We Love Co-sleeping but Baby isn't Sleeping Well

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Our 7mo is waking many times at night

Dec 2001

We love co-sleeping with our wonderful 7-month old son, but he continues to have great difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. We have tried everything from a modified version of Ferber (didn't work at all for us) to cranio-sacral massage (our current and most promising effort). Aletha Solter's (The Aware Baby) ideas on holding babies while they cry have also been somewhat helpful. But Eli still wakes up many times every night (sometimes 3-4 times in the first 2 hours), and it usually takes 30min to an hour to get him to sleep (often for a nap that only lasts 20-30 minutes).

Most of what I've read on sharing sleep suggests it as a way of solving sleep problems. We do it because of the positive impact on our relationship with our baby, and because it helps a bit, but it certainly doesn't solve our problems. Are there others out there who co-sleep and still have major sleep problems? Have you found anything that really helps? Thanks, Wende

We have faced similar sleep problems and have read all the books and tried everything but Ferber (regardless of our sleep deprivation, we know that we couldn't let him cry, so no use making a halfway attempt). Our babe is now 11 months old and is sleeping better. I felt hoodwinked by all the claims that co-sleeping would help our baby sleep better, and would allow me to get more sleep from very early on. Instead, my friend who is also co-sleeping, and I have to listen to an acquaintance on the other side of the fence describe how she puts her baby in the crib (in the room down the hall) at eight pm and have to go in and wake the baby up at seven in the morning (to get ready for daycare). I don't want to get dramatic, but I sometimes feel stupid, and betrayed, and angry that the attachment parenting style that seems so sensible, loving, and natural to us hasn't led to easier parenting (at least not yet) but to a VERY involved and exhausting year. Before I give sleep advice, though, I will say that our darling tot is exceptionally active, good natured, social, physically advanced, and smart. (Well, it's true...) And maybe those facets of his wonderfully developing personality benefitted from all the time and love we have given him. What we have found about sleep is that he began to sleep better on his own, really. If my husband sleeps next to him instead of me he seems to wake less (does he associate my presence with the milk bar being open?) He obviously wants to go back to sleep after he wakes, but he doesn't know how to lie still and wait for sleep. So sometimes we have held him while he cried, after he got very frustrated with his attempts to go back to sleep. Our guy has always needed less sleep than what's on the charts, and currently we are finding that one nap around noon of 1-2 hours is best. If he takes a late afternoon nap he won't sleep well. Oh, and we found that pain relief makes a huge difference in his sleep if he is teething. We use infant ibuprofen or infant tylenol. Lastly, we definitely had to put both our mattress and his on the floor. Kimberly
I don't mean to be facetious but have you thought about putting the baby into a crib? Lots of families out here put the children to bed in their own beds, in their own rooms, for the express purpose of getting them a quiet place to sleep without interruption. You could always try that if your baby is not sleeping well with you. I do love snuggling in the morning when my daughter wakes up and we bring her into bed with us, but I personally do not get a good night's sleep when I am sleeping all night with a baby or child, and probably the reverse is true for the child. And when I don't sleep well, I am not a happy mommy the next day. Another nice thing about a crib is that the baby can't fall off the mattress....
Unfortunately, I don't have any great ideas for your first posting, although I'll be eager to hear from others who do! We have a 13-month old who co-sleeps in a sidecar arrangement and is also a very light sleeper, still waking every 2 hours or so after midnight. Lately it's been more disruptive of my sleep because she wants to crawl all over the bed when she does wake up and tosses and turns a fair amount even when she's asleep, which wakes me up. So, we're contemplating separating her crib from the bed and putting it a few feet away, although I imagine at first it will mean even more sleep deprivation for both her and me, and I will miss having her right next to me. I can say, though, that she also used to wake frequently in the evening before we got into bed, and we solved this by getting a sound machine (ours is called SoundSpa by Homedics, cost about $20), which makes surf and other sounds. External noise may not be a problem for you as it was for us, but I think the soothing, repetitive sounds have really helped her to sleep more deeply. She now routinely sleeps an initial 4-hour stretch without waking.

