Monday, August 5, 2013

Sleep Props (or that time we quit the pacifier cold turkey)

I've got three different scenarios for you--have you experienced anything similar?

Scenario 1: Lila, age six months, is falling to sleep calmly in her bed, happily sucking away on her pacifier. As she eases into a deeper sleep, her sucking slows until...out pops the pacifier. All is well for a few minutes until she stirs, doesn't have the pacifier, and wakes up. Soon she starts crying and won't fall asleep again until I reinsert the pacifier--at which point she (generally falls right back to sleep). Repeat five times. In the middle of the night.

Scenario 2: I'm rocking Asher, age four months, to sleep--he won't fall asleep by himself in bed yet. He soon falls asleep, but I keep rocking because if I quit too soon, he'll soon be awake again. About fifteen minutes later, when I'm positive he's completely out, I slowly walk toward his bed, still rocking, but slowing down a little. I carefully lower him into his crib, careful not to make any quick movements or loud noises (or noises at all), and...success. I turn around to leave the room and am just reaching for the door handle when he starts crying. And won't stop until I pick him up again, spend fifteen minutes calming him down, fifteen more getting him to sleep, and fifteen more deciding if I should try putting him in bed again.

Scenario 3: Reed, age two months, has fallen asleep at the end of a nursing session (as planned). When I'm sure he's asleep, I carefully break his latch, give him the pacifier when he fusses, then put him into his crib. Within five minutes he's awake again and won't go back to sleep until I give in and re-latch him. At which point he falls asleep...until we break the latch again.

What do these scenarios have in common (beside a frustrated mom)? All three babies (yes, all mine) are relying on a sleep prop to get them to sleep.

What is a sleep prop?
Ah, sleep props. Truthfully, I hadn't heard the term "sleep prop" until my third baby came along. So what is a sleep prop? A sleep prop is something a baby uses to fall asleep that she isn't able to provide for herself. Some common sleep props are nursing to sleep, rocking, bouncing, driving in the car, etc. Sleep props can be any number of things, though. What's the problem with sleep props? A sleep prop will help a baby to fall asleep initially but, generally, the baby will wake up soon after the sleep prop is removed and will be unable to fall asleep by herself.

Using a sleep prop is an easy habit to fall into and may not seem like a problem at first. You may be able to use the sleep prop for a few days or even weeks without a problem. But, with the majority of babies, sleep props become a detriment to sleep and don't tend to improve without assistance.

Transitioning away from sleep props
What becomes a sleep prop for one baby might not be a problem for another. For example, Reed and Asher both used pacifiers to fall asleep, but were (generally) fine once they spit the pacifier out. I remember going to give each boy his pacifier in bed maybe a handful of times, total. Lila, on the other hand, refused to fall back to sleep if she didn't have her pacifier. One night she woke up literally every hour through the night, in need of her pacifier. The next day, we decided we were bidding the pacifier farewell. We went cold turkey, because I couldn't think of an effective "gentle" way to lose the sleep prop (if I let her use the pacifier while I rocked her, then took it away before putting her into her bed to fall asleep, things would turn ugly--fast). I was surprised to find that though Lila took a while to fall asleep the first night sans-pacifier, once she did fall asleep she slept through the night. For the first time, ever. She took a little longer to fall asleep for her naps the next day (about 15-20 minutes as opposed to about 5), but the second night she slept through the night, again. The second day for naps was a little better, and by the third day she was falling asleep within about 10 minutes. We took the pacifier away three weeks ago and Lila has slept through the night every night since then. Pretty good for a baby who previously woke at least 2-3 times a night!

There are other, more gentle ways to transition away from sleep props. If your baby is used to being rocked or bounced to sleep, you could try rocking or bouncing him until he is very drowsy, but not asleep, then putting him into bed. You could decrease the amount of rocking time each night, until you are only briefly rocking before putting him into bed and he is falling asleep by himself.

Transitioning away from sleep props will likely require some kind of sleep training. Your baby won't just suddenly start falling to sleep and staying that way by herself! There are many approaches to sleep training--and no, not all of them involve crying. Cry-It-Out Methods include Ferber (Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems) and Ezzo (On Becoming Babywise), among others. A few gentle methods include Hogg (The Secrets of the Baby Whisperer) and  Pantley (The No-Cry Sleep Solution). There are, of course, many different methods of sleep training, so you should choose whatever works best for your family. Know that while you are working to remove sleep props, you are in for a rough 3-5 days--but it will be worth it in the end!

Transitional Objects
A great alternative to sleep props for older babies is a "transitional object" such as a small stuffed animal or a blanket. The object stays in bed with baby, so if he wakes up during the night he can easily find the object and use it to soothe himself back to sleep. (Please note that young babies should not have anything in the crib because of suffocation hazards.)