The Number One Mistake Mamas Make with Baby Sleep and How to Fix It Now
I’m always being asked about my baby sleep secrets by sleep-deprived mamas just like you. Unfortunately, there is no single secret to getting babies to sleep well because no two babies are the same but this article is designed to tackle one of the most common baby sleep problems I see almost every day.
If you want a thorough step-by-step plan to help your baby or toddler sleep through the night from 7pm-6.30 or7am with minimal waking and very little crying, check out my Sleep Like An Angel eBooks in the shop.
Here I want to share with you the biggest baby sleep mistake I see which will continually undermine all your hard work. It seems so obvious once you understand it but often we miss it (and more often than not we’ve created it in an attempt to get our kids to sleep!) I want to be clear, that although I use the word “mistake”, it’s not intended to make you feel guilty about what you have or haven’t done, guilt in motherhood is a waste of your precious time and energy , especially when this “mistake” is made by most mums, including myself!
The number one thing that will undermine all your hard work and your baby’s ability to sooth herself to sleep is NEGATIVE SLEEP ASSOCIATIONS OR SLEEP PROPS.
Sleep associations or sleep props are simply things that help your baby drift off to sleep or cue to them that it’s sleep time. They aren’t all bad, so firstly you need to identify which sleep props are helpful and which ones aren’t.
All babies and children use some sort of prop to help them get to sleep, the more positive sleep props provide a gentle sleep cue or sleep association for your little one which they don’t need to rely on to get to sleep every time. A negative sleep prop is anything that your child depends on to get to sleep, which they will wake up for during the night if it’s not there.
Why are sleep props so detrimental to baby sleep?
If it was just about falling asleep then it wouldn’t matter what you used to get them there. The problem is that we want babies to STAY asleep through the night (remember newborn babies need to wake regularly to feed).
Babies don’t just fall asleep and stay asleep all night. Just like adults, they wake up several times throughout the night. If they are relying on a sleep prop to get to sleep they will expect that to be there when they wake up again, if it’s not then you’ll find your baby calling out and crying for your help to get back to sleep. If you have taught them a simple way to get back to sleep, they will do that throughout the night, without needing to call you in for help every 2 hours or sometimes every 40 minutes.
When we are desperate for sleep it’s easy to fall into the trap of doing whatever it takes to get baby to sleep as quickly as possible. We don’t always think about the long term impact.
Some of the most common sleep props that cause issues with baby sleep include rocking your baby to sleep, driving them in the car, pushing them in the pram, or feeding them to sleep. If your baby comes to rely on these things to get to sleep they will expect them to be there when they wake in the middle of the night.
I always encourage my mums to be mindful of the sleep associations they offer their baby’s from day one but personally I like a more hands on approach to settling babies, especially in those first couple of months. So if you find yourself feeding your newborn to sleep, it’s not going to be the end of the world. New babies need to wake regularly to feed and to establish your breast milk supply if you’re breastfeeding, but it can become an issue if you continue to feed them to sleep after the first 3-4 months.
If you don’t fancy driving the car around the neighborhood at all hours of the night or feeding your 12 month old back to sleep 6 times a night then you’ll need to create some positive sleep associations to overcome the negative ones.
What about a dummy for sleep?
The pacifier or dummy is still a questionable prop that many sleep experts will warn you against. This one is a personal choice and in some cases I don’t mind it. Some babies like to suck on it while they fall asleep and don’t need it later on, while others come to rely on it. Generally my rule is that if your baby isn’t waking regularly and crying out for the dummy then it’s ok to keep. If on the other hand your baby is waking for it several times during the night, you might want to reconsider.
Positive sleep associations to replace negative sleep props.
Music has a profound affect on many systems in our body. It often has strong memory associations and research has shown music can also be used to help slow our heart rate and reduce blood pressure. Creating a routine that incorporates gentle and consistent music will help your baby associate that music with sleep. Some children like to have gentle music or white noise playing softly throughout the night. This can also be helpful where you have a noisy home or older siblings because it will distract from any environmental noise.
A sleep companion
A safe sleep toy or blankie can be a huge comfort to babies and many children will hold onto the same sleep companion well into their preschool and even early school years. Try introducing a sleep companion at around 4 months of age if possible. To give it a reassuring smell you can wear it inside your shirt or pajamas to bed before giving it to your child. Older children may prefer to select their own special sleep toy.
The vast majority of babies love to be swaddled. Very young babies generally find firm swaddling comforting and a well swaddled baby will sleep longer and more soundly.
In young babies, swaddling also prevents the startle reflex from waking the baby up throughout the night and helps to keep them in a safe sleeping position.
Once babies are rolling it is generally recommended not to swaddle their hands but sleeping bags are still a great sleep association for many babies. Often babies who have been swaddled or used sleeping bags will instantly relax and snuggle in for sleep when they are placed in their sleeping bag.
So there you have it! If you’re having trouble getting your angel to sleep (or keeping them a sleep), see if there are any negative sleep associations or sleep props getting in the way. Do what you can to replace them with positive sleep cues and don’t forget to check out my books for a simple plan to help your baby sleep better.
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