Co-sleeping Outside the Family Bed

by Amber Strocel on February 2, 2010

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I love co-sleeping, and I have co-slept in one capacity or another with both of my children. There are few things sweeter than curling up to sleep with my toddler and sharing a good night’s rest. Co-sleeping has made breastfeeding easier, it has helped my babies to sleep better and it has meant that I don’t have to wake up as fully or as often.

In spite of my love of co-sleeping, I occasionally wonder whether co-sleeping loves me. There are the mornings that I wake up sore, contorted in some awkward position because that’s the only way my little one would sleep. There are the infrequent but jarring kicks to my head or fingers attempting to pry open my eyelid. And there is the amazing ability that my toddlers have both cultivated that allows them to take up 75% of a king sized mattress.

Hannah and Dorothy napping together
My daughter Hannah, napping in her parents’ bed

I am willing to sleep with my kids for as long as they need me, but with both of my children I found that at around 18 months the family bed stopped working so well. The space grew increasingly cramped, and our babies stopped sleeping as soundly. However, my little ones still needed me throughout the night for breastfeeding or just for comfort, and so we had to get creative.

The solution that we’ve reached both times, and that has worked well for us, is to replace the unused crib with a full-sized bed in our child’s room. The bed is large enough to comfortably accommodate one adult and one child. By keeping the sleeping surface low to the ground we’re not overly concerned about our toddlers falling out of bed, and they can also easily get in and out by themselves. Add an alarm clock in the room and we have everything we need so that everyone can sleep soundly.

Hannah and Jacob wrestling
Our kids Hannah and Jacob, playing in Jacob’s new bed

In sleep, as in all things, flexibility has been key for our family. What worked with a newborn did not necessarily work with a 6-month-old or even with a newborn plus an older sibling. Adjusting our sleep arrangements as needed keeps us all rested and happy, and ensures that we meet our children’s need for nighttime parenting as well as our own need for balance. I think it’s common for AP families to play ‘musical beds’ from time to time, experimenting with different solutions to find what works right now.

Attachment parenting is about meeting our children’s needs and listening to our instincts, and co-sleeping has been a big part of that. So I remain committed to it, whether it happens in the family bed or another bed in another room. And I know that if I need to, with flexibility and patience, I can find a sleep solution that works.

What about you? Have you found that your sleep set-up has changed over time? I would love to know!

You can keep up with Amber’s regular adventures on her blog at Strocel.com.

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Amber Strocel (28 Posts)

Amber is a hippie mama to two, a writer, a dreamer, a student, an erstwhile engineer and a lover of chocolate. She lives in suburban Vancouver with her family and one very cranky tabby cat. Keep up with her on her blog at Strocel.com.


{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

KC23 February 2, 2010 at 7:42 am

Our sleeping arrangements change frequently. If DS falls asleep early, he starts off in his twin bed alone then ends up with me and DH sometime in the middle of the night, or with me and DS in the twin bed. Sometimes DS starts off in the family bed and we end up in the twin or we will start off in the twin while DH is in the master bedroom. Sometimes we sleep on the pull out couch together… we sleep everywhere! I love it and my son sleeps well no matter where we are, as long as he is sleeping next to us. I have to admit I’m tired of being kicked in the gut and all those other places. But nothing beats waking up to DS’s smiling face and cuddles in the morning. I dread the day he decides to sleep on his own.

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Dionna @ Code Name: Mama February 2, 2010 at 7:54 am

I understand waking up with sore muscles and out of whack joints. Our recent solutions was to move up from a queen to a California king size bed – oh heaven! I’m still sore some mornings, but not nearly as often. After Kieran nurses he is more apt to roll over now instead of staying right on/next to me.

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Camille February 2, 2010 at 9:39 am

While co-sleeping was never anything I planned on, it just happened when we had our first child, it came so naturally. While I loved and still love co sleeping with my kids my husband never really liked it. When my daughter was 2 we bought her a “big girl” bed in hopes she would move to her room and we can get our bed back. Well now she is almost 4 and that never happened. It turns out I moved into her room and now we also have a 3 month old son whom also sleeps with us. She is just not ready to be on her own. I would love to be back in my bed with my husband but it doesn’t look like thats going to happen anytime soon. We make it work somehow and although there are some days I wonder if this is the right thing to do I then remind myself that my babies are only babies for so long and before we know it they won’t want mama in their bed and those days will be gone. I’m going to miss them…so for now I am enjoying nighttime parenting, cuddling, nursing my little one on demand, and getting a decent nights rest!

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Angela February 2, 2010 at 10:56 am

This post is here at such a right time for me, My husband and I have been happily co-sleeping with our 5 month old her whole life, and we’ve been starting to get alot of pressure from the outside to move her out of our bed, which I succumb to a little bit, I’m sad to say.
(attachment parenting is far from the norm in our community, so even our decision to breastfeed is considered wierd here, not to mention cloth diaper!)
The very first night I put her in her crib, which is only a foot from our bed, I noticed how much more work it is to have her even that far away, also she was cold and unhappy, I think she lasted about forty minutes on her own before Hubby asked me to keep her in the bed.
I think you nailed it when you said that flexibility at night is key, I’m going to keep that in mind from now on, thanks!

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Sara February 2, 2010 at 1:34 pm

Our sleeping arrangements are in a constant state of “tweaking.”

When my now-21-month-old son was an infant, he slept either with us or in a cosleeper next to the bed. It worked for him, but I was miserable. He was an extraordinarily light sleeper… and so am I. I couldn’t sleep through nursing, or even in the side-lying nursing position after he’d pop off, but moving would wake him up. Backaches abounded.

