Paediatric Sleep Consultant and Baby Elegance brand ambassador Lucy Wolfe shares her advice on sleep associations or supports. Lucy prefers to use this terminology over the words “props” or “crutches” as she believes that anything that 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 are few things that Lucy 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. Her philosophy is that there is no such thing as bad habits, but of course some efforts that you make in the early months can of course turn into one of the reasons why sleep is elusive when your child is older!
However contradictory that may sound, newborn sleep differs significantly from an older 6 months plus old child’s sleep and for that reason Lucy encourages parents to treat sleep in two phases. Before 6 months, and then after 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 would be ideally used just to get you through.
The dummy can be great to help your “sucky” baby, instead of allowing them to suck all day on you or drip feed on 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 suckers that 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 different dummies until your baby finds one that they like. If you find that they can’t keep it in, then gently try to remove the dummy from their mouth which can invoke the reflex to retain and encourage them to suck. You just need to be mindful about hygiene and make sure that you are sterilising them as much as possible.
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, Lucy recommends discussing first with your GP. Very often multiple dummy re-plugs is representative of overtiredness and this can be addressed with age relevant timings and helping your baby 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, Lucy says 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, their speech or their sleep.
An alternative to the dummy would be a security item, commonly called a “lovey” or “comfort blanket”.
You will need to be mindful of the health agenda and ensure that whatever you select is handkerchief
size, safe and breathable and from a practical point of view washable. Many, many times washable!
Lucy has found that many will take to it and many will express no interest whatsoever. It is always
good to try to introduce the comfort blanket. It can be helpful to wear it first and then slowly introduce
to the bedtime routine and perhaps any games that you may play by day. Then start to tuck it in with
baby and on place into their hands. If your baby can acclimatise to this practise then you will likely
have this with you for a long time. Lucy shares that her 7 year old child still sleeps with his.
Others supports for sleep in the early days can be slings, and swings, buggies and pram tops and
whatever you use, must always be used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. 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 takeoff hats and clothing to avoid
White noise, the sound of the hairdryer or washing machine or lullaby music can be a super effective
way to helping 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, Lucy tends to steer away from them and opts for a
CD and warns against using an actual hair dryer, as that can be a fire hazard. 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 brains 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, just opt for one note and uncomplicated musical arrangements that help to
regulate the heartbeat and induce relaxation and as with the white noise, either leave on for the duration
of sleep and turn off before sleep is achieved.
Studies tend to indicate that white noise can help induce sleep 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, if 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 that it 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 wanted to
offload it you would simply can by turning the sound down lower and lower until eventually you are
not using it at all.
Whatever you find 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!