Baby sleep troubles can be confusing. Every baby seems to have a different sleep issue, which is part of the reason that talking to friends doesn’t result in sleep solutions that work. Individual babies often seem to have ever-changing sleep issues themselves. It’s no wonder so many moms are confused and overwhelmed, even after reading lots of advice online or sleep training books.
The truth is, all sleep problems in healthy babies share the same root. They’re called Sleep Dependencies.
A sleep dependency is anything that a baby is dependent on to fall asleep. Rocking, nursing, bouncing, patting, swaying, replacing the pacifier and being held by mommy are all examples of common sleep dependencies.
Every sleep problem, no matter how confusing or difficult it seems to be, is simply a result of a baby not knowing how to fall asleep without help. Some babies depend on nursing, others bouncing or rocking, and others on the pacifier – but every sleep problem stems from the baby depending on something, and not being able to fall asleep unassisted.
Here is how sleep dependencies negatively affect your baby’s sleep. As an example, let’s say that your baby needs to be rocked in your arms to fall asleep. Their Sleep Dependency is needing to be rocked in your arms to fall asleep. So, at bedtime, you dutifully rock your baby in your arms for 15-20 minutes until your baby falls asleep and then you gently, ever-so-quietly slip your baby into her crib and tip-toe out of her room.
When baby wakes up in middle of the night, she wants to go back to sleep – desperately! But she can’t. she doesn’t know how to fall asleep unless she has her sleep dependency- and that is why you have to go back into her room 3 times each night to rock her back to sleep in your arms.
Babies have an extremely difficult time trying to fall asleep without their sleep dependency. That’s why you want your baby’s sleep dependency to be something that doesn’t involve you- a thumb, a blanket, feeling their soft sheets, etc.
This is what we call falling asleep independently – that is, without your help. It’s ok if your baby needs something specific to fall asleep, say a stuffed animal (with your pediatrician’s approval) or sucking their thumb. The key is that you aren’t involved. Your baby should be able to fall asleep at bedtime, on their own. This way, when they wake up in middle of the night, they can put themselves back to sleep without your help as well.
It’s pretty simple: Babies that can fall asleep on their own at bedtime can fall back asleep in middle of the night.
The only way to teach your baby how to fall asleep independently is to eliminate the sleep prop they rely on.
We’ll talk about how to eliminate your baby’s sleep dependency in an upcoming post. In the meantime, try and identify what your baby’s sleep dependency is. Here are some common examples:
What does your baby need to fall asleep?
- Nursing to sleep
- Patting to sleep
- Being pushed in their stroller
- Falling asleep in their swing or vibrating baby chair
- falling asleep in the car
- Rocking in your arms or rocking chair
- Bed sharing
- Hair twirling
Identifying your baby’s sleep dependency is the first step towards teaching them how to fall asleep on their own. Once you know what your baby depends on to fall asleep, you can begin to work on eliminating that dependency, and move towards healthy sleep for your baby and for you!
If you know any sleep-deprived and exhausted moms in your life, please share this article with them. It may be the first step they take towards better sleep for their entire family!