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Be Careful Who You Let Into Your Bed

When bedtime for children is a nightmare, parents sometimes go to extremes to get a good night's sleep. One method some parents try is co-sleeping, or sharing their bed with their child or children.

After a night or two, this approach usually confirms the old adage: Two is company, and three (or more) is a crowd. Sharing a bed with an infant or small child carries many negatives. Some can be life-threatening; others can threaten your marriage. And in the end, it's a hard habit to break.

  • Parents rolling over. In 1999, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that between January 1990 and December 1997, 515 children under the age of 2 died as a result of co-sleeping with adults in an adult bed.
  • Disrupted schedules. If the child's and parents' sleep schedules don't match, the person with the most disruptive sleep schedule will dominate everyone else. This can result in stress, distress and fatigue for two-thirds of the sleepers.
  • Lack of privacy. Forget those intimate, private moments when your child joins you in your bed. For some couples, the loss of physical intimacy puts a strain on their marriage.

You've Tried It; Now You Want to Undo It

One of the biggest problems with co-sleeping is that parents tire of disrupted schedules or lack of privacy and then want to the child to return to his or her own crib or bed. That's usually easier said than done.

After even a couple of weeks of co-sleeping, your child has decided this is the way to go; he or she won't give up the family bed without a fight. Now you have a challenge on your hands.

First, you can try to ease children back into their own cribs or beds. You might start by putting the child in the crib or bed for daytime naps. This lets children get used to their "new" sleep space and sleeping alone for short periods.

The solution that works best -- and is hardest for parents -- is putting the child to bed at night and ignoring the cries (or screams) of displeasure. There are two methods of ignoring:

  1. Cold Turkey: This one is easy, in theory. Just completely ignore the cries coming from your child's room. Most parents find it to be excruciating. If your child cries for an hour, it will feel like three. But stay with it; the good news is that the crying usually ends in three to five nights.

If you fear your crying child may truly be in distress, try a procedure called "puttering." Go into your child's room and quietly "putter" around. Don't touch or talk to your child. If the crying slows or lets up a little, then he or she is probably okay. A child with diaper rash, a fever or some other ailment will not stop crying just because you're in the room.

  1. Ferber Method: Developed by Dr. Richard Ferber, this method is also called "graduated ignoring." It involves ignoring the crying infant or child for increasingly longer periods of time. For example, on night one, you might ignore the crying for five minutes. On night two, you would wait 10 minutes. On night three, go for 15 minutes, gradually working your way up to 60 minutes (by which time, your child should be falling asleep). This method takes one to two weeks to be truly effective.‚Äč

Although creating a family bed might seem like a warm, snuggly idea at first, we recommend that you carefully explore the hazards and problems it can create before deciding whether it's a good idea for your family.