As for your second posting, we have a set-up that has worked really well. We have the crib in a sidecar arrangement with the non-sliding side removed. When our daughter is sleeping alone in her crib, we insert the detached side between the crib mattress and our mattress and attach it with string at the top to the crib frame. I moved our mattress slightly off the box spring and slid cardboard under both mattresses to make a bridge to hold the crib side up. Then when we get into bed we just take the crib side off or slide it down toward the foot of the bed (which is nice because it blocks the open side between the foot of the crib and the foot of the bed). This can be done easily and quietly. I usually nurse or pat her down to sleep lying on the bed while she's in the crib, and then once she's fallen asleep I slide the crib side into place. Good luck! Phyllida

Well...I have run into the same delemas as you! My 1year old daughter shares a bed with us and was doing the same thing when she was 7 months old. In fact, and i don't want to scare you, she still wakes up 3-4 times a night. I just nurse her and put her right back down. But, the hardest part for me has been putting her to sleep at bed time. she will wake up an hour after i put her down...like clockwork! I try to get there before she fully wakes up and rock her back down....which usually takes 20-30 min. Its interesting, though, i find that if i am there when she wakes up the first time she realizes i am there and goes back down more easily...then the other wakings during the night are a little better and easier to get her back down. also, the same with naps. if i am there when she wakes up, it is easier to get her back down. I'm sure this has everything to do with temperment! every baby is different, so some things don't work for some babies , and others do. good luck and remember you are not alone!!! not at all! from, sleep deprived, loving mommy
Babies need sleep like anyone else- about 12-14 hours per day at that age...although you'd think that Ferber was actually the evil one according to most postings re this problem, I think I have heard more stories about crying and lack of sleep in co-sleeping babies than Ferberized babies...co-sleeping is a great idea when it works, but not every parent/baby is cut out for this...I just want to suggest thinking about options that will get your baby better sleep...PS, there is NO scientific evidence that co-sleeping babies are more attached to parents than crib sleepers.
I have read the advice and concerns expressed by a few moms who are having difficulty with co-sleeping. One mom even said that even though her son wakes up every 2-3 hours and she and her husband don't get much sleep, the bright side is that her son is exceptionally active, good natured, social, physically advanced, and smart. Well, that is how our daughter is described by our friends, family, and by many strangers, but our baby sleeps in her own crib, puts herself to sleep, and sleeps 7-9 hours straight at night. When I put her down, she sometimes cries for about 10 seconds, then falls to sleep. But this was not always the case.

For what it is worth, I think co-sleeping is well intentioned, but it doesn't work for most people, especially if both parents work or if the parent that stays home has a lot to do, and finally if the child is going to eventually go into daycare. I went through about two nights of letting her cry it out when she was 6 months old because I was waking 3-4 times a night. I work full-time and couldn't function well at work. Before we tried this, I was worried that not comforting or not rocking my daughter to sleep would make me a bad mom, and there is a lot of social pressure in Bay Area parenting circles that advocates co-sleeping and implies that you are a bad parent if you let your child cry. I now believe that you are placing your child at a disadvantage when they get to daycare and they cannot put themselves to sleep. When you aren't around, the child really suffers. Also, if there is an emergency and you or your husband can't get to your child for a number of hours, your child really suffers. My daughter doesn't, but our family did for the two nights it took us to allow her to cry so that she could learn that we were not going to pick her up or bring her to bed with us to help her sleep. She learned to get her pacifier or play with her blankie until she nodded off.

When we travel, she sleeps with us. When we get home, we go back to our routine, and if she has to cry it out, I let her. Usually, on our first night home, she cries for about 5 seconds, stops and listens (I hear her playing with her crib toys), then cries again to see if we are coming. She may do this for about 10-15 minutes. The next night, she sleeps 7-9 hours. Every morning, I wake up at 5 AM and she wakes at 5:30. She nurses and we enjoy time together in our bed to play after she has her milk. I get into work early enough so that I'm out by 3 PM so that I can get as many of her awake hours as possible so that I can parent her instead of our daycare provider. She goes to bed between 7-9 PM, and we are happy and lack the stress that I hear about and see in so many families that are afraid of being bad parents because they let their baby cry. You are not a bad parent if you try this method - you are teaching the first lesson of independence that every person must learn in our society at some point - and you do not create a dysfunctional, anti-social, unintelligent, physically stunted infant in the process. Your baby will still be wonderful, and even better, if he gets some sleep and learns to sleep independent of you.

