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Sleep Crutch Vs. Positive Sleep Associations


Kim The Doula

 

Newborn sleep

During my infant care classes, when I talk about sleep, I hear people scoff when I make suggestions for getting baby to sleep. "Won't that mean they will need that when they are older, in college, adults...?" And sometimes this can happen. But let's talk about baby forming habits and which of these sleep associations may be a negative sleep crutch and which may be a more positive sleep association.


To begin with, when we are talking about newborn babies, those between the ages of birth and 3-4 months old, there is no such thing as a sleep crutch or a negative sleep association. Especially in the early weeks, if your baby will only sleep in someone's arms, that's not a bad thing. They are still transitioning to the outside world and need that extra support to get sleep and feel safe and as long as it isn't a problem for you, then it isn't a problem at all. Especially if baby will sleep in other's arms so the birthing parent can rest and recover.


Newborn's before 3-4 months old, really aren't capable of forming habits, good or bad. Their entire brain function is geared towards survival. And their parent is key for that. So holding them and rocking them and swaddling them is normal and encouraged.


Once we get into 3-4 months of age, we can start weaning baby toward positive sleep associations. So what does that mean? At this point, you may wish to consider limiting or weaning off these sleep crutches.


Holding and rocking to sleep. You do not need to do this cold turkey. You can start by doing a technique called Just Sit. Where instead of holding baby and rocking them to sleep, you just hold them, without the rocking. Then, when they are asleep, place them in their sleeping area. Eventually you will shift to placing baby to sleep in their sleeping area drowsy but awake. This can help lead baby to going to sleep independently.


Feeding To Sleep. Initially in the first 3-4 months your routine would likely be feeding baby to sleep. Because, in those first few weeks and early months, baby is in eat, sleep mode. But eventually you can shift them away from eat sleep, to sleep eat. This way, when it comes to naps during the day, there won't be an association that they need to feed to sleep and can just nap when it's nap time and feed after the nap. At bedtime you can feed them after their bath but after, include "brushing" their teeth, reading books ecetra. Begining to create a calming bedtime routine at this point is a great way to make bedtime flow easier for you and lead you and baby toward independent sleep.


Swaddling. Swaddling is great in the early weeks, but as you approach 3-4 months of age, or earlier, they will tilt and shift in their sleep and could roll over. So swaddling becomes a bit of a hazzard, especially if baby doesn't have their arms free to shift themselves. You can transition baby to a sleep sack, even one where the there is a snug body swaddle, but make sure their arms are free, then as baby approaches 5-6mths of age, baby may begin to roll on their tummies. They will likely need their legs free to kick back over to their back so you may want to transition out of the sleep sack too.


NOTE: Swaddling isn't necessary a crutch, but it will be something you will need to transition away from.


Having only one person put baby to bed. As a mum I can contest, when you are on the only person who puts baby to bed and they won't go to be for anyone else, this can be frustrating and exhausting. If there are two parents, it's nice to share this job and it can give the primary care parent time for themselves. I know for me, when my now ex husband put the kids to bed, it was a great break for me after dinner to just chill for a bit and made the night time duties easier to manage.


Now, what are some positive sleep associations that we can include in a bedtime routine that won't be something we have to worry about removing later?


White Noise. I hear many people associate white noise with a negative association. But technically we all have a "white noise" that we sleep too. Have you ever been a city dweller and go to a cottage and the silence of enviornment around you is unnerving and makes it difficult to sleep? The city noises, cars, the hum of a city, is your white noise. I personally, sleep with a fan on, partly to make the room cooler (I need a cool temp to sleep but don't want to freeze my children out) but also the sound helps me fall asleep and stay asleep.


Having a baby get comfortable with falling asleep to an ambient white noise, will allow you make baby comfortable falling asleep in a different space, if you are on vacation or staying with relatives over holidays and baby has to nap in a strange environment.


NOTE: Try to use an actual white noise machine, they even have quite small ones that are extremely portable, instead of an app on your phone. The white noise would, in essence, run all night and I don't know about you, but I can't be away from my phone for that long, and what if someone calls or texts? Will that wake baby up? That's not a theory I want to test, if I've managed to get my baby to sleep.


newborn sleep

Pacifiers. Some baby's use sucking as a comfort measure, and if you are moving away from over night feeds, the pacifier can help satisfy that urge to suck. Especially if baby has been using pacifiers before that, I would't be concerned. For my kids, we when they got bigger, we made a deal that the paci was only for sleep time and they wouldn't be allowed to leave the house with it. They eventually, before school began, let it go. I promise they won't be in college with a pacifier. And if they are, there may be something else going on with them.


NOTE: I'm not saying you should introduce a pacifier at 5-6 months of age, but if one is already in the mix, don't think you've done something bad and you'll struggle to get them off it.


Black out curtains. I will admit, that I was wary of introducing black out curtains to my childs nap time and night sleep. I thought, "don't they need to learn how to sleep with some light? This seems like a bad idea for them to get used to only sleeping in the complete dark." Then I had a baby. And while we didn't actually have specific "black out" curtains, we did have very dark navy ones and blinds behind them. So during the day it was actually quite dark in their room. And it was helpful. We now actually have windows with built in black out blinds and I love those things. It's like sleeping in a hotel.


Plus, black out curtains can be very helpful during time changes if you live in an area where the time moves forward or backward an hour twice a year.


But, what do you do if you are vacationing or spending time with family over the holidays? Well, a well taped large black garbage bag or two can be quite handy. Using strong painter tape so it won't leave any sticky residue behind will be appreciated by grandma after you leave.


So there you have it. My feeling is, if it helps your baby or child sleep and it isn't a problem for you, then don't worry about what people say. The key is the sleep, not how you get there. A Doula friend said to me once when my youngest was a couple of years old, "As long as everyone is sleeping who cares where that is or how it happened."


For more information about sleep and managing life with your newborn, check out my pre-recorded class.

newborn care class


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