Are you currently feeding your baby to sleep? Rocking, singing, or cuddling your baby to sleep? Wearing your baby as they sleep in a carrier or letting them sleep on your chest on the couch? Has your baby grown accustomed to dropping off as they ride in the car or are pushed in the stroller? Does your baby need the touch of your skin, hum of your voice, or feeling of your hand on their chest to feel relaxed enough to sleep? Maybe you are holding a very tired baby tightly as they cry and struggle to relax, but with your calm reassurance, they will eventually drift off? Will your baby only sleep in your bed?
If this sounds familiar, I am here to say you make my heart swell, beautiful mama. Your baby associates sleep with feelings of being supported, attended to, and comforted. You are not doing you, or your baby, a disservice to have them come to expect that they can trust and rely on you to get them the rest they need in the way that works best for them.
Not all babies rest easily. Many need a lot of support to go off to sleep peacefully. There is nothing “wrong” with your baby if they can only settle with help from you. Some babies can and do go to sleep peacefully on their own without help from their caregiver. These babies are the exception, not the norm.
You are also not creating a rod for your own back by responding to your baby this way. Time with our baby is in fact fleeting, and they grow, change, and evolve constantly, and what they need today will not necessarily be what they need tomorrow.
I learned all of this the hard way as I battled against trying to “undo” sleep associations with my first baby. Simply accepting that, for this season, he needed me intensely saved both of us so much heartache.
You may be thinking that it is all too much, and you may be very unhappy with your situation. It’s okay to feel that way too.
If this is you, the first thing I recommend is to do is a little soul-searching. Get to the root of the unhappiness before changing anything. Are you unhappy because you are hearing or reading that you and your baby should not be on this path? Are you genuinely over it, or are you having a crappy day or week (understandable, we all have them)? Is your baby particularly intense right now as they go through a big growth spurt, leap, sickness, or separation anxiety? Are you stressing that you will never be able to leave your baby even though you need to get back to work, or have a wedding to attend, or simply want a day, evening, or night off?
It’s important to get to the crux of it all because so many of our fears and frustrations can be momentary, or way too far down the track, to warrant our genuine concern right now. Oftentimes, we are so into our own heads about what we and our baby “should” be doing that we forget that we can also listen to our baby and our heart.
If after all this thinking and listening, you still feel you need to do something to change the way your baby goes to sleep, I’d highly recommend looking into gentle resources such as books like Sleeping Like a Baby by Pinky McKay, The Discontented Little Baby Book by Pamela Douglas, or The No-Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley. These books will help you make changes gently and with love, and that will likely make the transition smoother (and less stressful) for both of you.
One very important thing to keep in mind though is, like me, you may try it all, and your baby may simply not respond. They still aren’t broken. They are simply telling you that they aren’t ready yet.
Trust that your baby knows what they need. Trust that they know when they are ready to become a little more independent with their sleep. It will happen gradually. Even the baby with the tightest grip on their mama right now can blossom to a beautifully independent sleeper in time. Really.
So rock, cuddle, sing, hum, carry, and nurse on, mamas. You are doing it right. You are doing what works for you and your baby. Your time and effort is not in vain. Your work right now is the most important investment to our world. You are resting a tired, rapidly wiring, growing brain. Allowing it to flourish feeling secure, comforted, and loved. You will never regret this time with your baby.
Take a deep breath, relax, and know just how valuable you are.