i am a strong advocate of the family bed and i think that sometimes the urge to reclaim the marital bed is a sort of impossibile dream--you'll still be getting up to try and soothe a kid that's now sleeping alone in another bed without your comforting bodies next to her/him, and you'll still be thinking about your child even when they're not right next to you. in addition, your child might be nursing more at night to correspond with a growth spurt that's physical (and emotional). 5 month olds are going through a lot of developmental changes--learning to sit up, wanting to move around more, becoming more interactive--and your child's increased night nursings might not have to do specifically with the family bed arrangement.
I had a very similar situation and around six months I realized sleep deprivation was not worth sharing a bed. Co-Sleeping Babies tend to be reliant on their parents to fall back asleep every time they stir. I tried the Ferber Method and for the most part it worked. You need to be consistent and persistent in order for it to work. I often had to sit outside so I wouldn't hear my little one crying. It was a painful several weeks. He now sleeps like a champ and so do I. He often wakes up at 4am and I go get him and he sleeps with me until 7am. This was a nice trade off for me. My husband and I have our bed and sleep back but we still get to snuggle our little one a couple hours a night. My son really fought the Crib so I had to remain strong and set limits in order for it to work. For example, I wouldn't let him cry for more than 30 minutes. Walking in and checking on him only made him more angry so I stopped doing that and after several nights the crying was down to 10 minutes or so. He can now fall asleep on his own in under 5 minutes or so. I feel like I have control over my life and we both sleep better. If your baby has never slept in a crib (mine hadn't) I would start with naps and work your way up. Nurse the baby to sleep and put her in the Crib. She may wake up a lot at first but just keep putting her back in the Crib no matter what. My son would wake up every time his little body hit the crib so I began the cry it out method and it was well worth the hard work. It's also nice to know other people could put him to sleep if I were not around (ie. babysitter, Grandma). Many people will think your cruel for letting them cry but you will soon learn that they are only crying because they are tired, want you, and don't know how to fall asleep on their own. Once they learn how to soothe themselves to sleep it is clear sailing and a huge relief! Many co-sleeping babies are still having problems sleeping at 1 and 2 years old and that is what inspired me to keep going. I think 5-6 months is a good time to start. Good luck and hang in there!
We helped our son learn to sleep by himself at four months because he was starting to use my breast as a pacifier, and I was getting no sleep. This was affecting my ability to work and my ability to be a kind, gentle Mommy to my preschooler. We used a very modified Ferber method--put him in his own crib, checked in on him every five minutes--and sometimes picked him up, as he often needed to burp. It was rough for a few nights, but then he began sleeping pretty much through the night. We usually brought him into our bed around 5 am though, to get warm, to nurse, and to cuddle.

Now, at nine months, he's reverted to waking again every two to three hours, probably because I started nursing him at night a few times, in moments of weakness. So this week I began the modified Ferber program again, and he's already starting to settle himself back down. That is, I go in every five minutes, straighten his blanket, give him his little giraffe, stroke his face, and then cheerfully say, time for sleep! and leave. He usually settles down within five mintues.

I love sleeping with babies, and I think the family bed is especially great for newborns, who need so much body contact. But in order to be able to work and be a decent wife and mother, I find it's better for my children to sleep most of the night alone.

My son left our bed at about five monthes. My daughter stayed w/us till eight mos. It broke my heart to put him in the crib at that age, but he was waking every two hours and I was a zombie during the day, had trouble handling two, and was quite nervous operating a car. The first night he went to the crib he slept five hours straight. He had never done that since birth. In addition, I felt completely rejuvenated. He actually slept better w/o me. It was crushing in a sense, but also an 'eye opener' in that we were glad we tried it. It's really all that you feel comforatable with and what you are willing to try. More importantly, what you can give. Children have have a way adapting to that, or even showing you what they need. Morna
As a co-sleeping family I felt compelled to respond. One thing I have found frustrating about co-sleeping is that whenever there is a problem with it, the advice is usually to abandon it and go with crying it out. You have to keep looking for advice on how to make it work, and decide for yourself what feels right.

