It may feel surprising that sleep is something we actually need to learn how to do. Unlike adults, when babies are young they don’t yet have the capability to put themselves to sleep. It’s up to the parent to teach them the skills to fall asleep as well as put themselves back to sleep after waking up in the night.
For the first few months of a baby’s life, sleep takes up a lot of their time. In this period, parents might not have to do much to get their child to fall asleep, but around four months, most babies have developed sleep associations. Whatever they’ve become accustomed to with their bedtime routine - being rocked or nursed, listening to calming music, snuggling with a favorite lovey - they now correlate with sleep.
Experts put sleep associations into two categories: negative and positive. Anything that requires someone else to do something for the baby is considered negative. As for the latter, sleep consultant Traci Gleeson says, “positive sleep associations are things that babies can do to fall asleep that don’t require anybody else.”
The tools they’ve used to drift to slumber are the same things they’ll be seeking out and expecting when they wake up in the night. So, if you’ve been getting up and nursing, rocking, or otherwise soothing your baby back to sleep, they’re going to rely on you every time they wake up.
One of the ways to prevent your little one from requiring your presence for comfort is to use a lovey for sleep training. When you incorporate a soothing blanket or stuffed animal into your child’s bedtime routine, that item becomes the sleep association so that you don’t need to be.
What is sleep training?
Sleep training is an umbrella term that includes several different approaches to accomplishing independent sleep. This can be any way you find to establish a normal sleep schedule that works for your family. The use of comfort objects, lovies, white noise, and bedtime routines can all be considered a part of this training.
What method of sleep training should I use?
Many parents associate sleep training solely with the “cry it out” method, but that’s not really accurate. Crying it out is simply one type of sleep training. In fact, there are several more gentle options that parents can experiment with.
Some popular methods include the Ferber method (also known as graduated extinction), camping out, and fading. You can use a lovey to complement any of these methods as a way to help soothe and comfort your child while they’re going through this rough transition.
When choosing which is right for your family, be sure to do your research first and decide what feels best for you.
What age can I start sleep training my child?
While everyone’s journey will be a little bit different, most experts agree that around 4-6 months is the best time to start sleep training for babies. When they’ve dropped most of their night feedings and have started to develop regular sleep-wake cycles, they’re probably ready.
It’s also important to consider that your child is healthy enough to begin. Babies should weigh at least 15 pounds, be on a healthy growth curve, and have no medical concerns.
Why should I use a lovey for sleep training?
A lovey is any comfort object that your baby forms an attachment to. It can be a blanket, stuffed animal, or another small object that helps your little one transition through life changes.
A lovey is a positive sleep association for a baby to have. This cherished item gives your child something to associate with sleep without relying on you to do the work. Plus, it’s an object that will teach your baby to self-soothe. Lovies are soft and comforting which help to make your child feel safe.
Tips & techniques for sleep training with lovies
To make the most of your sleep training, it’s a good idea to have some sleep habits already established. A bedtime routine that consists of 20-30 minutes of soothing, wind-down activities is a great start. This could include a warm bath, story time, a lullaby, getting into a clean diaper and pajamas, or anything else that signifies the night is coming to an end. It’s also important to try to stick to a consistent bedtime.
To make sure your child isn’t overtired when you start your bedtime routine, be aware of the cues for when they start getting sleepy. Some of these signs are rubbing ears and eyes, sucking the thumbs, and getting cranky. When you go to put your child down, they should be drowsy but still awake.
After your wind-down routine, introduce your child to their lovey. In order to use a lovey to complement your sleep training, it should only be available during sleep times - whether napping or going to bed. This way, they’ll begin to associate it with sleep.
If you plan on leaving the lovey with your baby during sleep, make sure the child is old enough and that the security item doesn’t present any hazards. If they’re not, you’ll want to remove the comfort object once your baby’s snoozing soundly. Either way, leave the lovey in their crib once they’ve woken up in the morning so that it retains its association with bedtime.
Remember, the goal isn’t that your child never wakes up during the night, but rather that they are able to self-soothe and fall back to sleep on their own. This is where the comfort object shines; eventually, it will help console your little one and ease anxiety when they do wake up in the night.
Great sleep is achievable for you and your baby!
When considering a sleep training method, it’s important to do your research first. Before you begin, make sure you and your baby are both ready, and decide which method you feel most comfortable with. Make sure everyone in the family is on board. Then, commit to trying it out for at least 2-4 weeks.
Sleep training takes time, patience, and commitment. It’s no easy task, especially when you’re already exhausted. Understand that every family’s journey is different. Always do what feels best to you, and don’t give up! Your efforts will be greatly rewarded in the end.
Looking for a great lovey or security blanket to help with your sleep training process? Shop Bunnies By The Bay’s wonderful collection of super-soft, comforting lovies.
Written by Karie Kirkpatrick