In defence of the dreaded ‘sleep associations’

In defence of the dreaded ‘sleep associations’

Are you currently feeding your baby to sleep? Rocking, singing or cuddling your baby to sleep? Wearing your baby as they sleep in a carrier or letting them sleep on your chest on the couch? Has your baby grown accustomed to dropping off as they ride in the car or pushed in the pram? Does your baby need the touch of their mum’s skin, hum of her voice or feeling of her hand on their chest to feel relaxed enough to sleep? Maybe you are holding a very tired baby tightly as they cry and struggle to relax but with your calm reassurance, they will eventually drift off?
Will your baby only sleep in your bed?

If this sounds familiar, I am here to say you make my heart swell beautiful mama.

Your baby associates sleep with feelings of being supported, responded to and comforted. You are not doing you or your baby a disservice to have them come to expect that they can trust and rely on you to get them the rest they need in the way that works best for them. Not all babies rest easily. Many need a lot of support to go off to sleep peacefully. There is nothing ‘wrong’ with your baby if they can only settle with help from you. Some babies can and do go to sleep peacefully on their own without help from their caregiver. These babies are the exception, not the norm.

You are also not creating a rod for your own back by responding to your baby this way. Time with our babes is in fact fleeting and they grow, change and evolve constantly and what they need today will not necessarily be what they need tomorrow.

I learnt all of this the hard way as I battled away trying to ‘undo’ sleep associations with my first. Simply accepting that for this season he needed me intensely saved both of us so much heartache.

You may be thinking that it is all too much and you may be very unhappy with your situation.

If this is you, first thing I’d do is a little soul searching. Get to the root of the unhappiness before changing anything.

Are you unhappy because you are hearing or reading you and your baby should not be on this path? Are you genuinely over it or are you having a crappy day or week? Is Bub, particularly intense right now as they go through a big growth spurt, leap, sickness or separation anxiety? Are you stressing that you will NEVER be able to leave your Bub and know you need to get back to work or have a wedding to attend or simply want a day, evening or night off?

It’s important to get to the crux of it all because so many of our fears and frustrations can be momentary or way too far down the track to warrant our genuine concern now. Often times, we are so into our own heads about what we and our baby ‘should’ be doing that we forget that we can also listen to our baby and our heart.

If, after all this thinking and listening, you still feel you need to do something to change the way your baby goes to sleep, I’d highly recommend looking into gentle resources such as books like Sleeping like a Baby by Pinky McKay, The Discontented Little Baby Book by Dr Pamela Douglas or The No Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley. These books will help you make changes gently and with love.

One very important thing to keep in mind though is, like me, you may try it all and your baby may simply not respond. They still aren’t broken. They are simply telling you that they aren’t ready for this yet.

Trust that your baby knows what they need. Trust that they know when they are ready to become a little more independent with their sleep. It will happen gradually. Even the baby with the tightest grip on their mama right now can blossom to a beautifully independent sleeper in time. No fear, no tears, no training required.

So rock, cuddle, sing, hum, carry and nurse on gentle mamas. You ARE doing it right. You are doing what works for you and your baby. Your time and effort is not in vain. Your work right now is the most important investment to our world. You are resting a tired, rapidly wiring, growing brain. Allowing it to flourish feeling secure, comforted and loved. You will never regret this time with your babe. Take a deep breath, relax and know just how valuable you are.
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14 thoughts on “In defence of the dreaded ‘sleep associations’

  1. Reblogged this on The Mama Gut and commented:
    There is nothing I can truly add to this other than to say I love this blog post so much and wish I had read something like this with my first baby. Mr. T was not an easy baby and I felt pressured by the “shoulds”. Miss L was the dream baby who fell asleep on her own, an exception. Now, T Dawg is proving to be a baby who will be loved and snuggled to sleep as he definitely nurses to bedtime and naps in a carrier. It’s our reality and our season of life.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. First time moms really struggle with this. There needs to be more of this message out there. But sometimes, as in my case, you just have to go through it in order to learn to trust your own instincts about what your kids needs. Thanks for posting and sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. This came at such a good time. We just started to sleep train Liam (first time Mom here, other than being a step mom), because I know he will get more of the sleep he needs, in his crib (he wakes up way too many times a night due to my movements I believe). However, it has been ten months of him sleeping next to me, getting nursed to sleep (that’s slowly stopping), and waking up numerous times a night to be nursed for comfort. He slept so well in his crib, but when he woke up for nursing, I brought him back into bed with me because, well, I wanted the cuddles just as much as he did and then he slept until the morning. I did not have to wake up 1000 times to feed him, it was a completely new experience. Once he finally fell asleep, I looked at my partner and thought, wait- we’re actually alone? What do we do with ourselves? I felt completely lost and missed Liam lol Overall, it really is what works best for each family- but this post made me feel so much better about the choices I have made for the past ten months. Thank you. Truly. Thank you so much for this post.


  4. Thank you for this post! It is reassuring and comforting to be reminded that other people also use these sleep associations and don’t see that as a problem. The prevailing message within parenting communities is that independent sleep is the ultimate achievement, being able to put a baby down in their own bed to go to sleep by themselves seems to be the crown everyone seeks to wear.

    I am curious to know what you think of as a baby though. I read posts like this and wonder if this approach is okay for young babies (under a year) and if I should be doing more to transition my 15 month old son to be more independent. I see him moving toward it himself for sure, but it seems like small and slow steps in comparison with other parents around me. Would love to know your thoughts on this early toddler stage and how long we, as parents, can stay comfortable with these sleep associations. Is it true that they grow out of the need for these themselves or it is true that some form of sleep training (however gentle and without crying) is at some point going to be needed? Thanks in advance for your advice! 😉


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