Co-sleeping families: are your older kids able to go to sleep without you?

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By: Sonya GreenCC BY 2.0
I have read plenty of articles on co-sleeping on Offbeat Families, and I understand that many of your readers practice it. I know that you have done the topic ad nauseum, but what I cannot find on your website is information on “bedtimes.”

Let me explain more: I have not yet fallen pregnant, and already I have every mother I know telling me to sleep train. Women who co-sleep are social pariahs, and my family regard the biggest mistake that a mother can make as “taking baby to bed with you.” Friends who have babies who go to sleep at a particular bedtime attribute this to sleep training, and are able to lead fairly pleasant social lives after 7pm because of it. Some women I know even claim that baby sleeps through the night from the get-go with sleep training.

Now, I personally don’t see the importance of sleeping through the night at a young age, but I am secretly afraid of co-sleeping, only to have a toddler that never goes to sleep and all my female relatives tutting their disapproval behind me.

So, I would like to know whether or not families who co-sleep experience difficulties in getting baby to sleep at night that parents who sleep train don’t experience, and if your kids ever have a problem in sleeping without you? — Carmen

Comments on Co-sleeping families: are your older kids able to go to sleep without you?

  1. I didn’t co-sleep or specifially sleep train but wanted to share my experience: I was afraid to even try when my baby was young, and by the time I wanted to try just for naps (around a year) she just wouldn’t cooperate. If I was in bed with her, she wanted to play. I realize I’m not answering your question directly, but my experience was that my baby wouldn’t co sleep just because I wanted her to!

  2. We used to cosleep, but now our 10-month-old son mostly sleeps in his crib unless he’s sick (not because I’m against cosleeping, but because he sleeps better in his crib.) However, even when we were bedsharing, I would just feed/rock him to sleep and then place him in his crib for the first part of the night. At first, he woke up a lot, but every time he woke up, I would just go back in and feed/rock him back to sleep and put him back in his crib until he stayed asleep. After a week of that, he pretty much stayed asleep the first time I put him down. Then, when my husband and I went to bed, I would bring our son into bed at his first night waking. There was no crying involved in this process and it allowed us to have time together after the baby went to bed. I’m in several online groups with women who bedshare and many of them nurse to sleep and leave baby in bed (with a bed rail or side-carred crib) while they go and do their evening activities. With that said, I also know some women whose babies do not allow them to leave and in these cases, the women basically go to bed (but may stay up reading or something) when their baby goes to bed. Some are happy with it and some are not. I think it just depends on your baby and your situation.
    This is all to say that while it may take a little longer to put baby to bed when you don’t sleep train (it only takes me 20 minutes, including the time to feed him) it’s certainly isn’t always difficult and I enjoy it. I get sad when I have to work late and don’t get to rock my son to sleep.

    • My process was similar. We started out sleeping together, because as a new born he just couldn’t sleep with out me for any length of time. Then I would put him in his crib until first waking, after which I brought him to bed with me. “Bedtime” training started somewhere later (close to a year maybe) and has been perfectly successful.

  3. I know you want direct experiences, and I think you’ll probably get a lot of responses, but I will say that my cousin co-sleeps and is frustrated now that her baby is 2. Her baby wakes several times throughout the night (2-3) and the baby cannot sleep without her. The 2-year-old also moves a lot at night, so my cousin’s husband often leaves to sleep in the guest room.

    This also means that when we have social time (at holidays, etc.) my cousin has to leave early to go to bed with her child or the child won’t sleep.

    HOWEVER, despite expressing frustration, my cousin has never said she should have done things differently, so maybe the benefits outweigh these drawbacks for her.

    She does face a lot of criticism from some people over the issue (specifically her aunts/uncles). I would probably cry if some of the comments she receives were said to me. But I really admire her for staying strong and doing what she wants to do as a parent.

    I think in the end, you maybe can’t worry about what MIGHT happen. You do the best you can, and then if it becomes a problem, you make a change. For us, we didn’t cosleep but we did rock our twins to sleep with a bottle every night, until one day we realized they wouldn’t sleep without us there to do that, and every time they woke up we had to repeat the process. At that time we made a change because the routine wasn’t working for us as parents anymore. It took some work and planning, but we were successful in solving the problem. So, if you want to try co-sleeping and it DOES lead to problems later, it’s totally possible to fix them.

