As a sleep consultant I hear a lot of talk about “sleep associations” and how certain things are a crutch, prop, etc. and how you need to get rid of them because they’re detrimental to your child’s sleep. I’m here to disperse some of those rumors and give you some facts about it.
First we need to talk about the two different kinds of sleep associations. There are dependent and independent sleep associations. They are very straight forward in what they are.
DEPENDENT SLEEP ASSOCIATIONS
Dependent sleep associations are the “props” and “crutches” that most people talk about. These are things like nursing to sleep, rocking, singing, bed sharing, They require the assistance of someone else to help get them back to sleep. When we talk about sleep associations, these are what most people think about because they are the things that most people want to “get rid of.”
Many parents find themselves exhausted after a night of having to rock their babies to sleep all night. The same goes with nursing, singing, etc. Some parents have no problems with this, and they even love doing it. On the other hand, some parents find this to be too mentally and physically draining and become desperate to find something else to do.
INDEPENDENT SLEEP ASSOCIATIONS
When we talk about independent sleep associations, we mean things that are not dependent on someone else. These are things like a sound machine, routines, and loveys. When a child is dependent on these things to sleep, they can be a bit of a struggle if they aren’t there but it's not impossible to coax your child to sleep without them.
Independent sleep associations are something that children can take with them throughout their lives. They typically don’t cause the parents much stress or sleepless nights. These are the ones that you see most commonly promoted.
ARE THERE ACTUAL “BAD” SLEEP ASSOCIATIONS?
Yes there most definitely are. The things that are a danger to your child are most definitely bad sleep habits. For example, if your baby can not sleep without a blanket on them but they are under 12 months, that is a bad sleep association. It puts your baby in danger, so it needs to be stopped.
WHEN DOES A REGULAR SLEEP ASSOCIATION BECOME “BAD”?
The short answer is when it stops working for your family. Let’s look at an example. Let’s say your baby will only fall asleep while nursing, but as soon as you take the boob out of their mouth they wake up. This means you have to sit and wait until they are in a deep enough sleep to put them down. Every time they wake up in the night you have to go back in and nurse them back to sleep. For some people, this is not an issue. For others, it becomes a huge problem.
At that point, mom is the only one who can put the baby down. Now I’m not saying to break the bond between mom and baby because that is biological and natural. What I am saying is that mom never gets a break. There are no date nights, no full night’s rest, nothing. I’m going to be honest with you. As a new mom struggling with postpartum depression and anxiety, that would have broken me. I could not have handled that. I needed to have a break when I could get one, so that habit became a bad habit for us. Once we stopped it, we all started doing so much better.
Another honest moment here. If it’s making you miserable, it’s probably not making your baby happy either. Babies can sense how you are feeling from a mile away. If you are constantly upset and frustrated at bedtime, your baby can sense and feel that. Once you find a groove for your family that works and makes everyone happy, you will notice a change in everyone.
WHO GETS TO MAKE THE DECISION ON WHETHER SOMETHING IS GOOD OR BAD FOR YOUR FAMILY?
You. Only you (and your spouse/partner) have the right to decide if something is good for your family. Susie down the street can’t tell you if it’s good or bad for you. If you hear someone start to tell you those things, run. Those people don’t have your best interests at heart. Someone that truly cares about you will want you and your family to be happy regardless of how you get there.
Are you struggling with sleep associations and trying to figure out if they’re right for your family or not? Let’s schedule a time to chat. Together we can come up with a plan to get you looking forward to bedtime again. Click here to schedule a time today!