Easing your baby into new healthy sleep habits
Not all sleep habits are bad
It can seem like having Baby be “dependent” on anything in order to go to sleep is a problem, but the truth is that almost everyone has some sleep conditions they need in order to get the rest their bodies crave. There may be a few rare folks out there who can fall asleep standing up in the middle of the crowd in a packed football stadium, but most people have a few things they depend on for sleep, even if those things are just “something resembling a pillow” and a shade to keep the sun off their faces. So if your little one seems to be pretty attached to certain habits, know that most sleep habits aren’t necessarily bad.
Even sleep habits that parents may need to break later – like thumb-sucking or using a pacifier – aren’t necessarily a problem for as long as they work for a family. It’s only when certain habits start to get in the way of a family’s normal, healthy sleep that they start to be an issue. Until that point, even sleep habits that could be a problem later can actually be beneficial, since they can provide comfort for your little one and help to establish normal, healthy sleeping patterns.
When a sleep habit starts to be a problem for your family – like if nursing your little one to sleep every night is feeling like too much for you, or if your tot needs to be bounced and rocked and bounced again until you need a nap too – there are a few different ways you can try to ease that habit out of your family’s lives, although when and how well they work may be affected by how attached to the habit Baby is. And, as with many habits, easing into new healthy-for-the-whole-family sleep routines can take time, so be patient.
Switching things up
- Don’t be afraid to rearrange: If Baby is used to being fed to sleep, the association between food and sleep is definitely strong, but if you have a well-established bedtime, the connection between time and sleep is probably pretty strong as well. Shifting Baby’s last meal of the day so it’s a little earlier, and then doing something else with them like taking a bath or reading a story before sending them off to bed can help reassure them that, even if they resist the change, they aren't going to bed hungry, which can help break the association.
- Don’t cut out comfort, but adapt: If you used to rock Baby to sleep every night, that doesn’t mean you have to close the door and walk away to cut out the habit. If you used to fall asleep next to them, you don’t need to bolt from the room as soon as you put them down. Instead, comforting Baby while they are in their bed, or sitting in a chair beside them while they fall asleep can help to reassure you both that you’re not losing a cozy bedtime routine, but rather helping it evolve into a new one that’s healthier for you both.
- Adjust the cast list: When you’re working to change a bedtime routine, sometimes switching up who’s closing the curtains after taking their final bow can help to show Baby that bedtime is going to be different now. If you’re parenting with a partner, letting them take over the new and improved bedtime routine, or stepping in yourself if you’ve been the understudy up until that point, can help your little one establish new habits.
- “Sleep and your 8-12 Month Old.” KidsHealth.org. The Nemours Foundation, December 2016. Retrieved February 5 2019. https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/sleep812m.html.
- “Getting Your Baby To Sleep: What’s the best way to get my child to go to sleep?” HealthyChildren.org. American Academy of Pediatrics, July 16 2018. Retrieved February 5 2019. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/sleep/Pages/Getting-Your-Baby-to-Sleep.aspx.