When assessing how an individual baby falls to sleep, we often see a pattern or association that has developed over time. In many cases, the parent does not recognize that there is an association or they have not made the connection yet. Part of our role is to recognize the association in an effort to see the bigger picture when making changes to a baby's sleep.
For example, in a lot of cases a baby will fall to sleep sucking. As a result, a baby may begin to associate falling asleep with the need to suck. Consequently, the baby will continually need to suck back to sleep as she wakes throughout the night. Similarly, if a child has breastfed to sleep, they have actually sucked to sleep. Throughout the night, that same baby may be given a bottle or soother to go back to sleep. The bottle, breast, and soother are examples of props. Although the prop varies throughout the night, the overall association is still sucking.
The two types of sleep associations
Here at Cheekychops, we often discuss sleep associations with our clients as it is one of the biggest issues that we come across when it comes to making changes to children's sleep. There are many props that can be used to support an association. However, when it comes to types of associations, they fall into two categories: sucking and motion. A sucking association is a much stronger association than a motion association and is usually much harder to eliminate.
Sucking props come in many forms such as, sucking on the breast, sucking on the bottle, and sucking on the soother. In other cases, some children may suck on a thumb or a lovie to fall back to sleep. The association with all of these props is sucking, it simply the prop that delivers the association that varies. Phasing out a sleep prop can be challenging but can lead to better-rested babies (and parents).
Nursing as a prop
In our experience, nursing is the strongest sucking prop and can be one of the most difficult associations to break. This is due to the fact that it can often be a very difficult change for a mom to make on her own. Therefore, from a sleep training perspective, we really encourage dads to become involved in the sleep training process, and in most cases, play a leading role.
Soother as a prop
If a child is using a soother to fall to sleep, that it is a much easier association to break. Associations are often a coping mechanism for parents because they work in the moment. As a result, it can be very difficult for parents to let go of what has become their prop or coping mechanism. As a parent, when you let go of the prop, you are all of a sudden in a position where you don't know what to do anymore. This can be a daunting feeling!
Thumb sucking as a prop
You've heard me say on numerous occasions that thumb sucking, from a sleep perspective, is a good thing. Lots of parents don't want their kids to suck their thumb because they know they have to break it down the road. Many parents view this as more difficult than removing a soother because it is not attached to the child's body. Or, if your husband is anything like mine, he may constantly remind you of the dental bill! However, most dentists agree that around the age of four is when you really want to start making some changes to thumb sucking.
If you want support in transitioning out of a sucking association, we're here to help. Visit our Sleep page for support today.