    Good luck 🙂

  4. I know what you mean about all the people telling you that “you’ll have 5 year olds sleeping in your bed.” Or at least that is what our ped. cardiology nurse told my husband when he said we cosleep our daughter.

    Luckily, as it turned out my daughter transitioned to her bed at about 14/15 months old without a problem. The first few days were an issue, more for me then her, but on day 5 she slept all night and we haven’t looked back sense. I guess I should say that we started co-sleeping when she was 6 months old and she only slept with us for about 9 months total.

  5. I have been cosleeping since my daughter was born (she’s almost 2 now). It was, was and still is the easiest option for us as I breastfeed. She established her own schedule. She wakes us up at 8:30am, and lets me know it’s time for bed at 10:30pm, by taking my hand and walking me to the bedroom. It hasn’t really been difficult to get her to sleep for me, however, everyone is different.

  6. i was ready to be a hardcore cosleeper as soon as we started trying to get pregnant. after the birth, we didn’t “put him to bed” – he dozed with my husband or me or in a nearby cradle until we all went to bed, then slept in the bed with us. at two month, we got a cradle to put beside the bed – within two days, he was sleeping through the night in it.
    now he’s hit four months and the notorious four month sleep regression, so he goes to sleep in his cradle by the bed (again, when we go to bed) and i bring him into bed with me when he wakes up hungry. i probably would try to put him back in after he eats, but i usually fall asleep nursing!
    i don’t know what’ll happen in the next two years. i do know that the next step is a toddler bed in our room, then the toddler bed in his room. little by little…

  7. I think the mistake people make is assuming that the outcome is based on whether or not you co-sleep. I think children’s sleep varies from child to child and a lot over time. I don’t think it’s pathological for children to need company to fall asleep, nor do I think it’s strange for this to last into elementary school age. I don’t “blame” my children’s need to have company on my choice to co-sleep, which I believe was the right choice for our family even if our kids are both crap sleepers. I think that’s who they are. FWIW, our 5 year old likes us in the room and takes about 10 min to fall asleep in her own bed. My 3 yo likes to snuggle for about 15 min. They both join us at night often. Bottom line is, I wouldn’t make parenting decisions based on whether or not people are going to think you’re dumb for them. It’s a guarantee that someone will think you make a bad choice. Heck, it’s a guarantee that you will question whether you’re doing the right thing all the time. The important thing is to make the choice based on your family’s needs and your individual child, not on others’ perceptions of what’s right or wrong. Some kids sleep fine, sleep trained or coslept. Some kids sleep shitty, sleep trianed or coslept. At least I know that my children fall asleep without tears or fears, and achieve more sleep independence over time. Whether or not my Mom thinks this is right (she doesn’t) has little impact on what I feel is right in my heart for my family. My 2 cents!

    • Yes, this. Some kids are just crappy sleepers and some are great sleepers from birth. I know a mom online with an almost two-year-old who wakes every two hours and a six-month-old who wakes once at 4am to eat and otherwise sleeps through the night. She didn’t do anything different with the younger one, the older one is just a different child with different sleep needs.

    • definitely. Some kids, like some adults, are great sleepers. Others aren’t. I have twins. We never co-slept our son because he doesn’t like it. His preference has been to sleep in his own crib by himself
      and he has been a great sleeper since he was 2 months old. I’d like to take credit for his great sleeping skills but it had nothing to do with parenting.

      His twin, my daugter, on the other hand really loved cosleeping. She couldn’t sleep in a crib due to reflux and other stomach issues. She is not the best sleeper due to these issues and really benefited from sleeping with us. And like I said in my previous comment she made an easy transition to sleeping in her own room and crib now that she is a toddler. Every kid is different.

  8. My daughter is 4 months old, so of course I don’t know what will happen in the future. But personally, we are super happy with co-sleeping. She knows we’re always there, so she never cries at night. When she’s hungry, I just roll over to breastfeed her, we don’t have to turn on the light or get up and she just continues sleeping afterwards. So this is is relatively easy on all of us. My huisband doesn’t even really wake up. For the last month or so, she’s started to be consistently tired around 8 pm, so one of us stays with her for about 10 minutes until she’s asleep and then she sleeps by helself in our bed until we go to bed around 11 pm (which doesn’t wake her). So we have our evenings to ourselves.
    I’ve always felt more comfortable having her with me, especially when she was a newborn, and she obviously vastly prefers that, too.

