of the fall and making it easier for the child to master safely getting on and off of the bed.
As with every parenting decision, use your best judgment. Since every family shares sleep differently, only the parents can decide what the safest option is for their family.
First, you might have a very different experience with your second baby—you may find that you are more relaxed, and that both of you sleep better at night. If the baby is in close proximity, and you can meet her needs without too much disruption, you might get a better night's sleep than you had with your first. It's best to keep an open, positive attitude, but, at the same time, prepare ahead!
In the early weeks, you may have some help during the day with your older child and can get some rest. Then you'll be better able to assess what you need. Perhaps a mother's helper can come over in the afternoon to read to your child while you nap with the baby, or you may be able to go to bed early and give your husband or partner the opportunity to have some special alone time with your older child.
One grandmother lived out of town, so, to help her daughter-in-law, she paid for a neighborhood teenager to come and take her grandson to the park in the afternoons. I've also known of playgroups that have rotated watching each other's children so the mom with the newborn could rest. Communicate your needs to friends and family and get them involved in some creative solutions if you find you are sleep-deprived. It's amazing how much they want to help when they know they're needed!
Our best advice is to try not to worry in advance. It's good to anticipate and seek strategies, but the secret to parenting is being flexible and going with the flow. Parenting is unpredictable, so the more flexible you are, the more relaxed you'll be. Enjoy getting to know your newborn, and when he is sleeping you can give your older son some individual attention. If you find yourself becoming exhausted, call in reinforcements. A mother's helper (or a teenager or trusted friend) can be of tremendous help during the early weeks. If you have someone you can call, invite him or her over to play with your two-year-old so you can get some rest or sleep. You'll be surprised how much a 15-30 minute nap can help you get through the rest of the day.
It is also important that you sleep when the children do go down together, especially in the evenings. It is tempting to stay up in the early months so that you can have time to yourself or with your partner, but it is very important to keep up on your rest so that you can be the best woman, partner, and mother you can be. Be gentle with yourself and all the rest will fall into place.
This will be a real balancing act. It will be very helpful to have your partner's help and cooperation during this time of transition for your three-year-old. It never hurts to try other methods to help your older child to sleep if he is ready for them. Reading stories, rubbing his back, and singing softly are all good things to try before the new baby comes, and may work on occasion, especially if it's someone else besides mom who is doing them!
It's also important while you're pregnant to tell your older child stories of when he was a baby and how helpless he was, that you met his every need quickly, and that he was too small to eat anything fun like he's eating now. Let him know that the baby will only be able to drink mommy's milk and perhaps decide together on a healthy big boy drink that he will be able to enjoy while the baby nurses. Also talk with him about the baby's need to nurse first so that her tummy is sure to be full, and let your son know that he will be able to have a turn after the baby is finished. Assure him that you will have plenty of milk for him after she's finished.
There may be times when only mommy's milk will do, and you will have to think about nursing two at a time or just reassuring him that he will be able to nurse in a few minutes. If you choose to tandem nurse at night, you will need to assess which child can be most patient at that given moment. Perhaps your partner would be able to sing to or rock the baby while her brother settles back to sleep, or perhaps your toddler would be willing to listen to a quick, simple story while his sister nurses back down. Every mother and child is unique, so you will have to see what works for you. The La Leche League book Adventures in Tandem Nursing by Hilary Flower is a wonderful resource that you might enjoy.
There can be many reasons why a one-year-old toddler wants to nurse a lot at night. For instance, he may be going through a normal developmental stage, such as when learning to walk or talk. During these times, he needs reassurance and extra touch before he can begin this gradual separation process toward greater independence. If a child is frequently waking during the night, it may be wise to rule out physical causes for the waking such as teething, earache, reflux, or other illnesses.
You may want to consider what the easiest way to meet your child's needs are and whether it is easier to cut back on nighttime nursing and nurse once in the middle of the night, sleep with the child so that he can nurse without waking you, or night wean. What is best for you may not be best for another mother. Consider what feels right to you.
If you have already tried everything possible to take care of your needs for rest, like waking later in the morning, napping with your child, or going to bed earlier, and decide that you want to proceed with nighttime weaning, know that it can be very difficult if your child isn't ready to do so on his own. It requires finding substitutes for every need breastfeeding meets for your child. You will also need to find other ways to help your baby get back to sleep.
The key to omitting night nursing is to continue to be responsive to your child's needs. We know of wonderful mothers who do not nurse at night, but they get up and respond to their baby, no matter how many times that might be. Nighttime weaning may work for some families, and not for others.
Here are some tips to begin omitting nighttime nursing sessions:
- Consider whether a consistent bedtime routine would help. Some children prefer an earlier bedtime and others do better with a later bedtime. Some like baths and singing, while others prefer a book and rocking.
- See how easy it might be for your baby to fall asleep without nursing. You could try not offering the breast immediately, and try walking with him, rocking, and rubbing or patting his back to help your baby fall asleep.
- See if you can get the baby to "let go" of the breast before falling asleep. Some babies may be willing to let go and fall asleep near the mother, or in her arms without nursing. Consider that some babies will not like this, and may become very upset when you try to detach.
- Be sure you nurse enough during the day. Many times active toddlers nurse throughout the night to make up for their lack of daytime nursing.
- Try offering substitutes during the night when he first wakes. For instance, you could offer him a "sippy cup" with water in case he wants to nurse because he is thirsty. He may also be hungry and would be satisfied with a light snack.
- You can try sleeping on your stomach or wear a gown that makes your breasts less accessible to your child at night.
- If possible, involve your partner with the bedtime routine. Work on helping him to get your child to sleep. Some children are ready for this sooner than others; the key is to be responsive to your child's needs.
- Let your partner try to handle getting your child back to sleep in the middle of the night. He may have an easier time of it than you, since your child knows that you could be nursing him.
Tips for a verbal child:
- Help him learn how to wait a few minutes during the day when he wants to nurse. If he can do this during the day, then you can try to transfer the wait to the nighttime. When children wake at night and can wait a few minutes, they often will fall back to sleep on their own.
- Encourage him to wait until morning by telling him that he can nurse when it is light outside. Make it fun by saying something like "when Mr. Sun goes to sleep, milk goes night-night too" and use the same for waking.
- Talk to him about the fact that he will not always need to nurse to go to sleep or when he wakes during the night. Talk about this with him during a quiet, happy time during the day. Present it in a positive, matter-of-fact way as something that will naturally occur as he gets older. Do this daily before you begin night weaning so that you give him plenty of time to prepare for the transition.
These methods require time and effort and some loss of sleep on your part and may result in some unhappiness on your baby's part if you are not responsive to his needs. Take a month or two to accomplish this, if you can wait that long. After all, this is a big milestone for your child, and it is clearly best if done gradually. Thus, use the tips on cutting back the nighttime nursing, to begin with, and gradually help your child to sleep without nursing. While it may seem difficult, mothers have accomplished this without their child ever shedding a tear; however, a lot of patience is required!