the pre-sleep routine.
If you haven't noticed already, a sleep association can be a VERY strong thing. Baby can get quite addicted to it! This can be good or bad, depending on what the sleep association is and what your goals for sleep are.
- If your goal is to have baby cosleep and baby is addicted to sleeping next to you, no problem. But if your goal is to be able to have baby sleep in a crib, an addiction to cosleeping won't be at the top of your to-do list.
- If your goal is to have baby fall asleep and stay asleep on her own and she adores her lovie and she adores her crib and feels sleepy when you place her in it in a dark room with white noise, then yippy! And yes, this does happen! If you want her to suddenly cosleep and she's used to sleeping on her own, she'll likely just play the whole time or even cry.
Babies are creatures of habit! Maybe you've experienced one of these common situations:Because sleep associations can be so helpful or hurting, it's a good idea to think about what you are comfortable doing sleep wise with your child right now and in the future. Yes, sleep associations can be changed (welcome to sleep training land...), but it isn't always so fun--errr, ever fun-- so an idea of what you are willing to do and for how long can be helpful from the get go (see accidental parenting and habits).
- Nurse baby, try to lay baby down, baby wakes up, nurse again, try to lay baby down, baby wakes up again and repeat, like forever!
- Baby begins to take longer and longer to fall asleep, even with the use of a sleep prop. (Baby realizes that the moment they fall asleep their sleep prop --often YOU-- will be gone so they resist falling asleep).
- Baby wakes up all. night. long. and you have to help her go back to sleep every stinking time.
Although you can certainly have something connected to falling and staying asleep that involves you and your presence (aka, a sleep prop), I'm not going to get into that. If that's you and you are happy with sleep, I'm not sure why you are here. If that is you and you are unhappy with sleep, well, there is no magical fix to your situation that doesn't include waiting it out (for a looooong time) or CHANGE.
What do I mean by change? I mean helping your child learn to fall asleep and stay asleep on her own. And that means dropping anything associated with sleep that your child can't control herself (like you helping out all the time). We call these little sleep addictions that baby can't control SLEEP PROPS.
Sleep props--like cuddling, rocking, swinging and sucking to sleep or until drowsy--usually interfere with baby being able to go to sleep and stay asleep by herself. And they are exhausting for parents! They are actually the most common cause of children's sleep associations (Ferber and Sleeping Through the Night). This is because when children have a partial arousal (which happens pretty often) during sleep they will often not return to sleep unless the same conditions exist that they had when they went to sleep. In other words, if you nurse your child to sleep she may wake up during this partial arousal and need to be nursed back to sleep again. This can mean frequent night time awakenings for months if not years past the time baby is capable of making it through the night without feedings.
I'm going to say this again because, along with consistency, this is probably the most important sleep tip I can offer: If you want your child to be able sleep through the night and have long naps, whatever sleep prop they go to sleep with, MUST be there for them the entire time they sleep. If it isn't, they will wake up needing it again, regardless of the hour and regardless of how dang tired you are! No, your child isn't trying to get back at you for offering him cold peas the other day, she has simply come to expect you and your assistance and doesn't know how to go to sleep any other way.
Some Helpful Sleep Associations (for self-settling)
- Lovies (see below)
- Pacifier if baby can and will put it back in
- White noise or music if it is continuous
- Swaddle (if baby stays swaddled) or Sleeper Blanket
- Sucking to sleep or until drowsy (bottle or boob)
- Pacifier if baby can't or won't put it back in (pacifier holders can help with this). Not rushing in when your child cries out and practicing putting the pacifier back in during the day can help. If you child refuses to put the pacifier back in but is capable of doing it, then you are now a sleep prop. If you want the wakings to stop, you will have to stop being the sleep prop :)
- Non-continuous sound (some do ok with only sound as they fall asleep at night-but don't bet on this if your child has sleep issues)
- Blankets or Swaddles that don't stay put. Get a swaddle that does stay put, like the miracle blanket.
- Contact with baby while she falls asleep (holding, patting)
- Movement while baby sleeps (a swing early on is ok if needed, car rides, rocking and pacing the room with your 1 year old is not so cool)
- A toy or mobile that plays/moves for only a short time.
Lovies and Blankies
Transitional objects, like a blanket or stuffed animal are a great option because it always stays with baby during sleep which helps her soothe herself back to sleep during a sleep arousal. I bought a small, thin muslin blanket like this for Stella when she was 6 months and I love it. She snuggles with it now and I felt safe with her having it in her bed.
Some Extra Stuff
- Unlike what many people think, sleep prop addictions don't usually go away on their own with time. Instead they often get worse over time so "waiting it out" is usually not a good idea (Ferber, Sleeping Through The Night).
- Some sleep associations that aren't a problem with a newborn may turn into a problem when baby gets older.
- Some sleep association problems only cause trouble with naps but not night time sleep or vice-versa.
- Sometimes something you do right before falling asleep can cause sleep issues, but usually this isn't the case. If you think it might be an issue, simply move the 'something' forward 10-20 minutes for several days and see what happens.
- Just because something is considered a sleep prop (like nursing to sleep often is) doesn't mean the act is bad, it simply means that it can interfere with a child falling to sleep or staying asleep on his own.
Sleep Props and Newborns