  9. My mom never co-slept with either myself or my younger sister, but neither of us could fall asleep unless she way laying with us. Until I was around 10/11 I needed my mom (or dad) to lay with me until I passed out. We did have bedtimes, so it became routine for her to lay with us for 20 minutes or so every night.

    Oddly enough, my younger sister, who is 14 now, still sleeps with my mom every so often. If she has a nightmare, or people are staying at their home, she will sleep with my mom, and they are fine with it. Sometimes even ‘just because’.

    I just wanted to share that, since it goes to show that co-sleeping isn’t a ’cause’ for kids needing their parents at bed time. Like myself and my sister, some kids just want their parents near them when they fall asleep.

    • I really like how you present this. It sounds like your mom was not put out by doing this. She didn’t find it such a huge inconvenience to spend that time with her children at night. I’d love a mom who I’d ever felt close enough to to share a bed with. I don’t want to always keep my children at arm’s length like she did. It’s a mindset rather than a plan. Just be there for your children and make them a part of your life in the ways that matter to them.

    • My parents never co-slept, either, but I was the same way- I needed them to be in the room while I fell asleep until I was around ten.
      Even now, I have a hard time sleeping alone in a room. When I was in high school, and then into adulthood whenever I was single, I needed a pet so that I’d at least have another creature moving around in the room. Weird, but I just get scared and lonely when I’m by myself at night. My brother was the one who told my parents he wanted to go to sleep (even before his bed time). Every kid is different, no matter what you do in early years.

    • My parents co-slept with their youngest (of 4), and up until age 15 (when he went to school elsewhere), he liked mom and dad to tuck him in at night – just 5 minutes of special “goodnight” time. My parents both loved this.
      I am wondering about the whole co-sleeping idea. I am pregnant with our first. I’m the last of my girlfriends to have a baby, and they pretty much all co-slept. And loved it. But then didn’t know how to get the now-toddler into a big-kid’s bed. For one set of friends, it took baby #2 (with whom they are not co-sleeping!). Another friend is still co-sleeping (with a 2-year-old) – and is hoping the transition will happen naturally. Another friend’s baby sleeps in his cot, in his room, but wakes up 3-4 times a night.
      My husband is all for co-sleeping, as am I – but we’re also both keen of an earlier bedtime for the kid so we can get some alone time. The plan is to play it by ear – and have a cot set up just in case that works better (depends on the type of baby you get, right?).
      One thing I’m wary of is breast-feeding on demand in the night. Everyone I have spoken to did it and didn’t have a problem with it but it seems so… “unstructured” to me – but maybe that won’t matter when the time comes?

      • I co-slept with my parents until in was 4, and my little sister was born. A couple years later we moved into a bigger house and mom co-slept with my sister in the guest bedroom until she was 13. My parents have been happily married for 37 years and this separate bed and co-sleeping business hasn’t had a negative impact at all to my knowledge.

      • There are times when unstructured, frequent feeding is strongly recommended, particularly the first 6 weeks, and during growth spurts. It helps you to build up a good milk supply, and helps both you and the baby get comfortable with the work of getting food into them.
        Keep in mind, at first basic tasks like eating are really hard work for newborns. During the first couple weeks, they’re really tired by life outside the womb, they really don’t know how to differentiate their needs, and they need stuff a lot. Some newborns react to not eating for a while by getting too tired to cry about it. The easiest way to avoid that problem is to offer them food every couple of hours, and many moms use side by side feeding as a way of handling the tired night time hours.

    • My sister is 22 and still sleeps in my mom’s bed occasionally, if there’s room (queen sized bed but my mom uses the second half as storage a lot). I suspect it isn’t just because her own room has zero heat, either.

  10. My husband and I have bedshared with both of our children. Our daughter is now 7 and our son is 3. Our daughter has been falling asleep in her own room by herself for at least 2-1/2 years now. Sometimes she wakes up in the middle of the night and comes into our bed – it seems to go in phases and for the last week or so she’s been coming in every night. Our son still sleeps with us every night – no, he doesn’t fall asleep on his own; my husband takes him into the bedroom and lays down with him until he falls asleep, then gets up again. Anytime I have suggested we try to get our son to fall asleep on his own, my husband has resisted – he enjoys the time alone with our son. They talk and play for a while before he actually falls asleep. I love having our kids in our bed – I love waking up and being able to snuggle them awake.

