Dr Sex - Reclaim the couple zone
MY partner still let’s our 23-month-old child sleep with her. She is still breast fed, has never gone to sleep on her own and will only fall asleep on the breast. She still wakes for midnight feeds. What is the best way to break this cycle and get her sleeping all night on her own? This is hurting our relationship. What can be done?
NATURALLY, sharing your bed with your daughter for nearly two years will have an impact on your coupled relationship – how could it not. After all, just having a baby impacts your relationship and creates a new way of relating.
Often there is a transitional adjustment time, as the new parents battle fatigue and define their new roles balancing being both co-parents and loving partners. It’s completely normal for the desire as well as time for sex to plummet for a time. Sometimes it’s a few weeks or several months, but by the end of the first year, certainly your bond as a couple should be back in balance with your responsibilities as co-parents.
Some families choose co-sleeping with their babies, and continue the ‘family bed’ well through childhood. Forthis to work, though, and not negatively affect the family and couple bond, parents need to agree on this lifestyle and value. It sounds as though you need to discuss this situation with your partner and come to a mutual decision about when and if to shift your daughter out of your bed and reclaim that area as a couple zone, at least at night.
I’m a relationship and sexuality expert, not a parenting expert, so I can only answer the first part of your question as a parent myself. Mind you, I know quite a bit about infant sleep as I did study it when my own child had sleeping issues. All humans sleep in cycles. As we lift out of our deep phase and come back into our light phase, we all scan for comfort and safety. If something is different from when we fell asleep (for example, the power went off), we wake up and become alerted to it. This is a basic response – and we all do it – including babies. If a baby, or child, falls asleep on the breast, once they sleep through one cycle, they will wake, sometimes abruptly, with crying, because the condition/s under which they went to sleep (the breast) has gone. The breast (or rocking or patting or any other parent-led sleep aid) becomes their sleep association and they begin to not be able to fall asleep, or stay asleep, without it.
This is problematic in the long run for both the child and the parents, and children have to learn to sleep on their own – it’s a basic developmental skill.
Babies, and children, need to learn to go to sleep on their own (put down in their own cot awake, with the parents out of the room). They will develop their own sleep associations and learn to sleep through the night on their own, and without any milk (which at 23 months, they definitely don’t need during the night).
Your bed can become yours again, for couple bonding time, which is definitely important for your relationship and your connection as a family, too, but you may need help. Many people do – which is why every state has sleep centres, run by experts, and covered by Medicare. They teach you how to work with your child at night so they learn to sleep on their own. And it can happen in less than a week! And with minimal crying!
But before you check in to one of these places (and best to do all of you together), you really need to have a talk with your partner about your direction as a family, in one bed or not, and your direction as a couple – is she ready to balance motherhood with coupled partnership again?
If the answer is no, she and you should really see a counsellor to discuss these issues. If so, and you’re on the same page, but just unsure how to change the nightly pattern you’re into without harming your child’s psyche, get some professional help at one of these sleep centres – your life will be transformed! And while your daughter gets her zzzzs in another room, you two can get back to your big Os ... and back to the business of maybe making another beautiful baby!
Dr Gabrielle Morrissey
Human Sexuality and Relationship Expert.
Author, Spicy Sex and Urge
Check out Dr Gabrielle’s new website! http://www.drgabrielle.com