When my daughter was born, I didn’t plan to co-sleep with her. I knew that the safest sleep space for a baby or toddler is the crib so hers was set up in our bedroom. The problem was that she vomited every time I laid her flat, so we resorted to bed sharing and Daddy got moved to the couch.
A few months later she started rolling and I couldn’t sleep out of worrying she’d roll off the bed. At that point I knew I needed to stop co-sleeping and transition my baby to a crib.
There are safety risks when bed sharing with your baby or toddler. Plus, co-sleeping with a baby that can roll, crawl or scoot off the bed presents an even bigger challenge. Babies and toddlers sleep best when their sleep space has boundaries and parents sleep well from the peace of mind they get knowing their baby is safe.
If you’re ready to stop co-sleeping and transition your baby or toddler to a crib, you’re in the right place. This article explains the necessary steps to take and gives you options on how to do it.
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What’s the best age to transition from co-sleeping?
To be honest, there isn’t a perfect age to transition from co-sleeping.
If you’re ready to get your baby or toddler happily falling asleep on their own and sleeping all night in the crib, then tonight is the best age! Don’t waste another sleepless night thinking you should wait until your child is older because it will be easier, because that’s not necessarily true.
If you have a young baby, like a 3 month old, it’s especially important to transition them to a crib now because it’s the safest sleep space and reduces the risk of SIDS.
Some parents want to wait until their baby is 12 months to transition to a crib, but again, there’s no point in waiting. Whatever age your baby or toddler is right now is the best age to transition!
Crib versus toddler bed?
Need help deciding between transitioning from co-sleeping to a crib or toddler bed?
As a baby sleep consultant who has worked with tens of thousands of parents, trust me when I say this – it’s best to keep your child in the crib until at least 3 years old.
That’s because when parents are sleeping, children are unsupervised. So we need to keep them safe until they’re at an age where they can be expected to safely play on their own ( which is 3-4 years old.)
The reason why 3 years old is the “magic age” is because at this point children have developed the cognitive maturity and impulse control to stay in their bed.
In fact, studies show that crib sleeping is associated with:
- Earlier bedtimes
- Falling asleep quicker
- Fewer night wakings
- Longer stretches of sleep
- Increased nighttime sleep duration
- Decreased bedtime resistance and sleep problems
So stick with the crib until 3 years old unless your toddler is repeatedly climbing out, which becomes a safety risk.
How long does it take to transition from co-sleeping to a crib?
In my sleep training program, 21 Days to Peace & Quiet, I help parents transition from bed sharing to the crib every day.
What I have found works best is when you combine stopping co-sleeping with sleep training. This means that you teach your baby to accept the crib while you also teach them how to fall asleep and stay asleep on their own.
When you do, the process of transitioning to the crib tends to go quicker. Of course, you must be consistent and it’s best if you have a step-by-step plan which is exactly what I provide parents with in my sleep training program here.
In general, the average time it takes to transition from bed sharing to crib ranges from a few days to potentially a week or two.
How to set up a safe crib
Setting up your baby or toddler’s crib for safe sleep is super simple. Less is more!
All your baby needs inside their crib is a mattress with a fitted sheet. This means no mobiles, no bumpers, no pillows and no loose blankets.
If your child is 12 months or older they can sleep with a lovey or stuffed animal. Just make sure they have no small parts that can be bitten off (like plastic eyes or noses).
If your child is 2 years or older they can have a thin pillow.
How To Transition From Bed-Sharing to a Crib
Option 1: A Gentle Transition
Here’s the approach I took with my 5 month old. First, I got her used to sleeping without needing to touch me all night. Then I moved her to the crib. After that, she was sleep trained in her own bedroom.
This approach works well for parents who are nervous (or sad) about stopping co-sleeping. It’s also good for babies who have rejected the crib previously.
Step One: Sleep 1-2 feet away from baby in your bed.
Help your baby or toddler fall asleep as you normally do. Then, slowly scoot away and sleep at the other end of your bed. This gentle move puts some distance between you and your baby, which gets them (unconsciously) used to not sleeping right next to you. If your baby wakes up, help them back to sleep and scoot away again. Repeat this for 2-3 nights.
