One of the most common concerns I hear from new parents is that their baby will only sleep
on them. On their chest, nursing or in a sling, they are happy but the moment they are gently placed
down in their basket, they awaken crying and desperate to be picked up again.
This is such a source of worry for a parent who loves their baby and wants to do things “right.”
So much advice is flying around it can be difficult to know what to do, our instincts become
so blurred. Should we “give in” and let them sleep on us? Is it ok for the first 3 months and
then we should put our foot down and set a routine as some experts will tell us? Or would it
be better to put a stop to it early, kinder on our babies if they know where they stand from
the start rather than having to break them of the habit later?
I was the victim of these worries when I became a mother too. My baby boy was a huge
comfort feeder and would stir as soon as I lay him down. The first few months were spent
camped out on the sofa with everything in reach and him feeding contentedly. Then I got
bored and wanted to get on with things. I began to worry that he would never be able to
sleep without me and friends with their own babies urged me to do something about it. The
popular choice for them was something called “shush pat” where you lay your baby down in
bed, making “shush” sounds over and over whilst rhythmically patting their backs.
I decided to give it a go. The first time I tried it my son clearly thought I had gone a bit mad.
He lay watching my face and smiling up at me while I shushed and patted and after no more
than five minutes he was asleep. That’s it, I’m on to a winner here I thought. But the next
nap came around and the moment I placed him on the mattress he began to cry with a
ferocity I had never seen before. I tried to calm him with the shushing and patting that had
worked so well before, but it was clear that he wanted to be picked up and I too wanted to
hold him and comfort him, so we abandoned it. I nursed him to sleep as usual and that was
the last time we ever tried any sort of sleep training. My friends laughed at my efforts when
they heard how easily I had given up, and they promised me that I would have to do it
eventually so why not now? I ignored their advice.
So, for the first 10 months of my sons life, he slept on or with me. We abandoned any
thought of a routine, he would sleep in a sling on my back if I wanted to do things, or
cuddled in my arms nursing if I wanted to rest. At night we quickly realised that he would
wake within 20 minutes if we put him up to bed, so he stayed downstairs with us until we
went up to bed, sleeping peacefully in my arms.
At around 10 months old he began to find it difficult to settle in the evenings so we decided
to start a loose bedtime routine. The times would vary depending on when he was tired but
the routine was always the same. We purposely kept it simple, teeth brushed, cream rubbed
in, pj’s on then a story cuddled up together. This was all done in a low light, then we would
go into the bedroom where either he would nurse to sleep or daddy would rock him to sleep
while a lullaby toy would play quietly. We waited until he was in a deep sleep before putting
him down, which again breaks all the rules in the baby books!
Establishing this routine really helped my son to form good habits, but waiting for the right
time in his life to start it was so important too. By the time he was 13 months old, not only
could he sleep comfortably out of my arms and without feeding through his naps, he no
longer needed (or wanted) to nurse or be rocked to sleep at bedtime. He would have a quick
feed when we went in to the bedroom then roll away and explore, play, roll and climb. After
a while he would lay down and go to sleep. One of us would always lay down in bed next to
him and sometimes he would come and cuddle up to us, other times he would want his own
He is now 16 months old. He has never been left to cry it out, and never experienced
controlled crying. He naps on average for 3 hours during the day and it takes between 2 to 5
minutes of gentle rocking the buggy to get him to sleep. He can still take up to an hour to go
to sleep at night but that hour is a beautiful relaxing time. I often sing to him, we cuddle, I
still nurse him to sleep if he wants. That is becoming more and more rare. It is often over in
20 minutes or less.
And guess what? Those parents who told me that my baby would never sleep are the ones
having trouble now. Bedtime for them is something to be endured, a battle to dread. Their
babies don’t nap for long either. But even if they did, even if I was still needed to nurse and
rock and cuddle my baby to sleep, I would do it in a heartbeat. The trust my son has that I
will always be there for him, that I am on his side, is obvious in our interactions. And
actually, now that he is becoming more independent, I miss sitting on the sofa for hours on
end, holding my precious baby, watching him drift off to sleep.
So where should your baby sleep? The answer is up to you! Follow your baby’s lead, listen
to your instincts and shrug off advice that doesn’t sit right with you. Drink it in and enjoy
every moment, because it will be over before you know it. You have the choice on whether
your memories are of hours of sleep training, stress and tears or instead filled with sleepy
smiles, cuddles and the start of an unbreakable bond which will last a lifetime.
Sam is the creator of Love Parenting a site dedicated to natural parenting, non conformity and living life to the full. She describes herself as a mama to one spirited toddler, a wife, writer, traveler, childcare professional, dreamer, listener and serial cake eater! Find her here at www.loveparenting.org
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