I recently spoke to a mom who asked, “Are sleep props really that bad? I mean, they’re kinda working right now…”
In a word, yes!
[Are you scratching your head wondering what a sleep prop is? It’s something external that your child feels she needs to have to be able to fall asleep – ie being rocked to sleep, stroking her hair until she’s good and drowsy, running the kitchen sink while bouncing on an exercise ball…]
If you’re feeding (rocking, bouncing) your baby to sleep or rubbing your child’s back until she’s asleep, she isn’t learning how to do it on her own. She thinks she can’t fall asleep without you doing that for her!
And you most likely have to do whatever it is you’re doing every time she needs to fall asleep! Like popping the pacifier back in 15 times each night…
And you’re probably spending more time getting your baby to fall asleep than she’s actually sleeping, right? Does she wake up as soon as you put her in her crib?
But here’s the kicker: she won’t magically wake up one day and say, “I don’t think I need your help anymore to go to sleep – I can do it on my own!” (Wouldn’t that be nice??)
What’s more likely to happen is this: as she gets older, she’ll need more of that sleep prop to have the same effect. So if you’re rocking for 5 minutes right now to get your baby to sleep, in a short time you’ll likely need to rock for 30-45 min to get her to sleep!
And she’ll likely start having shorter naps – because she needs you to get her into the next sleep cycle! – and waking earlier in the morning.
But the good news is that when sleep props lose their effect, that indicates that the child is ready to get rid of them and start to sleep independently! (But a best strategy is not to develop a dependence on those sleep props in the first place!!)
So what’s a mom to do?
#1 Stop relying on all the “stuff” you think your baby needs to fall asleep
If you feel like you have to drive around for 9.8 miles before your baby will fall asleep or you need to play a specific song on the mobile with the swing on medium…just stop! The swing, rock n play, constantly moving cradle have to go. If your baby is used to sleeping anywhere besides the crib, it’s time to make that transition, especially if she’s over 2-3 months.
#2 Put your baby in the crib awake
What?! Awake? That goes against everything I’ve been doing! BUT it’s the only way your child will learn that she needs to develop some strategies to get herself to sleep. Remember that awake is NOT drowsy – where your baby’s sucking starts to slow while having a bottle or breastfeeding or she starts that slow blink, and can’t quite keep her eyes open!
#3 Introduce a lovey
If your child is used to YOU as a sleep prop – falling asleep on your lap or shoulder or lying next to you – then it’s a great idea to get a soft hug-able lovey so your child can learn to fall asleep with that cozy thing instead of you! One of my favorite loveys are the Saranoni mini blankets – they’re super soft, cozy and lightweight.
Remember this is only for older babies – infants shouldn’t have any objects in the crib that could accidentally block their breathing. For young babies, the Bitta Blankie sleepers have “loveys” attached to the sleeper which is much safer!
#4 Make sure everyone is on the same page
If you’re being super diligent not to use sleep props and you’re trying to teach your baby to fall asleep without them, make sure that your nanny (or grandma or your husband!) isn’t using them when they’re taking care of the baby! That will be very confusing for your baby and will make the process much longer. (This post has tips if you need help getting everyone on the same “sleep page”?
#5 Choose the right time to start
Are you about to go on a trip across the country? Are relatives planning a visit? Are you going back to work in the next few days? It’s not a good idea to get rid of sleep props when her schedule won’t be consistent or there are major changes on the horizon. I always tell my clients that they need 2-3 weeks of “normal” to implement changes to their children’s sleep – that gives you enough time to make the changes AND let your child practice those new skills before the routine or schedule changes!
#6 Be patient
In most cases, your baby didn’t just start needing the sleep prop(s) to fall asleep, so don’t expect them to disappear overnight. If you’re following a consistent plan, it shouldn’t take too long for your baby to get used to falling asleep without them, but it may take up to a week.
If you’ve read all the books and blogs, nothing you’ve tried seems to be working and you just want a specific plan for your baby to get things going once and for all, that’s what I’m here for. Head over to this page and we can set up a time to chat!
Photo credit: Deposit Photos | evgenyataman