Accidental Parenting

One of The Baby Whisperer's favorite phrases is "Start as you mean to go on." You've probably been in a rough situation with your child where you were willing to do anything to fix the problem. Well, often this "anything" turns into a not so good habit down the road. Sure you may not care too much about this habit at first, but 4 months down the road you may find yourself
going crazy with this habit. Take a child that is always nursed or rocked to sleep from the time he is born. At first this doesn't seem like a bad idea, but when you find yourself up every hour at night with your child that will only go back to sleep when nursed or rocked (most likely because he can't make it through a sleep transition on his own), you may begin to regret this habit. You may also begin to get frustrated with your baby for having this habit, but you can't blame him, it is all he has ever known. Start as you mean to go on. It's easier to teach your children what you expect from them now than to fix it down the road.

This is where I disagree with some of the advice from Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child*, Ferber and Karp. They generally talk about doing whatever works for the first three months (as if something magical happens after this time to make structure now acceptable) and then advocate suddenly changing your methods. I'd be pretty thrown off if I was a baby in this situation. I mean, they are taught one way from the time they are born and then all of a sudden everything changes. Doesn't make sense to me. It seems like things would go much smoother if you just started teaching a baby from the beginning when you have a clean slate to work with.

I do want to offer a word of caution with this "accidental parenting" concept. Some things to some people (like nursing to sleep) are acceptable no matter the age of the baby while they are not acceptable to others. Just be aware of what your future goals are and start working toward those goals now. Try to picture you and your baby a few months down the road and think, do we still want to be doing this then too? Also, don't be too hard on yourself. If your future plans don't include holding your baby in your arms while he sleeps but this happens every once in a while, don't worry. While consistency is important, a little variation from the routine is ok, and sometimes necessary. Don't beat yourself up about it and try not to stress too much about it. Plus, sometimes you just have to do whatever works at the moment to make it through the day or to help baby get some sleep, even if it means using a sleep prop. Sure you may end up having to retrain later on, but if that means keeping your sanity and allows baby to get adequate sleep, then do what you have to do.

*HSHHC does mention that starting sleep training early prevents long bouts of crying and sleep problems in the first place. But he doesn't exactly say when "early" is at this time in the book although it sounds like it must be very early on if you are going to prevent sleep problems from even starting. Later on in his book he talks about doing sleep training around a few months of age.

Related Posts:
Sleep Props/Associations


  1. Thank you for your last paragraph! lol. I'm spending my mornign while my 8 week old naps trying to figure out how to get her to sleep better between 6pm and 12 am and came across your blog. I'm finding it very informative so Good Job! I like that you've already done the owrk of reading the books and have summarised their basic philosophies. Thanks again!

  2. Thank you for all the concise information, especially regarding sleep! Our problem at the moment is that baby Maya is 12 weeks now and we have gotten stuck with some accidental parenting and I'm not sure how to stop or fix it! She needs to be bounced to sleep or what I've been doing for the last month has been to carry her around in a baby carrier so I can carry on with work around the house while she sleeps in the carrier. Now she cannot fall asleep without the carrier or a lot of bouncing up and down. Shush-pat doesn't seem to work, she just keeps crying and crying until I bounce her and I think she's a bit young for PU/PD. what should I do? Hubby reckons we should just keep bouncing or carrying her to sleep until she's old enough for other sleep strategies but I'm scared that not trying to change things now will make it harder later. I do the 4S wind down routine. Help!

    1. Sunayana,
      At this point, I don't think things will be tons harder to change if you change them in a couple months. Tons longer than that, well, she will very likely have a lot more resistance to her with changes.

      You might want to try dropping a prop at a time. Transition things. So I would continue holding her to sleep but stop the bouncing. Yes, she'll have a harder time at first (no one, babies included, like big change like this) but you are with her and can offer comforting words. She will take time to get used to something new. I would always do the 4 S routine, even if you are putting her to sleep in a carrier once she gets calm. You'll want to watch waketimes closely to prevent overtierdness(which will make falling asleep even harder right now). Many kids this age start to not sleep very long or take a long time to fall asleep if there is stuff going on. Having her in a carrier as you walk around may end up leaving her in a constantly sleep deprived state if she sleeps when she ends up falling asleep. Does that make sense? Anyway,if that is what you can get to work right now and what you feel comfortable with that is ok. Just do the best you can and that will be GREAT.


  3. hi Rachel, love your blog! my 4-month old started to sooth himself to sleep at naps and night sleep. i put him down awake put skeepy, put on his wearable blanket, and he starts shaking his head quite vigorously. then he falls asleep. he protests less and less, which is great. we have a simple bedtime routine: bath, massage, story. he falls asleep quite quickly, usually within minutes. however, within the first 2-3 hr he wakes up crying 3-6 times. most of the time he cant sooth himself back to sleep. he needs to be patted or picked up. then he sleeps for 2-3 hours and wakes up hungry. i breastfeed him, he then sleeps 5-7 hours until the morning. why does he wake up so frequently during the first part if his sleep? we try to put him down around the same time every night. between 8-9:30 depending on when his last nap ends or if he shows tired signs. is it just a matter of time as he JUST started to pick up self soothing skills? what should i do when he wakes up during the first 2-3hrs?many thanks!