My daughter still sleeps with us at 18 months. When she became more active at 7-9 months the advice was to put her in a crib, but I didn't want to and fortunately I also found advice to put a pillow between her kicking little feet and my ribs which helped a lot. It turned out to be a brief phase. Then when she was 14-16 months she began waking every two hours to nurse. This got old! So, we sought advice from other co-sleepers and the La Leche League. We went with a system where baby and dad sleep together for the first part of the night and mom sleeps elsewhere. It was very hard for the first few nights, she cried a lot. But I felt better knowing that she was not alone, she was with her dad. We slowly extended the no-mommy-no-nursing time. Now she goes without nursing until 5 am, at which point I return to the bed. Seven hours of uninterupted sleep is bliss! Our plan is for me to return to the bed next and work on no-nursing while I'm there. Now that she's older and more verbal it's easier to explain that mommy's breasts are asleep and she needs to wait, please put your head on the pillow and close your eyes, rest, etc. . .

I have one major problem with the cry-it-out-alone advice. I don't know how exactly one could tell the difference between a child who has mastered the important skill of putting oneself to sleep and a child who has learned that there is no point in crying because her parents can't/won't come. It just reminds me too much of college psychology and the concept of learned helplessness - an animal who learns that it's actions cannot effect it's circumstances (turning off a painful shock for example) gives up trying, and also exhibits behaviors that look like depression. I have no doubt that Ferberization works, but how?

Also, even though my daughter has been nursed to sleep by me for her entire life, when I'm gone to evening classes, she goes to sleep for her father without a fuss at all (he used to use the stroller), and she has gone to sleep for other caregivers also without a fuss. Fear that the child may never be able to fall asleep by herself/for other people may be unfounded.

Here's been my experience with both my children and co-sleeping. I have two girls, a 3 year old and an 7.5 month old. I let my oldest daughter sleep with us for about 12-13 months, and like everyone else I had read, my husband and I woke up tired, restless, and grouchy, but I felt we were all bonding in some way. My daughter had to be nursed to fall asleep, sometimes this took an hour every night! No one else could put her to sleep (which was a problem when my husband and I wanted to go out in the evenings). She would nurse all through the night if she woke her self up (every few hours). By the time she was 14 months, I decided that it was enough, and she needed to go to her crib. It took us 3-4 months of every possible comfort situation to get her sleep at night. You name it we tried it! We tried laying down on her floor next to the crib, pretending to be asleep until she drifted off (sometimes for an hour or more, and usually me or my husband just passed out right there all night). This took at least 4-5 weeks. Then we let her cry it out, this took what seemed like forever, another 3-4 weeks. She was a very unhappy and unruly child during this time. I bought the book,Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, and learned to put her down at 6:30/7 pm every night, before she got too tired. She played happily in her crib and gently went to sleep every evening after that and slept for 12 hours every night in her crib. Her daycare providers were much happier to get a well rested, indepedent, happy child also, as they too had diffuculty with putting her down. I vowed that my next child was going to sleep in her crib right much earlier. My 7.5 month old daughter slept with us on and off in her bassinet and our bed for about 5 months. I know it is much easier to breast feed at night this way, I don't want to get out of bed and walk down the cold hall at night. But I just was not getting enough sleep, something I really need more than ever with an active pre-schooler. I started putting her in her crib the last few months and what a difference. Anyone can put her to sleep, not just me, which made me very angry with having the sole responsibilty of putting both the children down every night. She goes to bed at 6:30 every night and sleeps a good 12 hours with maybe one waking at night to eat, which I know will subside as she eats more solid foods for dinner. My husband and I share a wonderful, kid-free evening together at home every night and our kids wake up happy, refreshed, and both love us just the same! Believe me, it is a great morning these days!

The bottom line is you may think you doing something great now, but you may end regretting it in the long run. If you are not getting enough sleep, neither is your baby, something that is so vital in the first few years of life. Bonding with your child is even better when they are awake and happy, not tired and cranky. Maybe try putting your child in the crib next to you at night for awile and at least you can see each other through the night. See how much sleep you are all getting and decide if maybe it is better to keep him in your bed or his. -Kerri

Thanks to all who have responded to my post. To those who suggested Ferber, I'd like to clarify a few points. Of course Ferber is not evil. He has provided a valuable, scientifically-based method for coping with a common and important problem. What I did not communicate clearly enough is that we tried Ferber's methods, as well as a similar method of sleep training based on the same types of behavioral principles. We even hired a sleep consultant to get expert guidance in this area. On the 10th night, our baby was still screaming hard for 2 hours (an improvement over 3 hours the first night). The consultant thought (and I agreed) that the method would probably work eventually, but that it would take at least a few more weeks - and that's just for the initial step. We'd still have to repeat the process after teething, illness, travel, etc. We just didn't have the stamina or desire to go through that.

