So you’ve heard it all before; ‘you’re making a rod for your own back’, ‘they’re manipulating you’, ‘You’ll never get them out of your bed’. When I had my first baby I was terrified that I was giving him bad sleep habits. Maybe I wasn’t ‘teaching’ him how to sleep properly, that somehow my cuddling and helping him get to sleep was a disservice to him and would prevent him from being able to sleep properly when he was bigger. I spent months ensuring that he was bathed and ready for bed by 7pm. No matter what happened we were not to leave his bedroom from 7pm until 7am, not matter what! I had read that he needed to know that 7pm was bedtime and 7am was time to get up. Anything in between those times was nighttime and thus sleep time! I would not let my baby develop bad sleep habits.
‘Sleepy but awake’
Night after night I’d cuddle my baby in, make him lovely and sleepy, and then put him down in his cot ‘sleepy but awake.’ I thought that if I didn’t, I’d create bad habits he’d never ‘learn’ how to get to sleep. I also worried that he would eventually get too big for me to cuddle or rock to sleep. Of course every time I placed him in his cot, drowsy but awake, he startled and woke. Then the whole process would start again. I’d then lay down on the floor and hold his hand through the cot bars until he fell asleep; usually a couple of hours later!
Every night I went through this process, struggling with the time and energy it took. Getting more and more worried that I’d broken him because he was one and couldn’t yet fall asleep by himself! I struggled with this notion for a further 6 months; I wondered how I’d ever teach my son to get himself to sleep without leaving him to cry!
Revelation: there are no bad sleep habits for babies
Just before he turned two I attended BabyCalm training & we all shared our worries and stories and experiences. Sleep, of course, came up and I had the most outstanding realisation. A realisation that would change mine & my son’s life! I did not need to teach him how to sleep; just as I didn’t need to teach him how to walk, or sit up or roll over! He would do it, in his own time, with support and love! I didn’t need to teach him how to sleep, it wasn’t my job or responsibility, or my failing! And so much pressure fell off my shoulders in that instant!
All I needed to do was provide him with the right conditions and he’d be able to sleep. I was not creating bad sleep habits by cuddling my baby, or rocking him! How could I be? I was making sleep a safe, comforting, peaceful thing to do; not something to be afraid of or dread!
Less stress, and guilt free.
When I returned from training bedtimes became much less stressed and less focussed on time, much more informal, calm and laid back. I invited my baby back into my room at nighttime, I even moved his toddler bed into my room, so he had his own sleeping space close to me! Each night I’d lie in a comfortable bed whilst he drifted off to sleep. No longer was I worried about giving my baby bad sleep habits. No longer on the floor with my arm through some cold, hard cot bars. The guilt, the feeling of failure and frustration left!
He chose to stay in my bedroom for a few years after that, sometimes retreating back into his room; the majority of nights he snuggled close to me! And that brings us to now, just following his 6th birthday. He declared himself ready to sleep in his own room, so and for 3 months that is where he’s slept. Happy to go to bed, with positive associations with sleep and bedtime!
Did I create bad habits by not teaching my baby how to self soothe to sleep? Was it a disservice to him? Did I create bad habits by cuddling & rocking my baby to sleep? Well I’ll leave you with this image of my 6 year old, sleeping peacefully in his own bed, in his own room, having fallen asleep by himself & let you decide ❤️
P.S he also sleeps through the night!!
Find out more about baby sleep
To find out more about baby sleep visit the Baby sleep section of our Knowledge hub
Danielle Heap: A CalmFamily director
Danielle is mum to two gorgeous children living on the west coast of Cumbria. She’s a director and consultant at CalmFamily. Her favourite thing to do is getting out into nature & exploring with her children, their favourite places are the beach & the gorgeous lakes that are right on their doorstep!