Judy’s Personal Experience
Working on this blog takes me back to when I had my first daughter Jannah. During my pregnancy I read all the books but nowhere in my preparing for baby journey did it cross my mind that teaching my daughter to sleep would be part of the role of being a parent! I was completely oblivious to this and to some extent ignorant as I just expected a child to go to sleep by simply shutting their eyes regardless of whether they were in their bed, cot or anywhere else, sleep would just come!
The first couple of weeks were as expected, Jannah would sleep for over 18 hours a day and we’d have to keep waking her for her feeds. Weeks 3 it all started to change and she was starting to have longer awake time, this was the point it all started to wrong, I’d go to place her down for a sleep and she would immediately start crying, I would put her on my breast thinking it was hunger and she would instantly go quiet and within a few minutes be fast asleep. In my mind I thought she was so hungry but too tired to feed hence she was crying, soon I found myself using a dummy to calm the cries and instantly she would sleep, at one point I would also rock her for her naps, I would have her in the bouncer on full vibrate, my foot tapping at it to bounce it plus a dummy in her mouth!!! At bedtime my partner and I would take turns rocking her to sleep and always had 3 dummies on stand by to see us through the night plus my supply of breast milk as the wakes had now got to every hour and on a good lucky night they would be every 2 hours!
In the daytime I would also take her for very long walks just so she could sleep! I became a walking zombie and I just couldn’t understand what was going on as I was following a good routine yet it just didn’t make sense that my daughter was not doing what the book says she should be doing!
I used to wish for a 4 hour sleep stretch just so we could all get a bit of sleep! 8 hours of sleep was a distant memory and I was willing to settle for 4.
By the time Jannah was 8 weeks old, we were all exhausted and I got to the breaking point as I thought surely this child must want to sleep as If I’m tired surely she can’t cope with the little sleep she is getting and surely she is not enjoying these hourly wakes or short 3 minute naps in the day!
What I discovered and learnt helped Jannah at 10 weeks old sleep 12 hours through the night and take 4 plus hour naps in the day! It changed my life forever and had such a positive impact on my family’s health, well being and sanity that I decided to make a career of it and help families struggling with their child’s sleep issues
What Is Sleep Association?
Parents and children alike, we all have things that we associate with a good night’s sleep. As an adult you will probably have a bedtime routine – perhaps a quick wash, a trip to the toliet and a milky drink while you read in a bed with sheets and pillows you’re comfortable with – and if this routine is disrupted you’re likely to get a bad night’s sleep. Think about the last time you stayed away from home, the “first night in a new bed” lack of sleep is because you’re out of your usual bedtime environment and routine. I know of family members who when going on holiday have to take their own “comfy pillow” as without it they say they struggle to get a good night’s sleep.
It’s no different for babies, who have their own sleep associations. When your baby is small you may have used props to help them sleep, and in your baby’s mind those actions have become associated with sleep and sleeping. Perhaps you rocked them to sleep, or swaddled them, or let them fall asleep during a feed – and that’s normally fine, because it’s comforting while they’re young and as they get older they usually learn to self-soothe and they develop their own sleep associations.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Sleep Association Props
However, child sleep association can also become a problem if your baby becomes too reliant on the association and can’t sleep without it. If you rock your baby to sleep, you may find that whenever they wake in the night they need rocking before they can go back to sleep. If you child uses a dummy at bedtime that becomes a problem when they lose the dummy in the night and can’t sleep till it’s back in their mouth.
The key is to develop sleep associations that let your baby self-soothe rather than being reliant on you. For example, if you give your baby a feed before bedtime but put them into the cot while they’re still AWAKE, they are more aware of their surroundings and will recognise the feel of the blanket or the shape of the pillow, and that will become their sleep association rather than the bottle. When they wake in the night they’ll know where they are and will be more able to go back to sleep without your help.
The most important thing you can do is create an environment that is comfortable and soothing and encourages your baby to sleep. Keeping the room dark, the temperature lower and the noise down creates an environment that is very different from daytime and that your baby associates with sleep. Every baby is different, but by helping your baby develop sleep associations that aren’t so reliant on you being there you ensure both you and your baby have a good night’s sleep.