    We both work full time and have since our daughter was nearly 3. Both of our children have had no problem falling asleep at daycare, so they are definitely able to. They also spend the night at my parents’ house often and although bedtime is not strict there at all, since it’s grandma and grandpa, they do just fine when they actually settle down.

    I don’t believe in sleep training as a rule, mostly because I believe every child is an individual and needs something different. I have things that work with my kids – that doesn’t mean it will work with someone else’s. Parenting is such an individual experience, and is often unique between children in the same family. I firmly believe in following your intuition and letting your children show you what they need.

  11. Kids are so different; you can not tell ahead of time what type of sleeper a child will be.

    With my first, I put him in his crib, standard feed, then swaddle and lay down. He was fine. We moved when he was around 10 months and we transitioned him to a mattress on the floor. He loved it.

    With my second, he was the same standard feed, swaddle, and lay down, except this time we’d put on music for him. He was a noisy sleeper, so he was definitely in his own room. We transitioned him to a bed share with his brother at around age 1 (and 3 yr old brother). We turned a full size mattress sideways and they’d play and fall asleep together.

    Then, came #3 and what I knew about sleep when out the window. In the beginning, he was fine in his bassinet. Feed, swaddle, and put down. Up every couple of hours, normal newborn stuff. Around 6 months, he might do a 3 hour stretch, but we could still put him in his bed (now a mini crib). By 10 months, he was having none of this bed thing. He had to sleep next to us on a mat on the floor. Eventually, he moved to sleeping right next to me. We do have a king sized bed, so we weren’t too squished. Now, he is fine sleeping and can put himself to sleep as long as you are in the same room. For normal nights, he and I lay down together. I read by the light of the lamp and he goes to sleep. If we are visiting my in-law’s for holidays, we just let him run around until he is exhausted and then we’ll cuddle him on the couch. He’ll go to sleep in our arms.

    Just be flexible and follow your instincts and what your child is trying to tell you he or she needs.

  12. Also, my third has no problem staying over at grandma’s for the night as long as she sleeps next to him. He has no problem napping next to daddy, but if I’m in the house, it has to be me.

  13. From the day we brought him home our little one has been unable to sleep without being in skin contact with me, and now at almost 2 he has slept through the night (according to the technical definition of 6 hours) exactly twice. While the sleep deprivation has been difficult for me, the sacrifice is one I’m willing to make in order to parent the way I want to. Totally agree with the poster who pointed out that the kind of sleeper a kid turns out to be is not a factor of whether or not they co-sleep.

  14. Whatever you decide, it doesn’t lock your childs sleep into stone! I know many people who co-sleep until baby is 8-12 months then try sleep training, some who share a family bed until children are school aged and some who were in the crib from the get go- only to have their children sneak back into bed with them when they turned 3 or 4. Children’s sleep is not programmed into them “forever” based on what you choose to do for the first few months of life to keep yourself sane. Despite all the intense scrutiny on what families are choosing to do at bedtime (because for some reason that is appropriate) whatever you choose you will be just fine. If anyone tut tut’s you, you can go ahead and say “Sorry, I don’t find caring for my children to be a huge burden.” And move on. My friend who has a 19 year old daughter and a one year old son thinks that this “new obsession” with sleep training is insane. She didn’t have anyone harping on her twenty years ago yet now everyone wants to know the intimate details of her babies sleep routine. Which she never gives 🙂

  15. I know several parents who co-sleep, and know plenty who don’t. You will get issues with sleep no matter what, as children are children, and get attached to whatever they feel is secure and comfortable to them. In particular, I have a friend who co-sleeps with her son, who is almost 2, never nursed him, and has no problems at all with his going to sleep without her in the bed, can be left with a babysitter, etc. The only issues she has reported is a drop in “parent time” in the morning because there is a wee body there putting the brakes on sexy moments. To compare, our son never wanted to sleep with us, still doesn’t, and sleeps just fine on his own.

