So you’ve hit what seems like the 4-month sleep regression. Your beautiful baby was sleeping so wonderfully and is now waking up all night and catnapping in the day. Suddenly you find yourself not knowing what to do next! Cue…Google at 2am!
Sleep associations are a massive part of the way your baby goes to sleep and in fact learns to go to sleep. Sleep associations can both help and hinder sleep.
WHAT IS A SLEEP ASSOCIATION?
A sleep association is something that a child associates with falling asleep. A sleep association is something that your child requires to get to sleep and something that they cannot sleep without.
Anything can be a sleep association if your baby needs it to fall asleep, such as:
· Bottle Feeding
· Driving or Walking in the Pram - Motion
· Comfort Toy/Lovey
· Baby Carrier
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE BABY SLEEP ASSOCIATION Sleep associations only become negative when they get in the way of great sleep. An easier way to know if a sleep association exists is if your baby can’t “stay” asleep after going to sleep in a certain way.
For example: If your baby is rocked to sleep and wakes up 20 minutes later needing you to rock them back to sleep – rocking is a sleep association.
OR – If your baby is dependent on a dummy and wakes up every 2 hours needing that dummy to be replaced by you each and every time – that’s a negative sleep association.
On the other hand, if your baby uses a dummy to fall asleep but can sleep through the night, that’s grand. The dummy in this example is a positive sleep association. You are using the dummy as a sleep prop but it is not getting in the way of a good night’s sleep – both for you and for bub.
WHAT ABOUT NEWBORNS? Newborns are so fragile and they need you to comfort them, feed on demand and get them to sleep! Newborns do not have the developmental capacity to self-settle and most will require some form of help to get to sleep. So don’t think you are going to form “bad” habits in the first two to three months! Enjoy those beautiful cuddles!
Just because you nurse, rock or hold your newborn to sleep does not mean that you will be doing this for the next year of their life! Ultimately we don’t want to be doing this at 4 months so between 3 and 4 months is the perfect time to start getting your baby to gradually learn some self-settling skills.
YOU THINK YOU’VE GOT IT COVERED AND THEN….SLEEP ISSUES MAY START The 4 month regression….we have all heard it! This is when the sleep associations that you had been using during those newborn months suddenly stop working. Why? Because your baby’s sleep starts to consolidate, sleep cycles become more adult like and your baby’s awareness increases. You may start to experience frequent wakeups and catnaps. Your baby will wake up at the end of a sleep cycle looking for the prop or aid that got them to sleep in the first place. Teaching self-settling is the answer here.
And do you know what? You may be fine with frequent wakeups and catnaps and that’s cool. You just do what works until it doesn’t work anymore…
When you are frantic for long naps and longer stretches of sleep, you will need to take a look at your baby’s sleep associations to see what can be reduced or removed (negative associations) to help your baby consolidate their sleep.
EARLY SLEEP PROBLEMS CAN HAVE EFFECTS MUCH LATER ON LIFE
There are several long-range studies regarding childhood sleep habits and the effects of adolescence and adulthood. For example, one study in Montreal among 987 parents demonstrated that early sleep problems in 5 – 17 months continued for older children between 29-40 months. This study showed that certain habits such as mother present at sleep onset or giving food/drink after child awakens due to sleep difficulties led to disturbed sleep such as bad dreams, taking longer to fall asleep, and disrupted sleep.
PREVENTION IS ULTIMATELY BETTER THAN CURE
In case you don’t know much about me – I am a mum of two boys and I’ve had experience with many baby and toddler sleep challenges. My eldest son is the reason that I am a sleep consultant. This allows me to confidently say that I’ve been in your shoes and you will get through this!
The best way that I can describe the way I parent is that I am proactive rather than reactive. I don’t allow my kids to come into my bed and I don’t stay with them to fall asleep. But that doesn’t mean that I love them any less – I want them to have good sleep so that they can thrive and tackle each day feeling energised.
Dr. Elsie Taveras of Harvard Medical School found that long-term sleep related problems started as early as infancy and was quoted in a Times interview saying, "Parents and paediatricians should keep in mind that children have to develop the capacity to regulate their own sleep early in life and self-soothe themselves during the night."
If you’re reading this and have yet to have the issues start in the first place, go ahead and feel free to know that you’re doing a great job and to keep doing what you’re doing!
If you are starting to encounter issues, my warning is this: If your baby has any negative sleep associations it is a good idea to try and change these now. Yes it will be hard but ultimately it is going to save you months and months of broken, un-restorative sleep.
If you are not sure how change this or need some support in doing so then I can work with you to do this. Don’t think that you have to go it alone.
Simard V, Nielsen TA, Tremblay RE, Boivin M, Montplaisir JY., ‘Longitudinal study of preschool sleep disturbance: the predictive role of maladaptive parental behaviors, early sleep problems, and child/mother psychological factors.’ Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2008 Apr;162(4):360-7. doi: 10.1001/archpedi.162.4.360. Accessed from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18391145?fbclid=IwAR2Pr9fQs0d_i3CnIhZB0d8U5nseRptYVS7w7mRvhH2MOVoP6ae8ddcAYsA on 20th July 2019
Sharples, T., 2008, ‘How Not to Get Baby to Sleep.’ Time Magazine. Accessed from http://content.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1728755,00.html on 20th July 2019
Lauryn Stanlake - Infant and Child Sleep Consultant