Every child needs a safe bed of their very own where they can sleep calmly and deeply. Sound, restful slumber. Sleep is the primary activity of the brain during early development. And a good night’s sleep probably sounds really exciting to most Mommies and Daddies with infants and toddlers.
The goal is to have your baby sleeping through the night in their own bed in their own room. But this doesn’t happen right away. Chances are, your newborn will start out sleeping in your room, maybe beginning in a bassinet and then moving to a crib. Not only is it considered the safest place for baby, it’s also convenient to have them close by for all those late-night feedings. But at some point, you’re going to want to start getting regular sleep again and reclaim your space.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, babies should sleep in their parents’ room — but not in the same bed — for at least the first six months of life, ideally for the whole year, to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) by as much as 50 percent. Exactly why room-sharing dramatically lowers the likelihood of SIDS is still unclear, but it’s thought that having other people in the room makes baby sleep more lightly, possibly leading to a reduced risk.
Keeping baby in your bedroom for those first 12 months can also help boost your bond. “The parent-child relationship is greatly enhanced by allowing the child to sleep in your room as long as possible,” says S. Daniel Ganjian, M.D., a pediatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. Baby learns she can count on you to be there as she adjusts to life outside the womb and is comforted by the sounds of your breathing.
That said, a year is a long time, and some pediatricians support moving baby to their own room before then if that works best for family dynamics. First though, check with your pediatrician to make sure baby is growing well and doesn’t need middle-of-the-night feedings, Ganjian says. Another sign your child may be ready for the move is when she can roll over from her belly to her back, he says.
According to Ashanti Woods, M.D., a pediatrician at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, how long baby can sleep in a stretch matters too. If baby is waking up every two, three, or four hours, it’s not probably not time to move. Wait until they can sleep for six hours or more. Also if your bedroom and baby’s nursery are on the opposite sides of the house, you might want to reconsider and wait the 12 months before moving baby into her own room.
Most babies are capable of sleeping through the night at about three to four months if you set that expectation and then let them. So the five to six month timeframe can be a good time to start breaking any bad habits and training them to sleep correctly in anticipation of moving them to their on room.
First, it’s important to set up baby’s room for safe sleep. That means having a crib with a firm mattress a fitted sheet, and keeping it completely clear of bumpers, toys, and blankets. See our Baby Bed Guide page for safety recommendations.
Korin Miller, in her article on the TheBump.com, says start transitioning baby to their room by having them nap there to get comfortable with sleeping in the new space. Once she gets the hang of that, it’s time to sleep there overnight.
Stephanie Wood’s article in Parents Magazine says teaching baby to sleep through the night begins with a regular routine. Wake baby up at the same time each day. Position the crib near a window as natural light helps organize baby’s circadian rhythms. Napping with the blinds up also promotes this process. If they wake from a nap in the daylight, they understand it’s time to get up. If they wake at night in the dark, they’ll learn to go back to sleep.
Establishing a consistent nighttime routine is equally as important. Activities such as changing into pajamas, lowering the lights, bedtime feeding, cuddling, rocking, and singing a lullaby to the point of drowsiness, all help signal that it’s time for sleep. Finally, put baby into the crib slowly and leave the room.
Stephanie also says that after a couple of days with your new routine, it’s time to put your baby down in the crib while still awake, even if they’ve fallen asleep during feeding and you have to rouse them slightly. She quotes Dr. Charles Schaefer as saying, “It’s the single most important thing you can do.” While crying may ensue, it’s perfectly alright. Babies under six months often last only 15 or 20 minutes before stopping. If it lasts longer early on, you can go in periodically to reassure baby that you’re there, but don’t linger and don’t offer a pacifier or a bottle as this will become a necessary future crutch.
Pam Edwards, a certified infant and child sleep consultant, says that if you’re a little freaked out about your little one sleeping alone, it’s fine for you to stay in baby’s room for the first few nights. But remember, this prolongs the eventuality of baby sleeping by themselves.
The first couple of nights might be tough and sleepless for you, but baby should cry less as they learn that crying doesn’t produce results. You must be consistent. If you give in, you are teaching baby to hold out and she’ll up the ante by crying twice as long the next time. Most babies get with the program in three to five days. If you feel the need to still check on baby, do it unnoticed through a cracked door or a with baby monitor.
When it comes to moving baby to his own room, remember that she’s pretty resilient. “Even if we have a few tough nights, your child will learn to love their new sleep space if your give them that opportunity,” Edwards says. “Having your own room back won’t be so bad either.”
In closing, here’s a good recap from Rebecca Michi, a children’s sleep consultant:
- Don’t let your emotions get in the way. This is so much easier said than done, but it’s top of the list for a reason. Room sharing is a wonderfully intimate way to bond with your baby and it is little wonder that making the transition from your room to theirs brings a lump to your throat. But you know that it can’t last forever. You have to allow your baby space to grow and develop and you also need to ensure that the whole family is getting a good rest at bedtime. It will be strange for a while without a crib in your room, but if you really feel it is the right decision to make then allow yourself to feel sad- but don’t let it change your mind. Think on your room sharing fondly, but remember it was only ever a temporary arrangement.
- Make sure your baby is familiar with their room before the move. Going cold turkey may not be the best option for your little one. Take some time before the move to introduce your baby to his room first. Spend a little longer in there each day, reading a story or playing with toys. Make sure you refer to the room as ‘his’ and talk about how all of his things are there for him. After a day or two, let him explore his bed, perhaps even dedicate some play time actually inside the bed too. Let him see that the room is safe, and that the bed is safe too. This all helps to familiarise your baby ready for the big move.
- Don’t make the move during illness or teething! If your baby is out of sorts with a cold or if he is teething, there’s a good chance sleep will be disturbed anyway. The last thing you want to do is cause added distress by changing his surroundings at this time. Wait until all ailments are over and repeat the familiarisation process if necessary. There is no race and timing could be crucial for a smooth transition.
- Start with naps. When your baby is ready for the transition, start off with day time naps in his own room. Talk to your baby as you put him to bed and let him know it is okay for him to be sleeping there. As with any major change, doing it during the day time is often a lot easier for everyone. Once he has settled into the routine of sleeping in his own bed during the day, sleeping there at night will be a much more natural next step.
- Be Brave! When you put your baby into his own room for the first time, don’t hover outside the door ready to pounce when he snuffles. I know the temptation will be there! Give him a chance. If you’ve done all that you can to make the move as painless as possible, there’s a really good chance he will settle easily. If he doesn’t, remember your sleep training methods and stay strong. Don’t leave your baby to cry if you don’t want to. Go in and reassure him, let him know that you are there for him when he needs you. But do allow him to fall asleep independently. This is a skill he needs to learn.