We have one rule when it comes to sleep in our house. Everyone needs to sleep and everyone deserves to be comfortable when they are sleeping. Where people sleep or how often that changes, isn't really relevant as long as everyone is able to sleep comfortably. Sounds idyllic, you might say. But how do you make that happen? Let me tell you the story of how we got there.
Before we had kids, I had a colleague that I'll call Mike. Mike often came into the office in the morning complaining about a sore neck or a sore back. Ask him why and you'd get an earful. His daughter wet the bed, so they got her changed and brought her into their bed so they didn't have to change the bed in the middle of the night. Then, his toddler son would wake up and want to come to their bed, but there wasn't enough space, so he would go over there and sleep with him. The problem? His son had a toddler bed. This scenario, or some version of it, played out frequently enough that I knew when we had a baby that we were never going to buy a toddler bed. The rest of our sleep arrangements worked themselves out over the years, but buying a toddler bed was not something we ever considered.
Who sleeps where and in what type of bed has changed
many, many times since our first child was born seven years ago. But it seems like the most challenging time for a lot of parents is during the toddler years, especially if they are adding a newborn sibling at the same time. So I thought I would talk about what our sleeping arrangements were like when our children were that age.
- When Julian was around one year old, we took down the large-sized laundry hamper in his room (also known as a crib) and replaced it with a double futon (which used to be our guest bed) equipped with a bed rail (which you can see pictured in my co-sleeping safety post). Once we did that, most nights we would put him to bed in his room, and then sneak out once he was asleep. Initially, it was almost always me putting him to bed because he nursed to sleep, but he would go down for my partner with a combination of a bottle of breastmilk followed up by a pacifier if I was out for the evening (as well as for daytime naps because I worked and he was a stay at home dad).
- We bought a king-sized bed for our room and then moved our queen sized bed to the guest room to replace the futon (my mom came to visit and help out almost every week, so we needed another sleep space). Before Emma was born, when Julian woke up at night, I would either go and join him in h is bed (which was not a toddler bed!) or I would bring him to our bed.
- When I was pregnant with Emma, we gradually stopped bringing Julian to our bed at night and my partner also started more frequently being the one who would go and sleep with him at night if he needed someone. We didn't want it to be a sudden switch from mommy to daddy once the baby arrived, so we made the switch gradually.
- Once Emma arrived, she slept with us in our bed (following safe bed sharing guidelines) and Julian kept sleeping in his bed, with Daddy going to him as needed at night.
- But once Emma was a little bit bigger and the suffocation risk wasn't a big issue, things became more flexible. If one parent was sick, that person could sleep alone (to get more rest and not keep others awake with coughing) while the other parent slept with the kids. If one of us snored, we could kick that person out or sneak away to the other bed. If one bed got wet due to a leaky diaper, we didn't have to change the bed in the middle of the night.
As long as everyone was sleeping, the "where" didn't matter so much. Here's the three of us lying in Julian's bed cuddling.
This approach was based on the size of our house and the space that we had available. Not everyone has the same space available, but similar arrangements could be worked out (temporarily or permanently) with a mattress on the floor or a pull-out couch (not for the newborn, but okay for older kids or a parent alone). Creating options, so that no one keeps the rest of the family awake at night, helps everyone to get a bit more rest.
I think the musical beds approach has also made our kids more comfortable with sleeping in new and different places. As long as we are there, they are not attached to a particular bed, nightlight, or star stickers on the ceiling. Whether it is a hotel, a tent, or a relative's house, they are pretty easy going.
Now that our kids are older, we still have very fluid bed space. We still have the king-sized bed, Emma (4 years) now has the double bed, and Julian (7 years) has a bunk bed. But as I sit here and type, Daddy and the two kids are cuddled upstairs in the king-sized bed. As they grow, finding a balance between independent sleep and keeping the closeness of the family bed is important to us and the musical beds approach continues to work for that.
Need more sleep tips and resources? Check out my Gentle Baby and Toddler Sleep Tips and Read How We Transitioned from Nursing to Sleep to Other Forms of Comfort.
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