    1. Kitty Li,
      He may be waking more then because 1) he is overtired 2)his bedtime is too late--it should be somewhere between 6-8 3) not sure. Sometimes I can't figure this issue out and only time takes it away. Work on the first two issues Make sure he is putting himself to sleep initially at night. You are right in your assumption that if he has just learned to self soothe, it may be a couple more weeks before he gets better at this time. BUT, he may not get better during this time until you let him learn to fall back asleep on his own (in whatever way you do--just make sure he ends up falling asleep on his own and you gradually wean from whatever method you do)

    2. thank you for your advice we are trying early bedtime and he doesnt wake up as frequently, which is great. however all of a sudden he doesnt take naps! before he was very easy to put to sleep during the day. he showed tired signs after 2 hours of waking up (rub eyes, yawning), then i would sing to him, put him in crib, and stand by the door. he would then sooth himself to sleep within minutes. starting Wednesday, he wont nap as if he has forgotten how to self soothe ! everything is the sane. he is not teething. it is very hard to get him to sleep. even nursing, rocking dont work anymore. do you have any suggestions? thanks

    3. Kitty Li,
      If it has started all of a sudden and he won't even sleep if you try other methods then my guess is it's having to do with wonder weeks or some other developmental thing. Do double check stuff from the short nap post, though
      And keep in mind that at this age kids get much more alert with their environment so having things dark etc will be more important.

  4. Hi Rachel,
    I commented about a week ago on another post and you suggested trying to spread out feedings, which I tried, and we are now at three hours between feedings and SO much happier!! Thank you so much for the suggestion...I had no idea how easy that would be!
    Now I have another question. I'm nervous to ask because my baby sleeps on his tummy, but, here goes....
    He's 12 weeks and can't sleep for more than a couple minutes at a time on his back and absolutely hates being swaddled. I noticed a few days ago, if I put him down on his back in his crib, he lays down happily and gets really tired, then I can go in a few minutes later and turn him to his tummy and he goes right to sleep. Leaving him on his back doesn't work because he never fully falls asleep. Starting out on his tummy doesn't work because he gets all mad and worked up and won't fall asleep. Do you think this flipping him over is a bad habit? It seems relatively easy and not a problem, but obviously ideally I wouldn't have to do it. But it's just such an easy and refreshing change from what we've been doing (going in a million times patting him, and many times just giving in after a while and holding him to sleep). Do you have any comments or advice about this?
    Thanks so much,

    1. Rivka,
      I'm glad you were able to space out those feedings. And I bet your baby seems very satisfied and not hungry in between too. Most people with very frequent feedings fear their baby will be hungry if they don't eat as often but I have yet to see it :)

      With the tummy sleeping, one thing some people do to feel more secure about it is use a movement monitor. I can't recommend the tummy sleeping bc I sort of have to watch my back, but I do recommends people use something like this if they do it before their baby can roll both ways. I talk about that in this post:

      There are quite a few people that tummy sleep for the same reason you are--you are not alone with that one.

      Going in to flip him over can definitely end up causing some issues. BUT, he will learn to roll soon and be able to do it himself so maybe you'll be able to keep doing it until then with no further issues--I hope! If not, then you'll just change things up if and when you get to a point that you need to. He may also get more used to his back and start to be able to fall asleep there, especially since he's reaching an age where he may self sooth more--so don't rush in too quickly. Good luck!

    2. Yes he definitely seems satisfied!
      Thanks for the recommendation for the monitor. Good idea.
      Okay so the whole sleeping thing has me pretty discouraged! (besides that his feedings are farther apart and he's now waking less at night. that part's great.)The whole flipping thing was short lived. Now he knows that laying on his back leads to going to sleep, so he screams the second I put him down. In fact, he screams the second I put him down (or in the next few seconds) no matter what I do. If you're not supposed to pu/pd this early (although I have tried it anyway)and shh-pat just gets him more angry, what's the solution? Any kind of shushing, comforting, holding, (if not until all the way asleep) etc. just leads to violent screaming, and I almost inevitably end up holding him to sleep. So then I just feel like I'm wasting tons of time and causing him to cry for no reason since he's not learning to sleep by himself anyway! But then I feel like I'm going to cause us both so much grief as he gets older. I don't know...I never thought I would do any kind of cio and it makes me feel so bad to leave him crying, but maybe it's the best solution? I go between thinking it's all not worth it and I should just snuggle him to sleep since we both love it, and thinking I should just leave him crying until he gets it. I'm so confused!
      Okay I'm sorry. You don't necessarily need to answer this...I partially just needed to vent.
      Also, I don't want to leave this on a negative note, so I will tell you again how much I love your blog. It's such a good mix of useful information and cute articles and posts about being a mom. I love your writing style too. You seem so nice! Thank you so much!! You are the best!

