Laying the foundation for your baby to sleep on their own will greatly improve the quality of their sleep and yours.
During the newborn stage there are no rules and we can do whatever it takes to help our babies sleep and stay well rested. This can include rocking them to a certain tempo, honing your swaddling technique, or strolling around the neighborhood. It is not uncommon after several weeks of taking heroic measures to help your newborn sleep, to adopt these strategies as your go-to methods. If you are feeling exhausted, and your baby does not sleep well despite your constant assistance, it is time to update your approach to sleep.
Sleep Milestones in the First Year
After the newborn stage, you want to know what sleep will look like. You know at some point they should be able to sleep independently and you want to know how to stop holding your baby to sleep but it can be difficult to select and commit to a single strategy. Part of the challenge is the overwhelming amount of anecdotal, inconsistent, and inapplicable information available to you. It is important to understand how your baby sleeps now and the changes that will happen as they mature.
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Sleep Milestone #1
Sometime between 6-8 weeks your baby’s brain can make associations. When you smile at them and they smile back you know they’ve reached this milestone. They build strong associations from repeated behavior. When they cry and get fed or feel sleepy and always get rocked to sleep, associations are being reinforced. You can help them associate their crib or bassinet with sleep by repeatedly placing them down in their crib when they are tired, or already asleep. If they wake right away, do your best to soothe them and keep them there. This teaches them they are safe to sleep on their own and allow them to start feeling safe and secure in their sleep space.
Sleep Milestone #2
By 16 weeks their circadian rhythm develops, and you can schedule their sleep by the clock. You may notice they get sleepy at consistent times of day and you can start to use a consistent schedule for naps and night sleep. Your baby will feel safe and secure to sleep on their own if you always put them to sleep in the same safe place. Use a consistent pre-sleep routine before putting them down for sleep to trigger their brain that sleep is coming next.
Why Your Pediatrician May Not Be Much Help
Depending on the individual, your doctor usually doesn’t have much definitive help to offer you. Prepare to be surprised when I tell you that on average, pediatricians receive less than 4 hours of sleep related education. The field of sleep research has only been established in the last 30 years. Therefore many of the people you can otherwise trust for advice, may not be the best source of information when it comes to safe and successful practices to stop holding your baby to sleep.
Create New Habits
After the newborn period, many of your go-to soothing techniques, as nice as they are (or aren’t), can actually work directly against your baby building independent sleep skills. As your baby’s sleep needs change, so must change the way you respond to them. This is your challenge, should you choose to accept it. Shift away from instinctive and constant rescuing after the fourth trimester. Teach your baby they are safe and secure in their own crib, play yard or bassinet.
Block out light and sound disruptions from the room they sleep in to support them to sleep for longer. Maintain predictable pre and post sleep routines to make your desired sleeping arrangement second nature for everyone in your family.
Set Your Mind on Success
You can choose when you will stop holding your baby to sleep. When you feel ready, set time aside and make it your top priority. Create an environment for your baby that is conducive to honoring their need for a lot of sleep. If change is not easy for you, make sure you have a support system to help keep you accountable and consistent in your plan for change. When creating new habits, the results will not be instant. Stay committed to your goals. Progress typically comes in small pieces, not all at once.
Updated July 12, 2020