09 Jul

For newborns, any sleep is good sleep. Whether baby is nursed to sleep, held to sleep, falls asleep on the playmat… it’s all good! Newborns often aren’t biologically mature enough to have strict sleep schedules or form sleep habits. But as babies age, these old habits can eventually interfere with baby’s ability to sleep for longer stretches. 

How we fall asleep is a learned skill. We aren’t born biologically knowing how to fall asleep; we learn this through our environment as a baby. When baby reaches around four months old, sleep habits start to form, and baby can become reliant on those routines. How the environment looks when baby initially falls asleep, is what he will seek out when he needs to go back to sleep- this is a sleep association. 

When a parent tells me that her baby wakes constantly when in her crib, but sleeps soundly while held…it’s because this baby has formed a sleep association. She has learned that mom = sleep, but her crib does not hold the same association. 

It’s normal for babies (and children and adults) to move in and out of sleep cycles overnight, and this may cause a brief awakening. If the sleep associations the baby has formed aren’t there, he will likely become upset as he wants to go back to sleep but cannot without support. When a baby forms sleep associations that are readily available overnight (the crib, his sleep sack, white noise machine) he will more easily be able to settle himself back into sleep without needing additional support or parent involvement. 

Common sleep associations are nursing or bottles to sleep, rocking to sleep, parent in room to sleep, stroller to sleep, car to sleep, swing to sleep, pacifiers, etc. 

How can you avoid sleep associations or remove them if already formed? 

  • Start putting baby into the crib drowsy but awake
  • Try to shift the feeding schedule to be somewhat separate from sleep times
  • Have an activity that falls between feeding and crib (such as feed, diaper change, crib)
  • Create a short but consistent bedtime routine that signals to baby that sleep is coming
  • Start fading current sleep associations by doing them for shorter periods or ending before baby is fully asleep
  • Fade current sleep associations by getting baby used to something less intrusive. For example, hold instead of nurse, then pat bum or rub back instead of hold, then stand near crib instead of pat…

Reach out if you'd like additional support to help your baby develop successful and independent sleep skills!

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