What exactly is a sleep prop?
Sleep associations or “sleep props” are anything that your baby uses and needs to fall asleep. Nursing to sleep and rocking a baby to sleep are the most common, but there are many others. The breast, a pacifier, white noise, rocking, swinging, comfort nursing/comfort feeding, and movement in the car or stroller, can all be sleep props.
Sleep associations are a normal part of falling asleep. Even we as adults need that something to help us fall asleep. It’s when these props disrupt your baby’s sleep, that it becomes a problem. If your baby is not sleeping well at night, wakes frequently, or puts up a fight at nap time, it may be time to start teaching your baby to fall asleep on his or her own and without any sleep props.
How do I know if my baby has a sleep association?
Babies that have strong sleep associations usually have very bad sleep patterns. This is because they are very dependent on these props and associations to help them get to sleep and transition through sleep cycles. When that sleep prop or association is not readily available, they wake up completely in between sleep stages and cry out. Until they get their prop of course and then fall back into a deep sleep again. Only to wake again shortly after. It becomes a vicious cycle.
Typical behavior of a “sleep prop baby”
How can sleep props keep my baby up all night?
Think about how you go to sleep each night. Do you read a book, or watch your favorite show before bed? Do you take a warm bath, and slip into your comfy pajamas? Or maybe all you need is your favorite pillow? These are associations that help remind us it’s time to sleep. Any deviation from that can completely throw us off. You could be up all night, tossing and turning, just because you don’t have your pillow, or you weren’t able to take your warm bath.
We associate these props or rituals with sleep, so without them, it’s almost impossible to fall asleep, even if you’re dead tired! This is exactly what happens with babies. They need that exact sleep association in order to fall asleep, and since they have many sleep-wake cycles during the night, they will also need that particular prop to fall back asleep.
Not to mention, if your baby has a sleep association with you, then she is going to wake up alarmed when she realizes she is no longer in your arms. Just as you would if you fell asleep in your bed, but woke up on the couch. It’s just as frightening for your baby! Also, if you are rocking your baby in your warm and cozy arms, but then place her in the crib, she will wake during the transfer or shortly after laid down. Quite often after a sleep cycle. She will wake up, scream, flail her arms or startle and at that point it will be very difficult to get your baby back to sleep. Laying your baby down awake so she is aware of her surrounding prevents this.
Rocking and nursing a baby to sleep is a parent’s natural and immediate response to their baby’s crying. And at times, that’s ok. However, it becomes a problem when you’re up all night rocking, bouncing, or nursing to sleep because that’s the only way your baby will fall asleep.
I rocked and nursed my first baby to sleep, and put her in the swing for naps. We were up multiple times a night, for almost a year! Her favorite sleep prop was comfort nursing, which she “demanded” pretty much all night. I let this go on for so long because I didn’t want to deny my baby comfort. But we were all exhausted, and sleep deprived. I knew that I needed to fix this. I learned that there were much better ways to provide comfort, ways that actually promote sleep. With my second baby, I vowed not to make the same mistakes. At only 6 weeks, she started sleeping through the night.
What can I do?
Like I said, we all need some sort of sleep association each night. However, you have to decide which one you can deal with, and which one won’t keep your baby up all night. Pacifiers, soothers, and white noise machines were all created to help soothe babies. They are all fine to use if they don’t become a problem. If your baby needs a pacifier to go to sleep but doesn’t mind when it falls out, then that’s great! It’s when you’re waking up every half hour to stick it back in her mouth, that it becomes a problem.
The best thing you can do for your baby is to help her fall asleep on her own, so that she doesn’t require your help getting back to sleep in the middle of the night. Many parents fear that this means that they will have to incorporate some harsh methods of sleep training. Let me reassure you that there are plenty of gentle techniques to achieve this, and you don’t have to miss out on any cuddles, kisses, or hugs. My babies got plenty of cuddle time with mommy every single night before bedtime. When we were done cuddling, I laid my baby down awake, and she fell asleep completely on her own in under 2 minutes. No crying, no fussing, just happily and peacefully fell asleep.
If your a baby will not sleep at night or naps poorly because she uses props to fall asleep, or is struggling with other sleep troubles, I am available for Personal Baby Sleep Consultations.
Teaching a baby to fall asleep without sleep props such as rocking or nursing to sleep is one of my specialties! I can create a step by step sleep plan of exactly how to do this. I can also help and support you through the whole process, and will be only an email away when questions come up, to ensure you are successful.
Take a look at what others are saying about how I have helped their little one sleep through the night. You might find a story similar to yours!
Sometimes figuring out why your baby is waking up so often and finding a solution to stop the wakings, requires some help. For that reason, I offer personal consultations.
The consultation comes with a step-by-step sleep plan that I create for your baby, and help through the entire process so that your baby can start sleeping through the night. If you need help getting your baby to sleep, please take a look at my Consultation Packages, or see what others are saying about how I have helped them on the Testimonials Page.