    3. Rivka,
      Thanks for the nice comments. I don't love my writing style (I wish I was a much better writer!) so you are giving me a bit more confidence with my writing :) And I hope I'm a nice person. I try to be. I think sometimes that makes me a little dull, but I suppose that is just how I am so I won't fight it!

      So here's the thing. He seems to have started to realize when it is time to sleep, and he doesn't want to sleep, so he's getting mad. My boys have both gone through phases like this (my 2 year old is currently in one!). They just want to play with mom! Some babies just want to snuggle with mom too (not mine at that age--although I dreamed about it!). Other babies dislike the process of falling asleep (although your son seems to be doing really well with this) so they dislike sleep times (don't worry, they'll get better and this won't be an issue--it'll end up being pure protest if they get mad at all!). Some will get upset about their crib if they're never slept there or if they associate it with something they don't like (like going to sleep instead of playing with mom--don't worry, once again, short lived). Ok. that was kind of long. Just getting some facts out there for you. So you've reached a point where you can 1)choose to help him continue helping him go to sleep with Each and Every waking--but didn't you decide you couldn't keep that up anymore hence the new changes? 2) cio or something like it 3) something in between. I'm thinking you are sort of yearning for 1) because you enjoy the snuggle time, but you don't want to do it ALL the time. I get that. I've been there. I wish my kids would just let me hold them to sleep every so often, but sleep perfectly the rest of the time. But that usually doesn't happen so rarely is it an option. So you've got to decide what you really want right now. Keep old methods up for a bit longer, or make some changes.

      So shush-pat sometimes will work if you keep up for a long time. But honestly, I get the impression (with our short relationship :) that if you put him down and leave and maybe come back every 5 minutes for a shot check, he'll be asleep very quickly. You can also try an inbetween method where you hold until drowsy then put down, if he gets upset, repeat, or you can slowly reduce how much you help him. STand by crib patting at first (he'll eventually go asleep--although it can take a long time) then stand by crib not touching, then move a bit farther etc.

    4. Could I e-mail you? I'm trying to decide if I should do an actual consultation.

    5. You are welcome to email or call me if you have questions about sleep consults, rivka.

  5. My son just turned 5 months old and a couple of weeks ago he started to wake up every 2 hours! He goes to bed around 8, well-fed in the mornings and before bedtime so i am sure it wasn't a hunger-cry type of thing. I do the p.u/p.d when he starts to really cry, and it works, but i feel like im getting myself into deep trouble in later time by establishing a habit. I still swaddle him since he really has a strong reflex, and that helps i think. I shush pat him, but no luck on that neither is pacifier. I was wondeing if you could help me on trainjng him to sleep on his own? Should i let him c.i.o? I am sleep deprived and his father wasnt able to help since his job requires leaving for weeks and weeks at a time. And i also babysit my 2 nieces so i am really tired in the mornings, and to be able to have some sleep would be heaven! Thank you!

  6. So I stumbled upon this blog....this is my third. But, my youngest is 6. Some things are forgotten and I am sure has changed or recommended since then? Now we have a 3 week old. I am nursing him. He has bouts of gassyness when he is tired. SO we do sooth him during those times. But, sometimes that leaves him so tired that we are soothing him to sleep. Also, he often falls asleep while nursing....because we have a blended family of older boys, I do use a cover to nurse. So i think that makes it easier for him to fall asleep. We do bounce him in his bouncy seat as well to sleep. Is this self soothing? or apart of AP? like bouncing him in our arms? At night I have a hard time getting him to go to sleep at first. I feed, bounce, pat in his crib....he falls asleep for a few mins and then wails when he wakes up. He wakes up every 3 hrs or so to feed and falls asleep. Should i worry now?

  7. Hi Rachel,

    My son is 8 months and BF. He has been sleeping in the bed with me up until about a month ago, waking every hour or so to nurse. We started sleep training him using extinction, but I would go in to nurse him during the night if he had slept for about 3-4hours at a time (which I guess isn't complete extinction). The problem is, I was going in to nurse him when he would wake with crying. We decided that he was confused, we were rewarding the crying with feeding sometimes. So, there was a 50/50 chance for him to be comforted. We decided to let him go most of the night instead and have seen better results (he is sleeping for longer stretches now). However, he still cries for about 10-20 minutes when we initially put him down, and when he wakes during the night he cries and cries. We are frustrated because we've been training for about a month now. Most people say it works within a week. What are we doing wrong?

    I was also using this same method for his naps...letting him cry it out, but he wasn't getting any sleep. He was a great napper before, so I just started reverting to his swing and swaddle for naps. I'm guessing this isn't helping?


    1. Hi Amelia, I realise you didn't get a reply to your query, but I'm in a similar situation myself with my baby at the moment and wondered how you got on in the end? Did you persist with the training or not? and did your LO learn to self settle and if so how? thank you...