    I’d say this: parenting is hard enough without folks nay-saying your every move. And they will. If they aren’t criticizing the co-sleeping, it will be because you nurse after 6 months, or cloth diaper, or whatever. Do what works for your family, and ignore the rest of them.

  16. I know some other people have said this already but I really do think that sleep differs from child to child based on themselves more than their parent. My mother rarely coslept with me as a baby (I think only during travel ), but I ended up running into her room to sleep with her every night until I went to middle school. It wasn’t until my boyfriend moved in with me that I stopped for good!

    My boyfriend and I chose to co-sleep with our daughter from the get go, and though at times it is stressful, and there are nights that she continuously kicks me, we love it.

    But anyway, do what feels right for you. I think it might be easier when the baby is born, then you might find you need to co-sleep for your sanity, or you might be perfectly okay with baby in the crib. Don’t stress about it, just go with what you feel 🙂

  17. Okay, real talk. I tried co-sleeping. Like, really hard. I spent nine, nearly ten months spending every waking and sleeping moment with my son – and waking up every 45 to 90 minutes to nurse all night long. Beyond the sleep deprivation, which was pretty horrible, it was painful not to have a moment to myself, not to be able to bond with my husband after the baby went to sleep, and not to even have the option of having friends over at night (and forget about leaving the house!).

    I finally gave in and sleep trained, preparing myself for hours of crying, and for my son to be “psychologically damaged” and resentful of me for abandoning him.

    What actually happened? He cried for twenty minutes the first night, five minutes the second night, and never again after that. And rather than growing distant from me, the opposite happened. He became happier (because he was sleeping and not waking himself up to nurse every hour), healthier (he learned to walk, gained weight, and started eating better within a week of sleeping on his own) and more affectionate towards both me and his dad.

    I really believed that co-sleeping was the right thing to do – I believed it so hard that I was willing to ignore how terrible it was making me feel. My mistake was ignoring how it was negatively affecting my baby, too.

    This is not an anti-cosleeping screed. I know that it works for a lot of people, and that for many families it is absolutely the right choice. The only message I’m trying to get across is to be flexible. No one else’s experience, no book, and no parenting philosophy can predict how you and your child will react to co-sleeping. Just be honest with yourself, and if something isn’t working, change it!

  18. Ugh. You need to choose what works for your child and be strong enough to tell advice givers piss off. Truth is, there’s no right answer. Every kid is different, and to make matters even more maddening, their sleep patterns and needs change seemingly on a whim. Do what works for you, and jam your fingers in your ears when you get unsolicited advice.

  19. We co-slept until our daughter was about 10 months old. It was great up until then, but she had recently started to refuse to nap without me laying next to her the entire time (previously I could lay down until she fell asleep then leave, but as soon as I moved a muscle she started to wake up) and at night she was thrashing around and crawling out of bed and we were all miserable. It took about 2 months to transition her to her crib, and it was hard. There were definitely tears, though we never did cry it out. So that is probably why it took so long. And it was really hard on all of us until she got used to it. But starting at 1 year until now (18 months) she sleeps SO WELL in her crib. We lay her down, and she goes right to sleep and hardly ever makes a peep. Sometimes she’ll wake up and want to be rocked for a few minutes or need a diaper change, or when she is sick we might bring her to bed with us. When she gets tired now she’ll go grab her blanky and walk over to her crib and look at me like “what are you waiting for?”
    I think it will get really challenging again when we start trying to transition her out of the crib to a real bed, but luckily we aren’t there yet. My grandma was always chiding me for co-sleeping saying that she’d be in bed with us until she was 12, but her paranoia was unjustified. If not having a thrashing toddler in bed with you is a priority, you’ll make sure it doesn’t happen that way. That doesn’t mean you can’t co-sleep at all! Do it for as long as it works.
    We didn’t really even start co-sleeping until about 3 months, before that she was swaddled in a bassinet by our bed. Our sleeping arrangements have been fluid, and that seems to work for us and make it less stressful.