Those who have had great success with Ferber sometimes find it hard to believe that it doesn't work for everyone. Even I assumed that when it doesn't work well, the parents must not be doing something right -- until I met my son. I am a psychologist with many years of training and experience as a behavior specialist, and am well-versed in the principles of reinforcement on which these methods are based. And still, it didn't work for us. For those who tried Ferber and were successful in 3 nights - or even a week - I say, you are very lucky to have found something that worked so quickly. There are others who try it for much longer, with very limited success. A friend of mine did it for 6 months before the crying finally tapered off from 1.5-2 hours down to 15-30 minutes. Even radical behaviorists will acknowledge that when the resources required to change a behavior are too great, then the benefits are not worth it. For us, continuing with Ferber would mean crying as a way of life, and we believe that is just not right for us or for our baby.

Even though we still have problems, we settled on co-sleeping because it is MORE effective for us. Our baby sleeps much more now than when he was in his own bed.

Finally, I want to suggest that sleep is not purely a parenting issue. There is so much judgment out there, and when a parent is struggling with an infant sleep problem, that is the last thing he/she needs. Sometimes you can do everything right, and your baby still won't sleep. Wende

It has been interesting to read the many responses from families regarding their experiences with both positive and difficult co-sleeping experiences. What I think is true seems to be reflected in the responses, and that is that different approaches are right for different families and with different children even within the same family. There is nothing like the issue of sleep to raise passionate feelings.. I think as parents we all wish we were getting more, but I would just plead for more understanding and support for different ways to approach this issue!

I confess that I am not a fan of the cry it out ideas, where ever they come from , Ferber or not, but I know that for some families they have found that (hopefully some modified and kind version of) this works for them. I don't think those families should assume that it will work with other babies and for other families as it did for theirs.. and that families that don't try this are unnecessarily suffering or are missing the correct parenting boat. I also begin to think that co-sleeping is right for every family! But for many, especailly in the first 3-4 months it can be a really nice way to meet a baby's needs and can allow for moms to get a bit more sleep. If it doesn't work for you or your family, if it doesn't feel right to you, whatever the idea or approach... trust yourself and DON'T DO IT!!

I don't think babies that are very young benefit from crying without comfort and it does take time to be able to self comfort, from that point on each family will have to decide what works best for them. We should celebrate and embrace this diversity of approaches as we try to different people rather than let this be so devisive and issue!

I find that up to six months is pretty flexible and that you can gradually introduce the crib starting with naps and/or the first longer stretch of sleep and then bring them to bed with that long stretch over time getting longer. If this doesn't work, I'm sorry but you will through experimentation find the solution that is best at the time for your family. Don't forget to try things again, just because somthing doesn't work the first time it doesn't mean that it won't in the future best of luck getting as much sleep as possible!! Jennifer

You may have heard enough on this, but I have a little practical experience that may be of some help--good luck with whatever you work out! We've come up with something of a solution after experiencing a lot of night waking in our 14 month old (with whom we've shared a family bed pretty much complaint free until the past several months of teething, colds, etc.). I've started putting him in a crib after nursing him to sleep at night. I nurse him lying down with his head on a firm pillow, and then after he is asleep for about 10-15 minutes I move him, by placing one arm under the pillow and the other under his body, and then gently placing him in the crib. If he is not awakened by noise he will sleep 7 hours straight. Then when he wakes I bring him into bed with us, though we could move on to putting him back in the crib if I wanted to stay awake long enough to carry out that routine.

FYI & BTW, I also (unsuccessfully) tried a modified cry it out method for his naptime in the crib--I ditto the opinion that the Ferber method doesn't work for everyone. And I know plenty of families who Ferberized their infants and later on had lots of trouble getting kids to bed and keeping them in bed. Sleep and kids can be challenging no matter what, and things are always changing.

We did have another success story--with our first born we successfully weaned him from night nursing while maintaining the family bed--my husband held and cuddled him while he cried, and this took about 3 nights--but he was over 18 mos. and seemed ready at the time, so this might not be as easy with a younger baby, but is worth trying.