Sleep Associations – is rocking my baby to sleep a good idea?

It depends! It is never a bad idea to cuddle your baby and give them lots of love and attention. Rocking your baby to sleep is not a problem either. It’s only a problem when rocking your baby to sleep becomes a problem for you as it is unsustainable. Allow me to explain more about sleep associations in general.

What are sleep associations?

A sleep association is anything that your little one needs to fall asleep, stay asleep or transition between sleep cycles. Everyone wakes up briefly in-between sleep cycles, you can’t stop this. When adults wake from one of these cycles, we typically don’t even remember it happening the next day, because we’re barely awake for a minute or two before we fall back to sleep. We can do that easily because we’re good at it. We know how to get back to sleep on our own. However, little ones have fewer strategies that they can use to get themselves back off to sleep.

Are sleep associations normal?

Parents usually have a few go to strategies to help their little one get to sleep. Giving your baby what they need to get to sleep is normal parenting. If it’s not bothering you, carry on, it’s normal to respond when baby needs your help. However, if the sleep association is now becoming unsustainable for you, now is the time to make some changes. Please don’t feel guilty about this. You haven’t done anything wrong. You’ve not messed up.

Are sleep associations good or bad?

Not all sleep associations are bad. Positive sleep associations are something that your baby can use or do on their own to help them fall asleep such as listening to white noise or cuddling a lovey or comforter, sucking on their thumb or fingers. If a baby is relying on parental input such as rocking or feeding to sleep or replacing the dummy, when they wake through the night they will probably require Mum or Dad to help them get back to sleep. These types of sleep associations can become unsustainable.

Let me give you an example, Sophie was very happy rocking her baby to sleep when he was little. It was a quick and sure method of getting him off to sleep so that she could put him down. But, several weeks later, Sophie found herself rocking him for 2 hours each night to put him to bed and then when he woke in the night she would have to repeat it for an hour to get him back to sleep again. This was exhausting and she couldn’t go on.

How can I stop the annoying sleep association?

There is a technique known as habit stacking or gentle behaviour modification that can be used proactively to help your little one become used to a different way of falling asleep. It involves introducing multiple sleep cues so that they will be more adaptable and less dependent on one single sleep cue such as rocking or feeding.  This is a very gentle way of stopping a sleep association and happens over a few weeks. The idea is that instead of substituting the problem habit you overlap new habits on top of the one that is working and then once these are established start to peel off the layers of support starting with the most annoying habit.

As a qualified baby sleep coach I am here to help you if you are struggling with problematic sleep associations. I offer one to one consultations and group workshops and if you would like to find out more, please book a free 15 min discovery call.

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