Children who sleep in the same bed as their parents is an absolute no-no for some parents while others regard it as a treat and want it to last as long as possible.
But soon your little baby becomes a toddler and is still sharing your bed. How do you teach them to sleep in their own bed? And does a so-called family-bed benefit your child?
OWN BED OR PARENTS’?
“Research shows there’s a bigger risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) in children who share their parents’ bed,” warns Anne-Marie Rencken, Director of Training and Accredited Mediator at the Institute of Family Mediators (IFM) in Johannesburg.
“In America and England, paediatric associations disapprove of babies sleeping with their parents,” she adds.
While Anne-Marie doesn’t approve of children sharing their parents’ bed, Lee-Ann Stretch, a sleep therapist at the counselling service Sleep Matters, says the best place for a baby to sleep varies from one family to the next.
“See what works best for your family, provided everyone is happy and gets a good night’s sleep.” Lee-Anne emphasises she has no formal training, but has eight years experience as a sleep therapist and uses tips from Erica Neser’s book, Sleep Guide for Babies and Toddlers.
Some parents first let baby sleep in their room then move them to their own room when they’re a little older, Lee-Ann says. “In other families, the mom sleeps in the nursery so the dad can get a good night’s sleep. In other families the children might wander over to their parents’ room in the middle of the night then the mom or dad moves to another room or bed.”
WHAT IS THE AGE LIMIT FOR SHARING YOUR BED?
“The risk of SIDS makes it dangerous for small babies,” Anne-Marie says.
“And from the age of six months they not only develop their own sleeping pattern, but must also learn to comfort themselves and not be dependent on external comforters such as dummies, cradling or another person’s breathing.”
Even supporters of children sharing a bed with their parents agree the habit should be stopped by school-going age, Anne-Marie says.
“But when a habit is established it’s very hard to break. Children can then throw tantrums and start manipulating you with all kinds of behaviour to get their own way.”
There is no prescribed age at which a child must start sleeping in his or her own bed or room, Lee-Ann says. “But the older the child is the harder it is to get him or her out of your bed or room.”
The change must be made when the parents and child are ready, she advises.
THE DOWNSIDE OF A FAMILY BED
Babies can die or suffer injuries. Children become used to having someone in the bed or room with them before they fall asleep and their separation anxiety can worsen.
Parents suffer interrupted sleep too. With a restless parent in the bed the child can develop poor sleeping patterns. The parents sacrifice intimacy and privacy.
The dad can feel rejected if the mom chooses the baby as a sleeping partner and it can cause tension in the marriage.
The family bed becomes an even bigger issue when more than one child wants to get into bed with the parents.
THE BENEFITS OF A FAMILY BED
It improves the bonding process. It puts parents’ mind at ease having baby or toddler with them.
Children have fewer nightmares and are more self-confident.
Parents don’t have to get up for a crying child – which is especially convenient for a mom who’s still breast-feeding.
TIPS TO GET YOUR CHILD IN THEIR OWN BED
Establish an evening routine, starting in your child’s room and going back to your own room.
Let your toddler fall asleep on a mattress in your room and then make a big fuss about him or her having his or her own room. He or she will still feel safe but will sleep alone.
Move into your child’s room and sleep there so they can get used their own environment.
Once they’re comfortable in their own room move back to your room.