Are Sleep Associations an Issue for Your Little One?

It’s just after midnight and your sweet baby has been asleep for several hours when, all of the sudden, he or she is up and crying.  The only way your little one is going back to sleep is if someone rocks them or Mom goes in and baby gets to nurse. This may even happen again at 2am and then, AGAIN, at 4am.

Or, maybe it takes you almost an hour to get your baby to nap because you have to nurse, rock, bounce or sway him or her until they are in a deep sleep. Then you can lay them down in their crib!

Do these sound like familiar scenarios? Then, most likely, your baby has what is known as a sleep association.  Now, not all associations are bad. Even as adults we do things that let our bodies know it is time to sleep – a book, a bath or even watching television can signal to our body it’s time for rest.

But when we as parents and caregivers become a means for our babies to fall asleep then we’ve created a negative association. That does not mean that nursing or rocking or bouncing or swaying are not part of your nighttime routine – those are also great cues to let your baby know it is time for sleep – but those are not the ways that your baby actually falls into a deep sleep.  

Imagine this for a moment: You fall asleep in your nice, warm, comfortable bed!  You’re all snug and cozy and content. At some point during the night you wake to adjust your pillow or snuggle down a little deeper.  You’re not fully awake, just a little bit. But instead of finding yourself in that nice, warm, comfortable bed that you went to sleep in you’re laying on your cold, hard front yard! You’d certainly find yourself more awake and alert and probably not able to fall back to sleep.  

That’s how your baby feels after falling asleep snuggled up to you and then waking to snuggle a little closer and finding themselves alone in their crib, pack n play or other safe sleep surface.

The goal in breaking negative sleep associations is to get them to put themselves to sleep in the way that they will wake up.

If your baby nurses to sleep, maybe that means changing up the order of your bedtime routine and nursing them first, in a well lit room that doesn’t have to be their nursery.  Then move on to songs or books or whatever else is part of your routine. With nursing it can even help to have another person do that second part of the process instead of the nursing mom.   When baby wakes and you know a feeding isn’t needed – like if it’s been an hour since they last ate and it was a good nursing session – go ahead and let someone else go in and check on them and give them a bit of comfort instead of the nursing mom.

If it takes rocking, or bouncing or swaying to get your baby to sleep a great tip is to slowly cut down on the length of time you’re doing that before bed.  The goal is to just have a few minutes of that movement to kind of signal to baby it is time for bed but not to have them fall asleep.

You are thinking. “Well this is all great info…but how in the heck do I actually change things?”  Reach and and schedule an introductory call and we can chat about how to do this together. Book your into call here.



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  1. HELP! My Baby Will Only Take Short Naps And I Don't Know What To Do - Seaside Sleep Consulting - February 8, 2019

    […] your baby is not cycling from a deep sleep to a light sleep.  In a lot of ways, this goes back to Sleep Associations, which you can read more about here.  Working to break those Sleep Associations can mean longer, and more restful naps for your […]

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