Step Two: Put baby’s crib next to your bed
Your goal is to get your baby used to sleeping in a new space, without them realizing it. Help your baby fall asleep as you normally do (feeding, rocking or lying down together are fine.) Once baby is asleep, carefully move them to the crib. You’re placing your baby in the crib already asleep. Each time your baby wakes at night, help them back to sleep. Then gently place them in the crib again.
If your baby or toddler wakes up after two hours and fights going back into the crib, that’s ok. You managed to get two hours of crib time! Tomorrow night, you can aim for three hours and increase each night over the next week until your baby is spending at least half the night in the crib. That’s a big win!
Many babies sleep better with a bit of distance from their parents. And parents definitely sleep better when they can’t hear each rustle or peep out of their baby or toddler all night. See if pushing the crib away from your bed toward a corner of the room helps everyone sleep better.
Some babies easily transition from co-sleeping and start spending at least half the night in the crib. While other babies might wake each time they’re placed in the crib.
Give it 1-2 nights to see how your baby adapts. If you’re ready for your baby to sleep in their own bedroom, that works too! You may be shuffling back and forth between bedrooms for a few nights, but short-term effort leads to long-term gains.
This step gets babies used to sleeping in the crib before beginning sleep training. It also gives parents confidence that their babies can learn new, independent sleep habits.
Step Three: Begin sleep training!
Teaching your baby or toddler to sleep independently in the crib is the sure way to get them happily sleeping there all night. If you don’t encourage independent sleep, your baby will probably migrate back to your bed very soon. My gentle sleep training program walks you through all the details and you can get personal support, too.
The most important step of sleep training is teaching your baby to fall asleep independently. This means putting your baby or toddler in the crib awake and encouraging them to fall asleep on their own. The way your baby falls asleep at bedtime is the same way they need to fall back to sleep each time they wake at night. Once your baby can settle to sleep on their own (and resettle during the night) they’ll start sleeping long stretches.
You can sleep train while room sharing with your baby or set them up in their own bedroom. Either way works, as long as you stay consistent with your sleep training plan.
If your baby or toddler still eats at night, ask your doctor if they’re ready for night weaning. I recommend reducing or eliminating night feeds when you begin sleep training. Here’s my guide on weaning night feeds.
Option 2: A Quick Approach
This is the “cold turkey” approach to stopping co-sleeping and transitioning to the crib. You will sleep train and transition your baby or toddler to the crib at the same time. With this approach, you begin sleep training with your toddler in the crib on the first night. Your bed is now “off the menu.”
On night one, place your baby in the crib after your relaxing bedtime routine and use a sleep training method to teach them to fall asleep there. You’ll use the same sleep training method for all night wakings, and keep your baby in the crib all night. Reducing or weaning off night feeds happens simultaneously with sleep training. (Want help with this? Sign up for my proven sleep training program here!)
As you might expect, because there’s no “warming up period” this method can lead to some resistance from your baby. But if you’ve tried the gradual approach and it didn’t work or you need to start getting some sleep right away, this method will get the quickest results. And yes, it’s safe and will not harm your baby.
Many parents use the quick approach in my sleep training program, because they’re suffering badly with broken sleep and need to sleep right away. Parents of very active babies (rolling, crawling or walking) choose this approach when co-sleeping becomes a safety risk. As do parents who are ready to stop co-sleeping as soon as possible.
How can I do sleep training after co-sleeping with my baby?
A lot of parents ask me about how to sleep train while weaning off co-sleeping. Are you supposed to sleep train before, during or after?
This depends on the method you choose. If you opt to stop co-sleeping with your baby using my gradual method, you will sleep train after a few days of transitioning to the crib.
If you’re going cold turkey on stopping co-sleeping, you will sleep train and wean off bed-sharing at the same time.
If this feels overwhelming or scary, remember that I have a sleep training program that has helped thousands of families get their babies happily sleeping in the crib all night. You can add on personal support too! Learn more about my gentle program here.
I hope this article helped you understand your options for stopping co-sleeping and the best ways to get your baby happily sleeping in a crib. Remember, you can either go gradual or cold turkey, and everything you need to know is in this article.
Got any questions? Ask away in the comments and good luck!