Understanding Sleep Onset Association (Old)

Babies who are comforted or fed to sleep (or to a very drowsy state), will usually need that same support in the middle of the night to get back to sleep. If you have a practice of comforting your baby to sleep that is working for you, then you don’t need to worry about changing things at this young age.

Rest assured that you won’t create any long-term habits in these early months that can’t be undone easily at a later age, especially if you tackle the association before your baby reaches 18 months of age. These early months can be challenging for both baby and family, so it is fine to go with the flow (if that is working for you). If you get to a place where your routine is no longer working for you, then you may want to try an technique listed below.

If your baby cries, pick her up and go back to what has been working, then you can try again in a few weeks or months. Even babies who develop this skill early often regress, especially around 4 months, so it is not worth stressing yourself or your baby out about this at this early age.

4 Benefits of falling asleep independently

  • Eventually your baby won’t need parental comfort in night to fall back to sleep.
  • Familiar location (this causes your baby to feel safe in middle of night).
  • Your baby learns good sleep skills early on.
  • For some children this may be more challenging as he gets older.

Drowsy but Awake 

Put your baby down to sleep in a drowsy yet awake state.  If your baby falls asleep on her own, then great. If your baby cries, simply pick her up and try again when she is older or use a different strategy. This may also involve removing the nipple from your baby’s mouth before she is completely asleep and transferring her to her crib.

Wake and Sleep 

This technique was coined by Harvey Karp’s Happiest Baby on the Block, where he instructs parents to put babies down to bed already asleep. However, when your baby is laid down, gently jostle your baby to rouse her slightly. This will cause her to wake a little, understand where she is and learn the feeling of falling asleep from this state on her own. If she wakes fully or gets upset, then you will need to pick her up and comfort her back to sleep. At this point the process starts over.

A variation on this technique requires that you put your baby down on the sleep surface in a drowsy but awake state, and then support her to sleep by offering shushing, singing, patting, etc. As your baby gets comfortable with falling asleep in her own bed, then you can reduce the support. If your baby cries or doesn’t settle very quickly, pick her up and try a different strategy.

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