  20. My twins will be here in a month or so (impossible to know how early multiples will arrive!) and I’ve been planning to co-sleep for years. I’ve read several books (Good Nights is my favorite), and many parents say they experienced what other commenters have said here: Children often transition into their own beds without much help. Of course, every child is different. If one or both of my babies resists co-sleeping, then I’m prepared to be flexible. Part of my plan to co-sleep is out of necessity. My husband works nights and I’m planning to return to work after the 3-month leave, so making the nights as easy as possible is what I need the most. To many, that means co-sleeping. Both of our families are against us on this parenting choice, and I’ve actually kept the plan a secret from a lot of people just to avoid constantly defending it. They say you must sleep-train, you must let them cry it out. I think that is intensely cruel and can have long-term negative affects, so I will do anything to get around it.

    I also really like what Teegan said, and I’ve heard many other parents say it, too. The idea that babies and children must sleep in their beds isn’t necessarily true. Babies who sleep in car seats at restaurants, slings while you watch television, and even nap on the floor are completely the norm in many countries. That eliminates the need for bedtimes in most cases. I think the key in all of this is flexibility. If I keep an open mind and try not to simply conform to the parenting styles of those around me, then I can find the balance I want in my life, with bumps along the way, of course.

    • my twins are 5 months now and cosleeping is a big part of still being sane – if i had to get up every time one of them meaows… often it´s just a reassuring touch that sends them back to sleep.
      all the best for you 🙂

  21. No matter your sleeping arrangements, I think it’s important to establish that nighttime is for sleeping from the get-go, by keeping the room dark and activity at a minimum. Also, establish a bedtime routine.

    We coslept until my son was ten months. He prefers to sleep in his own bed now and objects if we leave him in ours. Before that, we always had him start the night in his bassinet or crib, and then cosleep from the first waking on. We know lots of families who do this. You can have a bedtime, and know that your child is in a safe place while you get some time to yourself before you go to bed.

    I agree with other commenters that you need to figure out what works best for your family – no one can tell you what to do.

  22. I think sometimes whether or not you cosleep has less to do with what you want to do, and is more about the temperament of your individual child. While I did plan on cosleeping before my son was born, we planned on having him a cosleeper, and instead found that he needed to be phsycially touching me for any of us to get any sleep. My best friend had her son ten days after me and also planned to cosleep. Being in bed with mom and dad kept him awake, and he slept better in a crib in his own space.

    At 18 months they both sleep through the night 95% of the time in their own rooms. We did what made the most sense for our families at the time. There are some kids that are going to wake throughout the night until they are three no matter what you do. If cosleeping works for your family then do what works.

  23. Like everyone else has said, it depends on the child. We coslept until about 4 months, then transitioned to a crib pretty easily when my daughter showed she was ready (by wiggling away from us on the bed and making it clear she needed her own space). She has never slept very soundly, but that’s true whether she sleeps with me or by herself.

    Anyone who says a certain parenting style will “never” or “always” lead to a certain behavior doesn’t know what they’re talking about. People are more complicated than that.

    I really recommend the book “No-Cry Sleep Solution”. It’s very friendly to co-sleeping and also provides lots of ways to make sure the parent’s sleep needs are met too.

  24. Many people above have said that each child is different, so perhaps the thing to do is just try and figure our what the new baby needs. If they’re restless and need lots of physical contact, I think it will be an exercise in frustration to try and “train” them out of it. In the same way, you can try cosleeping with some babies and as soon as they are able to they will kick you away (my 2nd at 4 months). Having said that, if you can all cosleep then do it! My memories of snuggling my oldest are my favorite parenting moments hands down.

  25. same thing here – find out what works and feels right for your family and don´t let the “but that is how EVERYONE does it!”s scare you.

    we cosleep with our 5 months old twins and our 2 1/2 year old.
    for the first six months or so i would let my son fall asleep wherever we were and just transfer him to bed when we went.
    later, i nursed him to sleep in bed and left – that took a while at first, because he woke up when i moved and then it all started over again. but that stopped eventually and for some time now we have a nice routine: a book, lights out, cuddling and a song and then i/ dad leave(s). for him, i think he´s sleeping through the night because of the co-sleeping. he often reaches over for a quick touch and goes right back to sleep.
    he is also able to sleep without me, as long as someone he knows is there for him, we tried that for the first time when i had the flu last year and again for the birth of the twins 🙂
    btw. my godson absolutely needs his space and a qiuet room to go to sleep, the totally opposite.
    i think that´s really the zen of parenting: let go of all the expectations and see where the child and your love for him or her leads you.
    and on that cheesy sentence, i´ll finish 🙂
    all the best!

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