Dummies, Music, White Noise & Washing Machines...
Let’s talk about sleep associations and supports.
I prefer to call it this, rather than props or crutches because I really believe that anything you do when you help your baby to sleep better, longer and more, is firstly an association with their sleep but it is also a support for them to help them achieve and sometimes also to maintain their sleep.
There is not really anything that I would not suggest to help a new parent help their baby to sleep more easily, provided you are making informed and safe decisions about it.
I absolutely don’t feel that there’s any such thing as bad habits, but some of the things you do in the early months can turn into one of the reasons why sleep is elusive when your child is older!
Don’t you want them to always sleep like this?
As contradictory as that may sound, newborn sleep differs significantly from an older child’s sleep and for that reason, I encourage you to treat their sleep in two phases. Before 6 months, and then after 6 months.
The First 6 Months
In the first 6 months, your baby’s sleep can be unorganised and immature and although you may try really hard to help them sleep more, they just may not be developmentally able to do so.
Consider helping yourself get through this time by using certain strategies that are not necessarily a long-term option but can still be used to get you through it all!
A Super Way to Calm Your Baby
The dummy can be great to help your “sucky” baby, instead of allowing them to suck on you all day or drip feed from a bottle. This can be a super way to calm your baby when they are fussy and crying, together with some motion.
Some children, however, will not want a dummy, despite your efforts to encourage them to have one, whilst others have trouble keeping it in and of course, some are a natural and will remind you of Maggie from The Simpsons.
If you are not against introducing a dummy, then don’t rule it out. It can take time and maybe a case of trying a number of them until your baby finds one that they like.
If you find that they can’t keep it in, then gently trying to remove the dummy from their mouth, can invoke the reflex to retain and encourage them to suck.
Obviously, you need to be mindful about hygiene and make sure that you are sterilising them all the time and also you will try not to dip into syrups or keep on a string attached to baby's clothes.
Your Child is Waking Multiple Times
Over time, some parents report that their child is waking multiple times for a dummy re-plug so this can start to be a challenge. It doesn’t always mean you need to stop using it, and even if you wanted to, please discuss first with your GP.
Very often, multiple dummy re-plugs mean that your baby is over-tired and this can be addressed by timing their sleep better and helping them sleep more independently from you.
When your child is older then you can teach them to use the dummy by putting the dummy into their hand and guiding it to their mouth.
Once you have committed to a dummy past 9 months of age it is possible that you are stuck with it now until closer to 2.5 years but again, that is not always a bad thing provided that it is not affecting their teeth, speech or of course their sleep.
My 7-Year-Old Still Sleeps With His
An alternative to the dummy would be a security item, commonly called a “lovey”, or you may have herard of "comfort blankies". You will need to be mindful of health, safety & hygiene and ensure that whatever you select is handkerchief size, safe and breathable, and from a practical point of view washable. Many, many times washable… if your child takes to it.
I find that many will take to it, and many will express no interest whatsoever. Regardless, it’s always good to try to introduce this.
It can be helpful to slowly introduce it to the bedtime routine and perhaps any games that you may play by day. Then start to tuck it in with baby and place into their hands. If you baby can acclimatise to this practice then you will likely have this with you for a long time. My 7-year-old still sleeps with his.
Other Supports For Sleep
Other supports for sleep in the early days can be slings, swings, buggies and pram tops.
Motion can be very helpful to enable sleep, but don’t allow your baby to stay in them for longer than advised and make sure too, that if you go from outside to inside that you take off hats and clothing to avoid overheating.
White noise, the sound of the washing machine or lullaby/sleep music can be a super effective way to help calm a fussy or crying baby and it can also help them go asleep and stay asleep longer.
Whilst there are lots of toys that play white noise, I tend to steer away from them and opt for an app on the phone or a CD.
Baby Sleep Songs
The key element to note is that if you play white noise or lullaby music as your child is falling asleep it then needs to stay on for the entire sleep period. Bear in mind that whatever the brain hears going asleep, it needs to hear for the duration of the sleep period, otherwise the sleep can get cut short.
If you select lullaby music, or baby sleep songs, just opt for one note and uncomplicated musical arrangements that help to regulate the heartbeat and induce relaxation and as with the white noise, leave on for the duration of sleep.
Studies tend to indicate that white noise can help your baby to fall asleep quicker and that the sleep is also deeper. It does also act as a mask from noise if you live in a noisy apartment block or the neighbour’s dog barks a lot or if you have older children.
You will need to be mindful though of your baby’s hearing and ensure that the device is far away from your baby’s head and is played at the volume of a shower or lower.
Over time, of course, your child would associate it with going asleep so if you want to wean them off you would simply begin by turning the sound down lower and lower and eventually just not using it at all.
Whatever you find that works for your new family, always make sure that you are observing safe sleep and understand that even though it can be challenging and tiring, this too shall pass!!
Lucy Wolfe, CGSC, MAPSC, is a paediatric sleep consultant, Author of the bestselling book- The Baby Sleep Solution and mum of young children. She runs a private sleep consulting practice with her 98%-effective approach to sleep she provides knowledge, expertise and valuable support to families across the country. See www.sleepmatters.ie t: 087 2683584 or e: firstname.lastname@example.org
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