Co-Sleeping With a Toddler

cosleeping toddler

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The decision to co-sleep (or not) with your child is a personal one. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises against co-sleeping with babies, because co-sleeping increases the risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Many parents may change their sleep habits throughout their child's early years, choosing to co-sleep at one point and then having their child sleep independently at other times.

There are many different reasons why a family might choose to co-sleep with their children. Some families believe co-sleeping is a healthy and natural approach to sleep.

Others might find co-sleeping makes the burden of nighttime feedings a little easier. And still others might just happen to fall into accidental co-sleeping as it becomes easier to just accept an occasional nighttime visit from their toddler instead of fighting them.

What Is Co-Sleeping?

Co-sleeping is when a parent or caregiver shares a sleeping surface with their child, at any time of the day or night. A family might sleep in the same bed, or one parent might sleep with the child while the other parent takes another room or sleeping surface.

Families may co-sleep for the entire night or it might happen for part of the night, such as when a toddler sneaks into their parent's bed and spends the rest of the night there. There are many different ways to co-sleep, but essentially, it boils down to a parent and a child occupying a sleeping surface together.

Many families who co-sleep start the co-sleeping practice during a child's infant years. As a result, there has been a lot of focus on the dangers of co-sleeping during a baby's infancy.

It's important to note that the AAP recommends against co-sleeping of any kind during a child's first year of life when the risk of SIDS is highest.

The AAP does suggest that parents sleep in the same room as their infants (known as "room-sharing") for at least the first 6 months of their life. But they recommend that babies sleep on a safe, separate sleeping surface like a bassinet or crib instead of sharing a bed with their parents.

While the AAP's stance on co-sleeping with infants is firm, the organization doesn't have any specific co-sleeping guidelines for toddlers after the first year of life.



Why Families Co-Sleep

Regardless of the reasons for co-sleeping, the effects of co-sleeping on a family can vary quite a bit. One family might find co-sleeping to be a positive experience and believe it brings the family closer, while others might be frustrated with sharing the bed with a little one.

If co-sleeping could negatively impact a parent's sleep, why do families do it? There are many different reasons—not all obvious at first glance—that might lead to a decision to co-sleep.

Everything from living situations, a lack of sleeping spaces, and cultural beliefs and traditions can contribute to the decision to co-sleep. Some parents might work night shifts, for example, and choose to co-sleep to spend more time together with their children.

Meanwhile, other families believe that co-sleeping comes with benefits such as allowing children to bond with their parents. Co-sleeping can even help kids feel safe and secure. 

But for other families, co-sleeping is not beneficial to their sleep or their family. They are tired and long for more space in the bed. As a result, they don't actually want to co-sleep but aren't sure how to help their toddler sleep more independently.

How to Encourage Independent Sleep

If your family is co-sleeping with a toddler and you hope to encourage your toddler to sleep more independently, you may wonder how to get a toddler to sleep on their own. If you've tried and been unsuccessful, you probably already know that breaking a co-sleeping habit can be difficult.

You're exhausted. Your child is exhausted, and everyone is cranky. As a result, it can be incredibly hard to make the necessary changes to help implement a new habit. But, there are ways to try to encourage independent sleep.

  • Work with your pediatrician to develop a sleep plan. There's no shame in asking for help from a professional. Sleep is important for the entire family and in fact, it might be one of the most important factors for overall health. So, it just makes sense to include your child's pediatrician in any struggles you may be facing with sleep so you can work on a plan for the future together.
  • Consider a sleep coach. If you have the financial means, a sleep coach might be the right choice for your family. Families who have utilized a sleep coach have seen results in as little as one to two sessions. Consequently, it may be worth the investment if you see results quickly. Another option is Big Little Feelings. This online course for parents of toddlers provides specific tools to help parents make and stick with a plan to help young children stay in their own beds throughout the night.

A Word From Verywell

It's important to note that co-sleeping with children under 12 months old is not considered safe sleep practices by the AAP, and is strongly discouraged.

When it comes to co-sleeping with your toddler, it ultimately comes down to choosing the option that works best for your family. The bottom line is that a good night's sleep is important to everyone, and it impacts both your physical and mental health.

If you're currently co-sleeping and it's working for you, there is no reason to change anything. But if it's not working for your family, talk to your child's pediatrician to create a plan of action so that your little one can learn to sleep more independently.

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2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. How to keep your sleeping baby safe: AAP policy explained. Updated December 23, 2020.

  2. SIDS and other sleep-related infant deaths: Updated 2016 recommendations for a safe infant sleeping environment. Pediatrics, 2016;138(5). doi:10.1542/peds.2016-2938

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