He outgrew the cosleeper at six months (well, “outgrew” in the “could climb out of it on his own” sense), and we added a twin sized mattress to the floor next to our bed. He’d start out there on his own, and by that point he was sleeping heavily enough that I could nurse him on the little bed and, if I wanted to wait until he was sound asleep, creep back into my bed… or just stay down there with him.

At about 15 months we transitioned him to his “own room.” He starts out in there (in a twin sized bed with bedrails), and if he wakes during the night, my husband or I (we nightweaned recently) will go in and lie down with him. Sometimes we fall asleep in bed with him, sometimes we end up back in our bed. If my husband or I are out of town, then our son sleeps in the big bed with the parent who is home. Co-sleeping in a family bed (we have a queen and can’t afford an upgrade, nor would it really fit in our bedroom) didn’t work because all three of us seem to require a certain amount of space to sleep.

By keeping it flexible, we all get our space AND our snuggles.

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Kelley February 3, 2010 at 1:25 pm

We’re working at having a “special bed” on the floor now that Sweet Pea needs a little more space to sleep comfortably, but realize that it’s not going to happen overnight (so to speak ;) ). Thanks for the reminder to constantly re-evaluate our situation to make sure it’s working for everyone!

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Chrystal @ Happy Mothering February 3, 2010 at 1:47 pm

We’re actually at a place where we need to re-evaluate our co-sleeping situation. I’m due with baby #2 any day, and we only have a full size bed in our apartment right now. That just won’t work with 2 adults, a 21-month old and a newborn. So, I think we’re going to move our toddler’s twin mattress to the floor in our room and see how that works. My husband actually came up with the idea and I am hoping it will work well. That way he can lay down with her to get her to sleep if need be, but she doesn’t feel like she’s being kicked out of our bed for the baby. When we move, we’ll definitely be getting a king-sized bed!

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Erin Whitney February 3, 2010 at 4:51 pm

Our Owen will be 3 in April, and is still sleeping with us. He seems to need the night time reassurance, just as much as I do. He did ask Daddy to lay in his “big boy bed” with him a few nights ago. I found myself WIDE AWAKE until he woke up to nurse. I was relieved when I brought him back in bed with us. I found that I sleep so much better when he is with us than in another room. Imagine!
I also dread the day when he will be ready to sleep in his own bed. But for now, I’m cherishing every morning he wakes up next to us.

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Patricia February 3, 2010 at 7:18 pm

This is a great article, My daughter 15mo. moved to a Queen size bed in our guest room now known as her sleeping room. :) LOL And she has been moving her waking time back longer and longer. It used to be 10:30 now it’s 1:30am. just this morning my husband and I were discussing how sad it is going to be when we don’t hear that babble in the middle of the night requesting that we go and bring her to our bed. It all happens way to fast.

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Emi February 3, 2010 at 9:06 pm

We have played musical beds for 2 years and 3 months now. It’s not been an easy adventure. So the latest reincarnation is our DD sleeps alone periodically through the night. We finally realized that all her moaning and groaning and sometimes crying out at night and super cuddling was not waking her up but it was really disturbing mine and hubby’s sleep and affecting our moods and how we interact with our DD. So we put her to sleep and then hubby and I switch off as to who is “on duty” The on duty parent goes into her room when she actually wakes up (which ends up being about 2-4 times a night) and put her back to sleep and then go back to other room until the next time. Although this is also tiring it’s less tiring that sleeping with her in the bed all night. So I love co-sleeping but the adults disturbed sleep go to be too much after 2 years + so we are doing a modified version. So far it’s better for everyone. I just wish that I would have known that all her moaning and grunting from the time she was a newborn was not really waking her (I look back now and realize that) – it was just intense baby sleep noises. I would have worried less and maybe would not have been so worried about maybe putting her on a separate sleep surface or maybe just figuring out something different that would have worked better for all involved – not when she was a newborn of course- but maybe when she was a year old. So I agree co-sleeping is not always easy (of course neither are other sleeping arrangements necessarily that don’t involve co-sleeping/bed-sharing)

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PA Mom February 4, 2010 at 9:26 am

My husband and I bought an extra-long twin-sized bed to put beside our king-size bed to accomodate the 2 of us, our 5 year old daughter and our toddler son (and our two cats sometimes too). It may seem like a lot of bed space, but as you mentioned, kids have a way of taking up A LOT of space. This arrangement gives everyone more than adequate space in which to sleep comfortably. When I first suggested this arrangement, my husband thought I was crazy (said the 4 of us could sleep in the king just fine), but I within a week or so of the new arrangement, he admitted that the extra space makes a big difference in how well he sleeps. Having this arrangment has helped us enjoy the family bed and welcome our kids to be with us as long as they’d like to be there.

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Heather June 7, 2010 at 6:10 am

We started off cosleeping with our newborn in a bassinet on the headboard (it is a very wide headboard!). This changed to the bassinet on the floor at about 3 months because he was getting too heavy for me to reach up and over the side of the bassinet. His size was the impetus for another change in our cosleeping arrangement: when he outgrew the bassinet we borrowed a mini-Arms Reach Cosleeper. He outgrew it again at 5 months so we moved him to the crib just outside our bedroom. We had been occasionally bedsharing (for some naps, and at his last night-time feed at 4 or 5am). We bedshared all night during a trip out of town when he was 5 1/2 months and we were sold. My husband said our son would wake up, reach out to touch me to make sure I was there, and then fall asleep again. He (and we) slept better and longer. It feels right for us, though I still struggle with wondering how long he’ll need us –I’m following my instincts and won’t get too caught up in shoulds or in what others do. Whatever we do as parents, it is only a problem when it becomes a problem. Dr. Sears has said if it’s not working, change it. So until then, bedsharing for us is a good thing.

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