Parent Questions: My two and a half year old still sleeps with us. A relative told us we're stunting his development. Now I'm starting to feel guilty. We all get a great night sleep, with our son sleeping 11 hours straight. When should we stop co-sleeping? 

Jonah at 2 ½ years needs 12 hours sleep a night if he is having no day sleeps, if he is still having a day sleep then 11 hours is right on track.  If his sleep is deep and restful and you and your husband are having a great sleep as well, then from a sleeping and development point of view co sleeping is presenting no problems for your family or your son.

However, there are a few other points that you need to consider when making your decision.  At some point the inevitable will happen or be forced, which is, your son will need to be moved out of your bed and into his own at some stage in the future.  More often than not, this is usually when your second child is due.  Parents often at this stage promise themselves that they’ll sort it out before the baby arrives and usually this is left until the night before, as your toddler is obviously not keen on moving.  This moving in itself, from an emotional point of view is quite traumatic for your son. A parent’s solution when faced with a distressed toddler and the night fast approaching, is to, in desperation allocate give Dad the role of sleeping with the toddler. As the toddler, quite rightly, is use to company and doesn’t want to sleep alone.

Thus the situation unravels where mum is feeding the baby and co-sleeping with the baby and Dad and the toddler co­­-sleep.  As a result mum and dad no longer sleep together and each parent sleeps with a child.  This is not ideal as you can imagine from a relationship point of view.  Parents still need to have time for each other as well as their children and once they are sharing their bed they become locked into this cycle and feel very guilty for even thinking that they as a couple need a bit of space.  Usually parents’ hope that their children will grow out of wanting to sleep with a parent however, this is unlikely to happen.

The important point here is that your toddler in co-sleeping has associated the company of you, his parents as part of his sleeping cues.  Therefore, when the situation arises and he needs to sleep on his own, his brain tells him that he is unable to sleep on his own and cannot get to sleep without either of his parents.  The same happens when he wakes during the night on his own, he will be unable to put himself back to sleep without the familiar presence of his parents.

The longer you leave this situation the harder it will be to change.  I have seen parents persist with co-sleeping until the age where their children attend school camps and the issue is then forced upon them or even then the parents attend school sleep overs and camps to ease the difficulties this presents for their child.

Be sure that if you plan on a second child, that you certainly need to change this sooner rather than later as, emotionally for your son, you do not want him to associate moving out of your bed with the arrival of his sibling.  There are strategies that you can use to ease this transition for him when you decide the time has come, rather than just to put him in another room by himself if you’d rather a more gentle approach, This approach will require more time to re-establish good sleeping habits.


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