What are and how to change baby sleep associations.

Learning about baby sleep associations and how to change them is what saved me! Sleep associations are what your baby “associates” with when falling asleep.

I learned the hard way with my second baby that nursing him to sleep wouldn’t work forever. I SOMETIMES was able to move him to where he would sleep without waking him. MOST of the time, however, it didn’t work and I’d have to go through the process all over again. MANY TIMES, he would wake after his first 15-minute sleep cycle. Stressful for me, stressful for him, AND he wasn’t getting enough sleep.

This cycle made him even more sleep deprived which again made him sleep less. It affected all his naps and his night sleep. I HAD to find a solution because I was tired, and he was tired and neither of us were getting enough sleep.

Baby Sleep Associations

Babies and children thrive off of routine because routines let them know what to expect. They get familiar with the specific steps you take and their surroundings every time they fall sleep. These things are then what they associate with sleep time. In my case, I would swaddle my little guy, rock him, sing to him and nurse him to sleep. Then I’d try to put him down without waking him.

In order to change those sleep associations, it took some trial and error on my part. I tried adding in new things slowly, and taking other things away. I wanted to give him different sleep associations so I could remove the nursing to sleep.

Napping and night sleep are different so don’t try to change both at the same time. Wait a couple of days or a week after something works and then try it for their other routine too. You don’t want to overwhelm them with too many changes at once.

The first couple of times I tried I wasn’t successful. Things I’d read like using a pacifier, adding a lovey or something that smelled like me or nursing until drowsy and putting him down didn’t work.

I’ll skip all the details and get to what DID work for us. Keep in mind every baby/child is different. What works for one may not work for another.

Changing baby’s sleep association

I started the routine about an hour before my little needed to be asleep. This would ensure I wouldn’t run out of time. I kept the lights dimmed for the whole first part of our new routine. I’d give him a bath, put lotion on him and get him dressed for bed. I’d then nurse him and engage with him lightly so he wouldn’t fall asleep on me. This is another reason you need to start early enough. You don’t want them to be SO tired that they want to fall asleep on you. I made sure I was NOT in the rocking chair since I knew rocking and nursing put him to sleep. However, we were still in a quiet non-stimulating environment.

Once I was sure he’d had enough to eat and was getting drowsy, I’d start our old “normal” routine. I’d turn off the lights, rock him and sing to him (3-5 nursery rhymes), and I wouldn’t nurse him. If you’re trying to change your baby’s sleep association of nursing to sleep then it is important to make sure your breast isn’t easily accessible at this point. To do this, I would hold my baby in a different position. Put him up on your shoulder or put something between him and your chest. Sometimes you may need another person, like dad or aunt, to do this for a couple of nights so your baby gets used to going down without nursing. It can still be done with just you if that’s all that’s available.

Getting baby to sleep

When all these things are done, make sure you lay them down about 15 minutes BEFORE they should be asleep. If they cry after you lay them down, you’ll know it’s not because they are hungry. Usually this works pretty quickly if you get the timing just right. However, if it doesn’t and they are still young, you may want to go in and comfort them and do the routine AGAIN. Still refrain from bottle-feeding or nursing. Re-assure them, sing to them, rock them, or whatever you would normally do (minus the feeding) and put them back down awake.

If this doesn’t work the first time and they go past their normal sleeping time it will make it harder. It’s important to start early and put them down early enough before they are overtired and restless. Putting them down at the right time is KEY.

Once you have them sleeping like a champ for naps or for bedtime, THEN you can use what you have learned to get their other sleep fixed too. Or maybe their naptime was fine, and you only needed to fix their bedtime, whatever the case I hope this information has helped you!

Other tips

ALL three of my children would only sleep good in a baby swing at first. I was successful in changing their sleep associations but still had to transition them to a crib. This was a whole new battle. If you’re looking for information on how to get your baby to sleep in a crib and not a swing or other baby furniture (bouncer, rocker, etc), I have an article all about that right, here.

If you have any suggestions, questions or need any more help or information, post a comment or send me a message! Similar techniques have worked with all three of my children, so I’m sure I can help somehow!