Dear Jenny: How Do We Transition Our Bed-Sharing Toddler Out Of Doing That
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Ever since my baby was five days old, she has slept with my husband and me. She wouldn't sleep on her own and, honestly, I couldn't bear to be apart from her. The kid is now 14 months old and we still cuddle and nurse all night and wake up in sweaty tangles. She will not sleep unless in my arms (she only naps on weekends). It's sweet until I have to pee or eat or be a person. Now that she's getting big and mobile, she's starting to take up more than her share of bed space. Also, the dentist said that nighttime milk is going to rot her five teeth (unless I clean her mouth after every nocturnal session, which, um, no). Also, my husband and I haven't had sex in about a year and a half (granted, I didn't want to until recently...). How can we transition our toddler to her own bed (and off sleep-nursing) without traumatizing her? Will we lose our bond if we stop sleeping together?
Between a cuddle and a hard place
Why did the mommy cross the road? TO GET SOME F*CKING SLEEP.
Sleep questions are the number one question from new moms and moms of young children. During my son's first year, I didn't get any sleep longer than four hours, some of which was unavoidable since I was breastfeeding (many newborns, including mine, nurse every two hours for the first couple of months) and some of which was completely avoidable, but my instinct for taking care of my needs went out the window the second my son shot out of my vagina like the Jamaican bobsled team.
My newborn also "would not sleep unless in my arms" — code for "we didn't sleep-train because the thought that my son was sad created an emotion in me so deep and wide that I would have broken down a door to comfort him" — so, early on, I came up with the batsh*t idea that someone needed to be awake with him at all times. That meant taking shifts throughout the night, holding him as he slept — until I found out my husband was falling asleep on the couch with him, the single most dangerous place to fall asleep with a newborn, and I had a freak-out to end all freak-outs: Things were kicked, words were screamed, articles were emailed, and the fight went on for WEEKS. Actually, it might still be going on. But my husband was not allowed to sleep alone with our son again until he reached about 20 pounds (my son, not my husband).
Which meant, since I chose to co-sleep, first with an infant sleeper (note: the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) cannot recommend for or against these products due to a lack of research, but lists the safe sleep guidelines here), and then, when my son got bigger, in the bed with me, I never — NEVER — got prolonged, uninterrupted sleep.
The odd thing was, at the time, I didn't think I wanted any. As I wrote on my blog when my son was nine months old, I might have been tired as f*ck but I felt rainbows surging through my veins each night from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. It was true. I didn't want to trade the first thing I saw every morning being my son's face and, later, the first thing I heard being him whispering, "Hi, Mommy. Ah luh lou" (BABYSPEAK FOR "I LOVE YOU," ARE YOU KIDDING ME) for even five minutes of sleep.
Then I got real and changed my f*cking mind.
I might have been tired as f*ck but I felt rainbows surging through my veins each night from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m.
Even moms who bed-share — which some studies say can be done safely with low-risk babies, though the AAP cautions against it — hit the wall, and that's where you are, BACAAHP.
I was there, too. I happened to have a rock-bottom experience — a surgery gone wrong when my son was 19 months old — that necessitated I finally prioritize my physical and mental health, which had already been failing in part because of lack of sleep (lack of sleep makes moms more likely to suffer from a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder, and yes, I had two panic attacks I might have been able to avoid by taking care of myself before things got bad).
So here's what I want to tell you: You will not lose your bond with your child if you stop sleeping together or nursing, and you will not traumatize her. Both are natural transitions, and as Kimberley Harrington wrote in her hilarious satirical job posting for a mother in the New York Times, "The primary purpose of this position is to train the people you love most in this world to leave you. Forever."
Parent-child bonds are not made or broken over sleeping arrangements or breastfeeding or screen time or whether or not you have only wooden toys in your home. They are made over a lifetime of a parent showing a child consistency in love, affection, respect, and validation of their lived experience.
But it's possible your daughter will not be psyched about these transitions and will cry, wail, and scream your name over and over in a way that demolishes your self-identity and loosens your skin from your muscles. It also might take a while for her to adjust, so you want to make sure you are dedicated to the process before you begin.
Parent-child bonds are not made or broken over sleeping arrangements or breastfeeding or screen time or whether or not you have only wooden toys in your home.
There are many ways to manage these transitions. Go in with a plan that sounds right for you and your family. But at the least make sure to remember that these transitions are not only a big deal for your daughter but also for YOU — and your body. In particular, research shows that more gradual weaning can help avoid plugged ducts, breast infections, and dramatic hormonal shifts that leave you weeping one minute and laughing the next, like drunk late-night viewings of Bridget Jones's Diary.
YOU DESERVE SLEEP AND, IN FACT, IT'S IMPERATIVE FOR YOUR HEALTH AND YOU AND YOUR HUSBAND DESERVE BROWN CHICKEN BROWN COW. IF YOU'RE READY TO MOVE YOUR KID OUT OF YOUR ROOM AND START THE WEANING PROCESS, MAKE A PLAN AND STICK TO IT. UNDERSTAND THAT THIS DOESN'T MEAN SHE WILL NEVER SLEEP IN YOUR BED AGAIN — HA HA HA OH NO, SHE WILL CONTINUE TO CLIMB INTO YOUR BED FOR MANY YEARS — IT'S JUST THAT SOMETIMES SHE WON'T AND YOU'LL GET A GREAT NIGHT OF SLEEP AND IT WILL ALL BE WORTH IT. BY THE WAY IT'S A MYTH THAT BREASTFEEDING AT NIGHT ROTS CHILDREN'S TEETH. YOU GOT THIS.
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