Picture this: Mum rocks swaddled baby enjoying the precious baby scent and peaceful little face. His little body relaxes in her arms and he drifts off to sleep. Nothing can take away the feeling of joy (and relief!) that comes from a sleeping baby. She gently places him down in his bed…. and his eyes snap open! She picks him up and rocks some more. When she tries to put him down, he wakes again. Mum wonders if she’ll ever get him to stay asleep! What’s going on? Read on to find out.

What is a Sleep Association?

A sleep association is anything that we associate with going to sleep. Yes, we have them as adults too. Think about your bedroom and your bed. Your pillow. Your side of the bed. If you had to go to sleep on a different pillow or the other side of the bed, would it be harder to sleep? Or what about the first night in a new room on holiday? It takes a bit to get settled when we’re not in our own beds.

If your bub goes to sleep in your arms or while feeding and they suddenly find themselves in their beds without these things, they will struggle to sleep. When they wake during the night they will look for that rocking or feeding too. Some babies will grow out of these associations on their own, but others may need a little help.

Are All Sleep Associations Bad?

No! Remember we called your pillow a sleep association? Some associations are comforting and when they are manageable by the sleeper, they aren’t negative and in fact are a good thing. So, if your pillow falls off the bed, you are able to pick it up and go back to sleep.

What about baby? If she has a blankie or dummy and can find it on her own, it’s not a negative sleep association. If she needs a bottle of milk and can’t make it to the refrigerator to refill it, that’s a little more disruptive! The key is to help your baby associate sleep with items she can manage on her own.

Positive Sleep Associations

Every baby will have something they like to do to help them drift off to sleep. Some positive sleep associations are baby sleeping bags, a lovey/comforter, white noise or sleep music (that stays on all night/nap time). Each of these will still be there or within easy reach for your baby when they go to sleep or stir during the night. Dummies can also be OK if bub can find them and put them back in herself. This is where having multiple dummies in the cot or a comforter that has the dummy attached to it can be handy.

If your baby has some unhelpful sleep associations, you can begin to transition away from them while introducing a positive association. Very simply put, this is what sleep training is all about. Gradually bub learns to go to sleep without the previous association and feels comfortable going to sleep on their own.

So sleep associations can be a good thing and one of the keys toward a happy, sleeping baby. Which means a happy sleeping mummy!