Many families who begin Sleep Training with me struggle with a common problem: Their munchkin has become accustomed to using a sleep prop in order to fall asleep. Night after night, they’re up and down with their little one. No one in the family is able to sleep for a decent stretch of time. Bedtime is exhausting. And night’s away from home, leaving your little one with the babysitter? Forget about it.
All of these struggles boil down to one thing…Your little one needs to learn how to fall asleep independently, without relying on a sleep prop.
So what exactly is a sleep prop?
Well, a sleep prop is anything that a child has learned or that he needs or believes he needs in order to fall asleep.
Let’s take a second and talk about how you and I get to sleep. Most of us have a nightly routine. We have a side of the bed we always sleep on. We have a certain pillow, we need the fan on or off. We have a certain sleeping position, et cetera. We have strategies that help us get to sleep every night. This is our journey to sleep.
Babies and children also have a journey to sleep.
And all of us wake in the middle of the night for one reason or another. This is completely normal for children and adults. As adults, when we roll over, maybe to adjust our blanket or flip our pillow over, we probably don’t even remember waking.
The problem for babies comes when they rely on a sleep prop. When they wake in the middle of the night, they’re going to need to call out to you to recreate whatever situation got them to sleep in the first place.
So when I say sleep prop, here are a few specific examples… A sleep prop could be a pacifier, rocking, patting, shushing, bouncing, feeding, holding mommy’s finger, etc.
I even had a family where the child had to put his finger in daddy’s ear to fall asleep.
Anything could really be a sleep prop. It’s whatever your child depends on in order to fall asleep. So the problem usually isn’t that you’re breastfeeding your child before bed or you rock them to sleep each night. The heart of the problem is the association between the prop and sleep. It’s because the child thinks he needs this prop for sleep.
Why are sleep props problematic?
Sleep props cause problems with sleep because most of these props are external. This means your child needs you to provide them. When he wakes in the middle of the night and realizes that he can’t fall asleep on his own without the breast or being rocked to sleep, guess who has to go in the room and provide that sleep prop?
So how do you support healthy sleep and help your little one move away from using sleep props to fall asleep?
Your child needs to learn to soothe herself to sleep, so that when she wakes in the middle of the night, she can effectively and immediately put herself to sleep without the use of an external prop or you. I’ve never met a child who sleeps well and has an external sleep prop.
How can I remove sleep props from my child’s routine?
The process of removing a sleep prop from your child’s routine can be tricky. It can lead to a lot of fussy nights and frustration.
For families with children who are heavily reliant on sleep props, so much so that it’s disrupting their ability to sleep night after night, I suggest bringing in a Sleep Consultant. Because this transition can be hard, having an individualized sleep plan and professional support can help your family remove the sleep prop without too many sleepless nights.
Of course, if you want to try the DIY method first, my biggest tip is…to make sure that you have a plan, and you are ready to be consistent. There is a ton of information available. Find a plan that you feel comfortable with, and make sure you are ready to implement it consistently. It is not fair to your child if you are not going to be consistent.
While this works for some families, others see the best results when they have a sleep consultant at their side, on call to provide accountability, a clear plan, and support as your child learns independent sleep skills. Ready to take the first step? Learn more about how a professional Sleep Consultant can help you help your family by booking a quick Sleep Evaluation with me!